The $669 Million Question

Originally published way back on 7 September 2016

The El Paso Independent School District wants us to give them $669 million because, uh, something, something, deferred maintenance, uh, consolidation, uh, Socorro, technology, efficiency, um.

What’s the real issue here?

So far I haven’t heard a succinct answer.

The kids aren’t getting educated? The deterioration of the schools presents a health hazard?

If the District can’t tell us what the problem is, I’m not sure we should give them two thirds of a billion dollars to solve it. And if they don’t know what the problem is, I suspect the money won’t help.

The one issue that the spokespeople for the District keep repeating is the loss of market share.

Here’s Board President Dori Fenenbock, in a story from KVIA:

The number of students enrolling in the El Paso Independent School District is falling by more than one-thousand every year, leading to a loss of about $6 million in funding every year, district officials said.

“That’s about the size of a small high school,” said EPISD Board of Trustees President Dori Fenenbock. “And we’re not just going to sit back and accept that. We’re going to change the trend.”

And here’s Superintendent Juan Cabrera, in an interview in this week’s El Paso Inc.:

“For us to be able to compete with Socorro … Every major legacy city has a Socorro. Dallas has Frisco. Houston has Sugarland and all these districts.”

I’m not sure that losing market share is a legitimate concern for a school district. School districts are not, per se, money making operations. School districts are supposed to have loftier goals.

I’m sure that (almost) everyone involved with this bond proposal is a good person with good intentions. But if they can’t even articulate the problem, two thirds of a billion dollars won’t solve it.


  1. Talk about sounding lame! Seems to me if they are losing students by diminishing enrollment, then their cost of operation should be going down accordingly. So, who do these people think they’re fooling? And, btw, what the hell does Socorro have to do with anything?!

  2. Richard: The District has $1.2 billion of critical school needs. The basics: roofs, HVAC, plumbing, electricity, structural issues, etc. The proposed bond gets us half way there.

    The reason we have to deal with declining enrollment is that we have building space and administrative overhead for 80,000 students when all we have is 60,000 students. So as an example, instead of rebuilding two underutilized schools in dire need of repair, we are building one. Not only is there less building costs but there is less administrative and support staff overhead (one principal instead of two, one cafeteria crew instead of two, etc).

    John: Our cost of operations has gone down. We have kept up with revenue losses by reducing the size of our employee base. We have done this through attrition but now we are at a point where we are paying some fixed costs in building, administration and campus operations that we can’t get rid of unless we close a school.

    I agree that comparing ourselves to Socorro doesn’t make sense. I don’t want my kids to go to school in some oversized schools on giant arterials. I’ve looked at the school sizes being proposed and don’t think we are headed in that direction by a long shot.

  3. Huh? I don’t understand what I understand. If we in the EPISD have an excess of building capacity in schools and administrative facilities to the tune of a 25% surplus why does it make sense to anyone to build anything new. Why not close a few schools/buildings which are in most “dire need of repair” and sell them off or raze them, consolidate student bodies into the schools which would be least costly to maintain/repair, and skip entirely the inflated costs of building something new and superfluous.

    Now I realize this runs the risk of actually shrinking the physical size of the EPISD “kingdom” to meet the actual educational needs of the district, as well as very likely reducing the size of the budget. This also might threaten those who make their livings within the “kingdom” by reducing the inflated size of their perceived power and importance. How could we possibly expect them to do anything so against their own selfish interests and for the real benefit of the entire community?

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