Two highlights from Tuesday's El Paso Independent School District board meeting had very different outcomes: one agenda item was unanimously approved while the other ended in hurt feelings and unresolved issues.
The first involved a vote to accept plans for a grant given to EPISD by the Texas Education Agency. The $9.8 million Texas Literacy Initiative is meant to boost literacy skills from birth to 12th grade.
EPISD is one of 30 Texas school districts to get the money, which it will use to build on reading initiatives and "incorporate more 21st century technology into classrooms," according to district officials.
Officials explained about $2.8 million of the grant funds will go toward the purchase of 7,200 iPads and 37 laptops for 39 campuses. Each campus was chosen by taken into account socio-economic status, at-risk factors and standardized test results according to EPISD.
The list of schools that will get the iPads includes Alta Vista, Aoy, Beall, Bliss, Burleson, Burnet, Clardy, Cooley, Douglass, Hart, Hawkins, Hughey, Lamar, Logan, Milam, Newman, Roberts, Rusk, Travis, Zavala, Lee, Moye, Johnson and Powell elementary schools; Henderson, Ross, Canyon Hills, Guillen, Morehead, Magoffin, Terrace Hills, Bassett, Lincoln, Wiggs, and Armendariz middle schools; and Austin, Bowie, Irvin, and Jefferson high schools.
The rest of the grant money will be used to hire 37 new teacher and administrator positions and cover costs for their TEA-required out-of-town training.
ABC-7 asked what will happen to those new hires when the Texas Literacy Initiative grant funds run out in Aug. 2013.
"They may have to leave the district, but we anticipate this pool of teachers will be highly qualified, selected and trained (so they can) become a pool of future candidates for other vacancies," said one district official. He added EPISD can re-apply for the grant on a yearly basis.
The board voted unanimously to approve the grant.
Minutes later, however, the board became divided over a different agenda item: a proposed policy change involving teacher unions.
Representatives from EPISD's different unions spoke for and against the proposed changes, though some believed the agenda item was mishandled from the beginning.
"Not one of us has seen the proposed revised language," said Norma de la Rosa, president of the El Paso Teacher's Association.
The issue is whether to keep a policy that allows all qualifying unions to consult with EPISD leaders on district concerns, or change that policy so that only one elected union represents all employees.
Tensions were so high on both sides, cheers and jeers often came from the audience, directed at certain speakers.
In the end, the board decided to postpone voting on the proposed policy change until next month.