Muri discusses bond calendar, finances

ECISD Superintendent Scott Muri answers questions at a bond town hall meeting at Buddy West Elementary School Monday, Aug. 7, 2023. (Odessa American File Photo)

Large projects to be financed by a $424 million bond will come first as Ector County ISD gets started on the referendum passed Nov. 7.

The $424 million was one of three propositions in a $436,109,000 total bond and was the only one that passed.

During his media call Wednesday, Superintendent Scott Muri said administration presented a timeline and costs for the projects, which are expected to take five years.

Muri said the calendar will be posted on the ECISD website for the public to follow.

“One of the things that the public will notice is a lot of the work is going to happen over the first two or three years of the bond … That work begins to (taper) off in years four and five. So again, front loading much of the work. Then in years four and five that work begins to subside,” Muri said.

Projects such as a new career and technical education facility will begin in 2024, as will the new middle school, the new auditorium at Permian High School, the Transition Learning Center and the transportation facility.

“In addition, we also aligned dollars with each of those projects so now the public has the opportunity to see how much money has been budgeted for each of the individual projects within the bond referendum,” Muri said.

He added that year two is when the district anticipates spending the majority of the bond funds.

“In fact, about $240 million is expected to be spent during the second year of the bond as many of those construction projects will be actively underway in the year 2025,” Muri said.

Financial information also will be posted on the ECISD website, he said.

“We invite the public to monitor the expenditure of money, as well as the five-year rollout of projects,” Muri added.

He said ECISD has already used some of the funds to purchase Promethean Boards, interactive technology boards in classrooms throughout Ector County ISD.

“We provided about 50 percent of our schools with a new Promethean Board. We put those in place over the last year. We used our federal ESSER funds to pay for those. The bond money was used to provide the other 50 percent with those materials,” Muri said.

Installation began this week on the boards.

“So we already have excited students and teachers as they begin to see the results of bond 2023 actually in action,” Muri said.

He said the district also provided an update on the types of construction methodologies that they plan to be using. “We’ll be making those construction decisions in the coming months. In addition, we shared with our board of trustees that we currently have a request for qualifications that has been posted. We have a variety of different architectural and engineering firms that are now applying to work for us in ECISD. During the month of February, we will be approving those selected architects and engineers and then we’ll be assigning various projects to those companies so that the work can begin as they design, develop and then ultimately implement and construct those facilities for us,” Muri said.

He noted that ECISD has built in some contingencies in the budget itself and escalation costs.

Muri said they fully anticipate construction costs will go up over the next five years. During the pandemic steel and lumber prices, for example, skyrocketed.

“They have now come back to reality. We hope over the next five years that nothing like that happens, but we have built-in escalation costs as we do know that inflation will continue and we will continue to see increasing costs when it comes to building materials as well as contractors that work on those projects,” Muri said.

Ector County ISD Superintendent Scott Muri talks to the news media following the board of trustees meeting Tuesday. He answered questions about the schedule and financing for the bond projects. (Ruth Campbell|Odessa American)

In managing the bond, he said ECISD will use a hybrid model.

“We will have ECISD employees that will be monitoring, really more than just monitoring, they’ll actually be working to implement many of the projects, specifically focused more on the maintenance and repair items that were a part of the bond. Over the next five years, many of our schools will experience electrical improvements, plumbing improvements, HVAC improvements. We have some other smaller projects that are part of that and so some of that work will be handled internally and we’ll have staff available that will do that work,” Muri said.

For some of the larger projects, Muri said ECISD will contract with an external company to help them. For example, this would occur with the construction of the new middle school, career and technical education center and Transition Learning Center.

On the finance side, there is a lot of paperwork such as processing requests for quotes and proposals, all of the work “that must be done to make sure we hire the right people,” Muri said.

He also spoke about the bond oversight committee.

Trustees nominated 10 individuals and all 10 accepted the role. Their first meeting is Jan. 23.

“We’re excited to bring that group together. We shared with our trustees that they will meet four times a year, so once a quarter … We’ll provide information to them about the construction timeline and about the expenditure of our dollars, and of course, they will be asking us questions. But ultimately their job is to ensure that what we said in the bond package is actually what we’re committed to doing,” Muri said.

Once a year the oversight committee will report to the board.

The other part of the bond presentation was land purchases. Muri said ECISD is now under contract for the purchase of the new middle school facility located on South Tripp Avenue.

“We’re also working with Grow Odessa. They generously donated about 27 acres worth property for us to build the new career and technical education center and so we provided an update to the board of trustees on those two pieces of property,” Muri said.

“In addition, for a future bond referendum, we’re also in the process and under contract (for) the purchase of property at the Sunset (golf course), so that is now underway. We’ll be closing on all of those properties within the next several months,” he added.

On a separate topic, during the Jan. 16 board meeting, the district told the board that ECISD is the only school district in the country to be selected to participate in a study with Stanford University and one of ECISD’s tutoring partners, FEV Tutors.

“This particular study will look at the use of artificial intelligence as it supports the tutors with FEV Tutors. These tutors support students at the elementary, middle and high school level virtually. They provide tutoring in both the areas of mathematics and reading,” Muri said.

ECISD has been working with FEV for about two and a half years.

“They have a desire to improve the quality of tutoring that they are using and Stanford University has now written an artificial intelligence program that will enable those tutors to become more effective in their service to our students. We were selected as the only school district in the nation because of the work that we are doing with virtual tutoring and the success that we’ve had over the last several years,” Muri said.