El Paso’s elementary schools given grades

July 28, 2014

The childrenatrisk.org 2014 rankings for Texas elementary schools have been published.  Their methodology has changed from last year and can certainly be argued.

Weighting was evidently applied to scores this year based upon the economic condition of the students.  It appears that if a school had good test scores and the families were relatively prosperous then the school might have been graded down because the students should have done better.  I may have misunderstood the web site’s explanation and would welcome any clarification that the readers can offer.

Without regard to the methodology we do have a consistent perspective on the state’s schools.  There were 4,359 elementary schools ranked this year so a school with a ranking above 2,179 is in the bottom half of the state.

Congratulations to our elementary schools that ranked well!

You can see the chart by clicking on the link below.



Will you walk into my parlour? said the spider to the fly

July 27, 2014

The Times reported recently that motorists are not using toll tags on our first toll lane as officials had expected.

Of the 153 thousand or so usages of the toll lane, the vast majority of drivers have chosen to pay via mail.  That option costs them twice as much as using the pre-paid toll tag.

The toll lane has two price points.  Yarbrough Drive costs 40 cents per trip with a toll tag and 80 cents by mail.  Fonseca Drive price points are 90 cents and $1.80.

Get your toll tag here

Toll tags can be purchased online, somewhere in cyber space.  The Times did not tell us where.

The other option is to go to the city’s One-Stop Shop at 811 Texas.  The location is one of several that citizens have to go to in order to conduct city business now that our old multi-story city hall has been demolished and city departments have been moved to several different places.   Making the trip even harder is that getting to and from 811 Texas requires real effort — it is not like driving to a location on I-10.

One shop stop

People in the development and construction businesses tell us that you go there to see your project grow old — slowly.

The red tape, obstructionism, arbitrariness, bureaucratic bungling and general lack of help that those in the business encounter with the city are an unfortunate part of building in El Paso.

We deserve better



July 26, 2014

As with our previous posts about reading and writing I suspect that this one will instigate some discussion.

To me learning multiplication tables is both a right of passage and a valuable investment of time and energy when later  dealing with choices that we all make in life.

Rather than argue the issue,  let me  post this picture that I took in a store recently:


We deserve better



Another way to avoid citizen input

July 25, 2014

Our city council has voted to turn control of the street car project over to the Camino Real Regional Mobility Authority (CRRMA).

The CRRMA is under the control of a board appointed by city council.  The governor of Texas appoints the chairman of the board. board.  The board is free to make decisions without fear of facing an election.

We will have to sit back and watch to see what they do with this project.

Questions that come to mind are whether they will change the routes and if they will still be using the PCC cars that we took out of service decades ago.  Sun Metro end up operating the new system.  Sun Metro anticipates fare revenues of about one million dollars and expenses of $2.5 million.  How will they pay for that?

City council has been told that it will have final authority over the design.  Of course when you have a blue ribbon panel of advisers it is easier to vote against what has been promised.

Of particular interest will be who they chose to award the construction contract to.

We deserve better




Figures don’t lie, liars don’t figure

July 24, 2014

Now that the newly proposed city budget is out we can take a deeper look at one of our former chief financial officer’s whoppers.

When she went before city council to seek approval for $45 million to build a facility for the rental car companies at the airport she told us that we would see a 1% increase in the customer facility charge each year, thereby paying for the facility.

The customer facility charge is a fee that people who rent cars at the airport pay.  In addition to having the highest hotel occupancy tax that the state allows, we nick visitors with other fees too.  Economists probably would not say that those fees are conducive to attracting visitors.


The proposed city budget projects the customer facility charge revenue to fall from a 2014 budget number of $3,450,000 to $3,300,000.

That is a $150,000 drop.  According to the proposed budget that amounts to a 4.35% decline.

We deserve better


83% discount

July 23, 2014

The other day we learned about a new city fiction to move part of the debt relating to the new rapid transportation system over to Sun Metro where it would be “self supporting”.

Let’s look.

The Sun Metro site tells us that their fares go as high as $1.50 for regular passengers, fall to $1.00 for military, retired military, spouses of either military group, students, and children aged 6 to 18.  Children 5 and under ride for free and senior citizens (65 and older) pay 30 cents.  Transfers are free to all passengers.

The numbers from the 2012 national transit database show Sun Metro’s costs to be $2.82 per un-linked passenger trip.  They use un-linked to mean every time someone boards a bus — getting on one bus and subsequently transferring to another is two un-linked trips.

Make it up in volume

Most private citizens and I venture to guess some governmental accountants can see that we lose money on each trip.

In fact the 2012 report shows that fare revenues accounted for 17% of what they spent for operating costs that year.  Local funds paid for 63% and federal assistance for 20%.

Capital expenses saw no contribution from fare revenues and 44% from local funds and 56% in federal assistance.

In fact the reports shows that local funds amounted to over $40 million dollars for that one year.

The idea that Sun Metro can “self support” debt is simply fictional.

We deserve better



For the “crazies” yet again

July 22, 2014

Our former chief financial officer was a city appointee to our police and fire pension board.

The  last item on the Tuesday, July 22, 2014 city council agenda is hopefully her last gift to us.  The item allows the council to discuss and take action on the 2014 actuarial study for both the policeman’s and firemen’s pension funds.


The firemen’s fund is underfunded by $114 million.  In 2012 they were underfunded by $108 million so it looks like we are falling behind about $3 million each year.

It looks like there are 871 people being paid out of the fund at the average rate of $61,851 per year, each.

While the payout rate seems high compared for example to social security, be aware that the current contribution rate is 15.28 percent for the employees and 18.5 percent from the city.


The unfunded amount in the police fund is just short of $194 million at January 1, 2014 whereas it was $174 million on the same date in 2012.  Once again we are falling behind, in this case to the tune of $10 million each year.

The annual payout for the 1,052 people receiving checks is $67,317.  Policemen pay 13.89% of their salary into the fund while the city contributes another 18.5%.

Further in the hole

Our former chief financial officer was only one of the voting members of the board.  However,  the “crazies” probably thought she had a responsibility to the taxpayers to let us know what has been happening and get the numbers in balance.

Most private employers match the roughly 7.5% that the average working person is required to put into social security.

The city’s 18.5% is more than twice what private employers are required to contribute.

Why?  Some will say that our uniformed public safety employees are underpaid on an annual basis.  Maybe they are.  Making up for it in retirement is not the answer.

Why don’t we put our new hires into the regular retirement system that most of us must participate in and pay a competitive wage to them during their working years?  What is a competitive wage?  Why not let the market decide like we do with private employers?  If private employers cannot hire the people they need at the pay rate they are willing to pay, they raise the pay rate until they can.

Wouldn’t it be better to have one retirement system for all of us?

We don’t know if our prior chief financial officer will continue to sit on this pension board.  I suspect that she will be replaced when her term expires.

Then we only have to worry about what she does or does not do at EPISD.

We deserve better



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