EL PASO, Texas - Officials with the El Paso Independent School District claim a huge victory after district voters approved its record $669 million bond.
The vote in favor of the bond is 53%. The vote against the bond is 47%.
"I am EPISD. You are EPISD. And that's why we won tonight," EPISD Board President Dori Fennenbock said, "It takes a village to raise a child they say, it takes a community to make a school district successful."
"We're just so happy the community came together," EPISD Superintendent Juan Cabrera said, "The district has had a tough past. We're excited about the support that we have now. We've made a lot of changes academically and this bond will help us go over the goal line."
EPISD's nearly $669 million bond is the largest ever put to voters in El Paso County.
The district is dealing with a shrinking student population and outdated facilities. Board members have repeatedly said previous boards have "been kicking the can down the road" and add the district's needs can't be ignored anymore.
As the board approved the bond proposal in August, applause erupted in the room. The proposal had not been an overnight decision. For months, the 80-member Facilities Advisory Committee toured facilities throughout the district to evaluate needs and consolidations.
They vetted the projects and came up with proposals.
86 percent of the proposal includes facilities that'll be either rebuilt, renovated, or consolidated, which will save the district an estimated $9 million and address the issue of declining enrollment. An issue that Board President Dori Fenenbock said the community doesn't understand.
"We're losing about 1,000 children a year," Fenenbock told ABC-7. "That's the size of a small high school. So people don't understand that we have schools that sit half empty."
She added that each school consolidation can save almost $1 million operational facilities, money that can be reinvested into the classroom.
They proposed the consolidation of 16 schools into seven campuses.
- Burges High School will be rebuilt at a cost of $56,783,048.
- Jefferson/Silva High School will undergo $39,631,708 in renovations.
- Coronado High School will be rebuilt at a cost of $73,885,792.
- Lincoln K-8 will consolidate with Bond and Roberts elementary schools.
- Henderson K-8 will consolidate with Bonham Elementary School.
Other proposed plans include new technology, fine arts, and athletic facilities updates. More than $8 million will go toward purchasing new buses.
The nearly half-billion dollar bond proposal has received support from some of the district's own: two teachers unions, the American Federation of Teachers.
The group in short said the bond is necessary, equitable, proportionate and is a major weapon in the fight against charter schools.
The other union, the National Educators Association, has yet to make a formal decision.
But some taxpayers who will be footing the bill, don't like the idea of paying an extra $212 a year on top of current school district taxes. That would bring the district's portion of the property tax bill to about $1,600.
The owner of an average $138,000 home in the district is already paying about $1,395 a year in school district taxes.
Seniors older than 65 years old won't be affected by the increase.
Recently, a grassroots organization "Taxpayers, Veterans and Friends of Coalition" argued the price is unrealistic. It said "we feel it is a money grab attempt and we need to stop that today so that we can solve the actual problem".
Other critics said the district should have been more inclusive in the planning and let voters have a say.
Since the proposal was approved, the district hit the ground running to inform voters any way it could. From daily community meetings, website information, daily social media posts and videos online.
ABC-7 caught up with Burges High parent Isela Holguin at one of those meetings. Burges was built in 1955 and is slated for renovation
Holguin is in favor of the bond. "Just the restroom facilities are really in a bad condition. I am sure they are asbestos filled," Holguin said. She added she wants to see her daughter's school improved.
Another parent, who is undecided, told ABC-7 ,"our children here are not up to date on a lot of things like other schools are. I need to hear how it's going to help us".
District officials believe once voters understand the need and how the money will be spent, they will say yes to the biggest bond in El Paso's history.
But if the bond fails, the district said the needs still won't go away.
The board has also made it clear it won't back down, and is aware about the tax impact on the community. But it argues now is the time to act.
"There are many demands on our citizens and on our taxes. We feel that the time is right to invest in our community and our children."