PBS bond town hall aims to educate viewers on ECISD bond

To help educate the public about Ector County ISD’s Nov. 7 bond election, Basin PBS held a televised town hall from the Ector Theatre.

PBS bond town hall aims to educate viewers on ECISD bond Early voting runs through Nov. 3 for the three-proposition $436,109,000 bond. For details on the bond and what it contains, visit ectorcountyisd.org/bond2023

The event was sponsored by Toby and Sondra Eoff who donated the Ector Theatre for the event. The town hall was moderated by Pat Canty, regional vice president/publisher of the Odessa American and CBS 7 Anchor Mary Kate Hamilton.

Panelists included Superintendent Scott Muri, Odessa High School Principal Anthony Garcia, parent, local artist and business owner Jeanette Fierro, Sara Moore, local businesswoman and co-chair of Odessans for a Bright Future, the political action committee advocating for the bond, and Chris Stanley, ECISD board president.

The last bond passed in 2012 and a $392 million bond failed in 2022. Voter turnout was 7,826 out of 82,257 registered voters and turnout was 9.48 percent.

There is no tax increase with this bond. The tax rate will remain at $1.014 per $100 valuation.

The total tax rate last year was $1.17 per $100 valuation.

Moore said one of the major concerns in the last bond was the property tax increase, which drove the bond committee to seek a way not to raise taxes.

Over the last four years, Muri said the board has approved making early payments on existing bonds which has saved taxpayers $32 million. It has also increased ECISD’s bond rating on the bond market.

Muri noted that in 2019, the state legislature required that any bond referendum include ballot language that said it will be a tax increase. But he stressed there will be no tax rate increase. It will remain at $1.014 per $100 valuation.

Fierro said this was her first time on any bond committee and one of the first things she noticed was the diversity, which she was really happy about.

In the 130-member group, she saw business owners, employees, stay-at-home moms and students.

“That’s something that was a real, real big deal for me coming into this project,” Fierro said.

Then she had to absorb all the information coming at her. Different things mattered most to different committee members.

“You see what others prioritize and others don’t. I really think that diversity in age really helped bring everyone together to determine” what was needed, Fierro said.

Garcia said he noticed a lot of collaboration and thought the students that were part of it were impressive.

He noted that the district has vast infrastructure needs and things are wearing out because they are consistently being used.

Fierro took school tours. Her oldest son attends Bonham Middle School and the choir room stood out to her as an area of need as their air conditioning doesn’t work very well.

She added that she could not imagine students being in that room during this brutal summer.

“Just seeing all those different pieces, it’s not a small fix. This is significant,” Fierro said.

Muri said half the buildings in ECISD are 61 years of age or older and the oldest building is 85.

Moore said we people tend to think of repairs and maintenance in terms of their homes or offices, but they don’t compare in size to the district.

She added that all the repairs are lifecycle replacement issues.

“They’re not just a Band-Aid,” Moore said.

Fierro said another thing that stood out to her were the security cameras. There are blind spots and as a mom that is concerning to her.

Garcia said when he first came to OHS last year, the walked the campus to see that was safe and they had 100 security cameras, but found they needed another 50.

Muri said 87 percent of the district’s budget is for salaries; 13 percent is for electric, gas, water and food to feed students.

He added that the bond pays for capital improvements maintenance and renovations.

The state does not provide funding for that.

“If the bond does not pass, there is no money for those major capital items,” Muri said.

If the air conditioning goes out at OHS, that will cost $2.5 million to replace.

If the bond doesn’t pass, Muri said, the school system will be hurting. If they have to pay to replace the OHS air conditioning, for example, it will mean personnel cuts which will be felt in the classroom.

Garcia said if the bond doesn’t pass, the work will not stop. They will continue to open the doors every day and greet students and families.

Moore added that this is an opportunity to make these improvements and add a new middle school and career and technical education center, among many other items, without raising taxes.

She said a chance like this doesn’t come around often.

“… It’s a community thing. It’s not about the minutia of what’s going to get fixed. It’s a community responsibility,” Moore said.

She added that the bond isn’t perfect, but it’s a fair and equitable spread of work.

Asked about a tax ratification election passed in 2017, Muri said it provided dollars to the general fund for basic maintenance and operations to raise salaries and to obtain buses.

Moore said the 2022 bond had a comprehensive high school and this year the bond committee opted not to include that. The cost of an estimated $320 million for a new high school would have eaten up most of the bond funds.

She added that this bond touches more aspects of the district.

The new career and technical education center on the south side of the county would somewhat relieve the overcrowding at the high schools as it would have 400 students there permanently.

In addition, 2,000 students from Odessa and Permian high schools would be bused there to take classes in their fields of interest.

The middle school proposed for the west part of the county would relieve some of the overcrowding at the existing middle school campuses.

New Tech Odessa also would become a middle school of choice and the campus would include grades 6-12.

The indoor practice facility at Permian was paid for by private donations. However, OHS has tried and not been able to finance one for themselves. That’s the reason it is included in the bond.

Muri said he and the board of trustees felt this was the right thing to do for equity of opportunity.

The bond also includes fine arts funding, a new transition learning center, new transportation center, lights at Ratliff Stadium and a concrete overlay to extend its life.

As for staffing the new campuses, Muri said strides have been made to recruit and retain teachers and create pipelines of local people who will stay around.

Fierro said a huge part of the bond is the new middle school on Tripp Avenue.

She noted how much the west side has grown over the years.

“… It’s like a whole other city out there. That’s one of the biggest things I see in this bond is the middle school campus,” Fierro said.

Moore said Ector Middle School also is being brought back into the district and it is a bright spot for the neighborhood.

“The frosting on the cake is the CTE facility that we have received donated property for,” Moore said.

She added that it “makes this bond hard to pull apart and criticize, I think. … It’s a wonderful way to take a step forward for our community.”

Fierro said she talks to people and shares on social media about the importance of voting. She said she even got herself deputized to get people registered.

“… If we’re not talking about it, sharing it, it’s not going to get done.

Moore noted that all three chambers have been very supportive of the bond.

“Everybody’s busy, but this is such a great opportunity,” Moore said.

Invoking the late President John F. Kennedy, Moore said, “We all live right here in Ector County. We all breathe the same air …,” she said.

When Kennedy was in office, he said we all share the same planet, breathe the same air, we’re all mortal and we all hope for our children’s future.

“As residents of the county, we owe it to the next generation of students that come through the school system. We owe it to them to give them the best we can. … We need focus on how are we preparing the next generation for the challenges they’re going to meet,” Moore said. “… I want good people to step forward to lead us into the future.”