Ector County ISD is currently pushing a new local debt proposal. While student enrollment is projected to increase, necessitating the need for new capacity, citizens are left wondering why the poor-performing district appears solely focused on new buildings as opposed to what’s happening—or not happening—inside the classroom.

Ector County Republican Women hosted ECISD Superintendent, Tom Crowe, at their November meeting. Crowe briefed attendees on recent changes in the district, such as free SAT testing for students and mandatory AP testing. He also spent a majority of the meeting explaining the need for a new school bond election.

The bond, Crowe explained, is needed in order to meet substantial student population growth over coming years. According to demographers, the district will gain approximately 4,400 students between now and 2019.

“From the time you break ground,” Crowe says, “it takes three years to a build a high school and two years to build a middle school.” With that said, he’s looking at November 2016 to place a bond on the ballot.

As residents may remember, the last bond election in Ector County was in November 2012 under former Superintendent Hector Mendez, in which voters approved a $129.75 million undertaking in order to build three new elementary schools and add on to Odessa and Permian High Schools. Following the election, the district spent $8 million more than expected. Now, they’re ready for round two.

Crowe met with ECISD Trustees at their November 17th board meeting in order to receive approval on moving forward with developing a bond plan. He presented trustees with demographer’s population data as well as his plan to hold meetings in the community in order to gauge interest and understanding on residents’ visions for the district.

Interestingly enough, it seems like ECISD believes they already know how the community will respond. What Crowe neglected to include in Monday’s presentation, until it was addressed during Q&A by an audience member, was the fact that the district has already made a large (and costly) step towards new building construction.

In September, ECISD Trustees approved the purchase of approximately 120 acres of land for new school buildings. This includes 100 acres on the Northwest Corner of Faudree and Yukon Road and 18.8 acres on the Northwest corner of P Bar Ranch Road and Aaron Parker Blvd.

For a plan that was just approved by the board on Tuesday and has yet to be presented to the community, it’s awfully presumptuous of the district to assume the outcome of a new bond election an entire year away. In other words, ECISD has already invested in the first steps needed for new construction, before allowing citizens to not only hear why expansion is needed, but agree to the funding of it via a property tax hike.

While a growing student population is projected amidst an economic downturn, it brings into question whether the issue of school performance is of equal priority to government officials. Currently, Ector County ISD, along with neighboring Midland ISD, ranks in the bottom 5% in the Texas Education Agency’s four major indicators: Student Achievement, Student Progress, Closing Performance Gaps, and Postsecondary Readiness.

When compared to districts of similar enrollment numbers, demographics, similar tax rates, and even among regional schools, Ector County ISD ranks either last or second to last. Midland ISD, much like ECISD, also passed a school bond in November 2012 – the most expensive bond in its history – and rumor has it another one is in the works for the November 2016 election.

If additional schools are needed to meet enrollment requirements, so be it. But when your local public schools are failing and your state has the second highest per capita debt in the nation, one wonders why so much time, money, and energy is expended by school districts pushing for more debt, higher property taxes, and bigger, prettier buildings instead of what is going on inside the classroom.

Lauren Melear

Lauren Melear leads the West Texas Bureau of Texas Scorecard. When not working, Lauren enjoys spending time with her husband and their dog, as well as cooking, working out, traveling to the hill country, and cheering on the fightin' Texas Aggies.