Board discusses new bond, tax elections

With a myriad needs facing Ector County Independent School District, the board on Tuesday discussed the possibility of having a tax ratification election in June or September.

The TRE trustees discussed it would be for 8 cents per $100 valuation, which would generate about $11 million and bring the total tax rate to $1.23 per $100 valuation. It is currently $1.15 per $100 valuation.

Supplemental agenda material and Superintendent Tom Crowe said ECISD has immediate needs such as roof repairs for roofs damaged by hail storms in 2016 and 2017, controlled access to campuses, technology and fiber upgrades, buses, police cars, portable buildings for growth and raises for employees.

Other than teachers, bus drivers and support personnel haven’t had a raise in two years. The hail storms left the district $6.7 million short of being able to meet its deductible requirements and the insurance company is still assessing the damage.

There are 11 schools that have controlled access.

In November 2017, a $291,172,291 bond and a tax ratification election failed and some of the current needs were included in that bond.

On the bond issue, 61.81 percent of people voted against the bond and 38.19 percent voted for it, or 4,442 against and 2,744 in support.

On the tax ratification election, 60.04 percent, or 4,312 people voted against it, and 39.96 percent, or 2,870, were for it.

Crowe said Tuesday that aside from teachers who received a step pay increase and bus drivers, no one has had a raise in two years so people are leaving because of that. Employees also are making less money than they were two years ago because of insurance increases.

Board President Carol Gregg said she didn’t think anybody on the board would argue that the funds aren’t needed, but asked how a TRE could be sold to voters.

Crowe said there needs to be “straight talk” with the community and it was a mistake to combine a bond and TRE in November 2017.

Board member Nelson Minyard said the election was poorly conducted and agreed it was a mistake to combine the bond and tax ratification election. But the economy is “quite a bit better” now and the district needs to get out ahead of Ector County’s sales tax proposal, which will return to the ballot in May.

The proposal was rejected by a nearly 2-1 margin in the November 2017 election.

The 1.25 percent sales tax would only take tax sales on goods in unincorporated Ector County and, if approved, officials estimate it would raise around $15 million a year, more than a fourth of the county’s $59 million expenditure budget.

Crowe said the ECISD staff didn’t vote in November.

Trustee Delma Abalos said there were polling places in the schools and they still didn’t vote. Abalos said another election needs to be approached in the right way and the district needs to find out why people didn’t vote for the bond and TRE.

Chief Financial Officer David Harwell said a tax ratification election would cost the district $80,000. The district has already received a $25,000 bill to re-mail appraisal notices after the November tax election failed.

Gregg said if district employees had turned out, the proposals would have passed. If another election is held, there needs to be another approach and a different plan. She added that June also was too short a timeframe.

Board Vice President Doyle Woodall said he thought it would be better to have the election in September.

Board Secretary Donna Smith said the focus seems to be more specific than last time. She added that students are riding on 25-year-old buses.

Gregg said she doesn’t know of any bond issue or tax election that has passed without a community organization to sell it. She added that she felt the district rushed into the November bond election.

Minyard said the timing was bad last time and trustee Steve Brown said turnout has been low.

“I’m not sure it’s about the ask. It’s about having the interest and intrinsic drive,” Brown said.

With board elections, Smith said they are very strategic, but they don’t do that with broader issues. “We weren’t surgical about it,” Smith said.

Gregg said she thinks officials need to “feel out” the Education Partnership, cross-section of leaders representing various entities across the community, to work out what kind of support can be generated.

On a separate item, trustees discussed the idea of reconfiguring some elementary schools to grades prekindergarten through second and third through fifth, and pairing those schools inside one boundary zone.

Two different studies conducted over the last year identified early childhood literacy as one of the biggest challenges facing ECISD, the board recap said.

The idea is to pair campuses that are close to each other, one with grade levels prekindergarten through second and the other with grade levels three through five.

Attendance zones for the paired elementary schools would be combined and possibly expanded. Possible pairings are Goliad-Ross, Pease-Noel, Zavala-Travis, and Blackshear-Dowling.

Several principals from those schools were at the work study session. They agreed that the key to this type of arrangement is the two schools working very closely together, the recap said.

Zavala Principal Linda Voss said if the necessary resources were put into the campuses it will be successful. She added that you would have to put strong teachers into those grades.

Officials noted that the paired schools would have to have a symbiotic relationship and work closely together.

The board also discussed the need to adjust boundary zones for elementary schools.

In 2015, when the work from the 2012 bond was completed, boundary zones for all middle schools and elementary schools were updated.

It was the first time comprehensive boundary changes had been made in nearly 25 years.

At the time the board and administration said the boundary lines would need to be evaluated every two to three years and adjusted, if necessary, the recap said.