Muri reminds community to register to vote

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

With the Nov. 7 bond election coming up, Ector County ISD Superintendent Scott Muri reminded people that the deadline to register to vote is Oct. 10.

Early voting is Oct. 23 through Nov. 3.

If anyone in the community is eligible to vote, but hasn’t yet registered, you can get more information by visiting the ECISD website or the Ector County Elections website.

The Ector County ISD Board of Trustees Tuesday night unanimously adopted the 2023-24 tax rate, decreasing the total tax rate by slightly more than 16 cents from the previous year.

The total tax rate had been $1.17 per $100 valuation for the last five years, Muri said.

A news release issued Wednesday said the board’s move, combined with the unanimous vote to pre-pay $34.4 million in existing debt, thereby eliminating $6.1 million in future interest payments, is part of the strategy to establish long-term financial stability for the school district and the community.

With the decision to pre-pay and refund/refinance more existing debt this year, ECISD will have paid down more than $68 million of debt since 2020, the release said. The amount of future interest saved through pre-payments and refunding/refinancing – the finance tools that are available for bond debt service – tops $50 million.

The source of that $34 million is the interest and sinking (debt service) taxes that are generated in the community.

“Our community for the last five years paid $1.17 in taxes. That tax goes into two pots — the M&O (maintenance and operations for day-to-day expenses) and I&S. We use those funds to create the bond payments. The sole purpose of those funds (the I&S) is to pay debt,” Muri said.

Muri said making early payments saves taxpayers money much like an individual that owns a home and has a mortgage.

“When you make early payments on that mortgage, you save yourself money over time because you’re paying down that mortgage at an accelerated rate and that saves interest payments,” Muri said.

“It really works the same way in the school system where we’re able to use our I&S (interest and sinking) funds to pay those bonds off early. That saves our taxpayers interest payments that we would have made had we not been able to do that. It also gives us bond capacity, which is the ability to have bonds to pay for additional schools or maintenance items whatever a bond package may happen to be,” he added.

Muri said the compressed tax rate is thanks to the state legislature that “provided the ability for us to be able to do that and make that decision locally, so thank you to the Texas House and Senate and the governor for signing that bill that allows us to make those types of decisions locally.”

The state has picked up the difference so we will be compensated, Muri said.

There is a political action committee, Odessans for a Bright Future, that is holding events throughout the community to advocate for the bond.

They are having a yard sign party Sept. 23 starting with a breakfast/brunch at 9 a.m. at Complex Community Federal Credit Union on 52nd Street.

Odessans for a Bright Future will review the bond and put yard signs up together as a group then disperse to plant signs.

Muri said the district is also having information sessions.

“Our opportunity right now as a school system is to encourage people, first, to be registered to vote then encouraging them to actually go and vote either through early voting locations or on Election Day,” Muri said.

“The second thing we will do organizationally, and we are doing now, is to inform people in our community about the bond referendum. What are the three propositions? What the items contained within those propositions” and then answer any questions that our public has, he added.

Muri said the district maintains a “very active” bond website. That website contains a lot of information about the bond and all three propositions, specifically line by line what each of those propositions are.

“We also discuss the tax rate. The fact that there is no tax rate increase included in this bond, all of that information is posted on the ECISD website. The more information that we can get out, the more we can educate our voters, the better their decision making will be when they go to the polls,” Muri said.

He added that they have videos that have been produced to be broadcast locally.

“You’ll see those on social media and you’ll see those in other areas as well. We’re visiting a variety of groups around the area,” Muri said.

This week, they were at the Rotary Club and the Ector County Republican Women, he said.

Any community group interested in having them, they are open to.

On a separate item, Muri said ECISD was the only district to receive two awards from the Mexican American School Board Association.

The first award honored the human capital work ECISD has done over the last four years in reducing the teacher vacancy rate from 350 teachers down to about 40.

The other award was for the bilingual department and specifically their efforts focused on Odessa High School and the Global Leadership Academy that has been established there.