El Paso's largest school district is planning for the future.
The question? How to save taxpayer money when student enrollment is stagnant, but the area you serve keeps getting bigger?
The answer: Possibly consolidate and find new ways to use existing facilities.
The district is reassuring parents and taxpayers after notes taken during an informal administrator lunch meeting last week were accidentally released to the media. Present at that meeting were three members from EPISD's facilities dept, spokeswoman Renee De Santos, and Superintendent Juan Cabrera.
The notes were sent to the ABC-7 I-Team Thursday afternoon.
Among the possibleplans discussed:
- Rebuilding portions of Irvin High School to include maintenance offices.
- Combine Bowie and Jefferson high schools into one South Side high school.
- Moving the district's central office to a location in Northeast El Paso by Cohen Stadium.
- Possible demolition of Crosby Elementary.
- Closing of Schuster and Zavala elementary schools for use as Maintenance offices.
- None of this has been decided on just yet.
The speculation is attributed to $9 million in state funding cuts this year being tied to decreased enrollment at certain EPISD schools.
Cabrera also said increasing health care costs have prompted this discussion.
The schools discussed have seen a decrease in enrollment in recent years.
Enrollment for 2011-'12
EPISD has previously discussed the possibility of closing Zavala and Schuster.
In mid-April 2011, the board of trustees voted 4 to 3 to keep Zavala and Schuster open. EPISD officials said thn the closures could have saved the district as much as $2.5million.
Read EPISD's full statement below on the notes accidentally leaked to the media:
"Nine million dollars in state funding cuts this year due to decreased enrollment has EPISD exploring its options for cost savings through consolidation of services and repurposing of facilities.
In addition, an expiring lease with the City for the District's Central Office has prompted the District to explore alternative locations, such as downtown El Paso and other locations throughout the City, including the Northeast.
The District is currently undergoing a comprehensive facilities review to determine the District's construction and maintenance needs based on current enrollment and projected demographics. In that regard, preliminary discussions have included consolidating schools that are not at capacity. Creating one Southside high school and repurposing some of the oldest elementary schools with low enrollment such as Zavala and Schuster are ideas that have been discussed informally.
To meet the needs in the Northeast, the District is exploring the possibility of rebuilding portions of Irvin High School through the reallocation of 2007 bond funds and possibly expanding the T-STEM Academy where Crosby elementary school is located.
"These informal discussions about school consolidations are merely part of a conversation at this point," Superintendent Juan Cabrera said. "Decreased enrollment and significant increases in health care costs are causing us to make the most fiscally prudent use of the tax dollars allotted to us."
EPISD has not seen a significant increase in its enrollment in the past 25 years yet the district's square footage has grown by more than 3.7 million square feet. In the past 25 years, the district has experienced major population shifts that have caused enrollment drops. As the population shifts, EPISD must examine all options with regards to facilities to ensure that the District is operating as efficiently as possible and best serves the community's needs. The average age of EPISD schools is 56 years old, which further contributes to the condition of the buildings.
Notes from an informal meeting with administration and facilities staff not intended for publication were inadvertently released to KFOX and unfortunately they have decided to broadcast before the district is ready for open discussion with the community.
We regret that a single media outlet drives such a premature discussion that hasn't been fully vetted with all impacted partners including our Board of Managers and future Trustees.
"We do not want to cause undue stress and alarm for our teachers, parents and community, however, we want our community to be aware that we are looking at cost saving measures," Cabrera said. "We do not take consolidation of schools lightly. We will fully vet all ideas and get community input before making any type of decision."
Source: El Paso Independent School District.