El Paso

ABC-7 speaks with EPISD superintendent about bid process amid concerns

EL PASO, Texas - Last week an El Paso Times investigation revealed El Paso Independent School District Superintendent Juan Cabrera failed to disclose he had talked to a potential vendor, then wrote a request for proposal himself.

According to the Times, the contract was to oversee the massive $670 million bond. The paper reported an EPISD consultant connected Cabrera and the vendor, a San Diego company called Gafcon.

Cabrera admitted he did not tell the board he'd spoken with Gafcon prior to the board awarding the company the bid, which has since been terminated.

ABC-7 was present at at district team building session Friday to get reaction.

"Certainly, I think we absolutely need very strong oversight of the bond," EPISD Board Trustee Susie Byrd told ABC-7, expressing concern with Cabrera's involvement in the bid process for a company to oversee how the bond money is spent. "Not sure that this is the way we need to do it. We need always to make sure that we develop processes and policies when it comes to procurement that make it very clear that every bid is very competitive. Anybody who is qualified that brings us a good price has a chance to get a bid. I think we failed in this regard in this particular one."

Cabrera told ABC-7 he didn't feel he did anything improper, but will be more careful in the future.

"At the end of the day, nothing illegal happened, nothing inappropriate occurred," Cabrera said. "My rule has always been and we've maintained that, once you start the bidding process and you get into, you can't talk to anybody through the process until the award is given. And I think that's what most people follow."

One thing is clear. The board president says a bid cannot be tailored to fit a vendor.

"The ranging of contracts and creating contracts to fit one vendor, that's not appropriate," EPISD Board President Trent Hatch said after the topic did not come up during an EPISD team building session on Friday. "Many members of the community approach us as trustees and say, 'Hey, I have a service. I want to do business with EPISD.' The same response we have to many members of our community and vendors or what have you is, 'You have to go through the process. At the school district there's a purchasing process that's in place to protect them as suppliers and us as a district.'"

EPISD Trustee Susie Byrd sent ABC-7 this statement, stating, "His (Cabrera's) actions regarding this bid were inappropriate and need to be reviewed by the board."

Neither Trustees Hatch nor Chuck Taylor said they had lost any confidence in Cabrera as superintendent.

With almost $670 million in bond projects on the way over the next several years, Byrd and Hatch said transparency for taxpayers should be at the top of the board's list.

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