EPISD bonds–running away from failure

A friend helped me to crystalize my thinking about what may be the largest problem with the EPISD bond approach.

The district tells us that they need money to close some schools and expand others so that the students from the closed schools have a place to learn.  Student enrollment in the district has been shrinking and we are told that a large part of the problem is that homeowners are moving to the perimeters of the city and thus to different school districts.

Run away

The district’s solution is to run away from the problem instead of fixing one of the fundamental reasons for the moves.

Those of us who are, or who have been, parents of school age children know that one of the prime considerations in buying a house is the quality of the school that the children will attend.   Some of us know younger parents who at one time lived in older neighborhoods and then moved into newer neighborhoods just as their children started to attend school.  They moved because of their perception that the educational opportunities in the newer neighborhoods were better than in the old.

Unfortunately these younger parents were right.

Instead of investing in existing schools to see to it that they are up to standard the district has decided to run away from them.

It’s not the shiny building

As the students from Chapin told the district’s facilities advisory committee the other day, they are more concerned about having better programs and teachers than they are better buildings.

Our housing authority is fighting to provide low cost housing for those that need it.  One of their methods is to see to it that they build facilities where the existing infrastructure of the neighborhood can support their housing.

Race to the bottom

The path that the district is on will lead to more and more declines in student enrollment.  They need to fix our existing schools and encourage in-fill activity.  We will see the benefits in many ways as we need fewer new fire stations, police, and other public facilities.

We deserve better

Brutus

14 Responses to EPISD bonds–running away from failure

  1. Deputy Dawg says:

    All of you can voice your opinion Tuesday at 5:30 PM when the EPISD Board of Trustees has a special meeting on the subject. Or you could just sit here and complain.

    My bet: 100% of you will not attend the meeting. 100% of you will complain.

    Like

    • All Dawged Out says:

      I prefer to show my displeasure by voting against and encouraging as many people as possible to vote against. The board has already indicated that they will vote to have a bond election taking the committee’s recommendations lock, stock and barrel or risk “hurting the committee’s feelings.” Input is only important when it is actually heard. The board made very clear that they will not listen. So a rousing landslide loss may bring about a more proactive board and a more affordable bond.

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    • Anonymous says:

      I’ve gone to enough meetings in El Paso to speak out against issues I thought were wrong (typically when others were similarly there in opposition) to know what a waste of time it is when the fix is in. So now I just vote no and encourage others to do the same. Sometimes it works. Other times it doesn’t. I think this bond issue will fail. People are tapped out and too many other entities are announcing tax increases. I would like to know what the attrition rate was on the Ysleta laptops and why the bond consulting firm disengaged. Perhaps I’d renew my subscription to the Times if they did their job and reported on those issues.

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    • Chico says:

      I spoke directly to Trustees, Dawg.

      Like

  2. Chico says:

    http://www.elpasotimes.com/story/news/education/episd/2016/08/06/most-episd-trustees-support-6687-million-bond/88076358/

    Trustees think that lowering the bond amount would “disrespect” the facilities committee’s work. Wow! I question the extent to to which the facilities committee’s facilitation invited and was willing to listen to voices that suggested a lower bond.

    Interesting that the Times fails to mention that funds from the last bond have not been spent yet.

    Here comes a massive marketing farce, with the Times playing spin doctor.

    Like

  3. Judy Maddox says:

    Told you it isn’t the building. It is the staff programs and mind set of the staff

    Sent from my iPhone

    >

    Like

  4. A Comedy of Incompetence says:

    TRUST AND BELIEF GOTTA BE THERE BEFORE YOU CAN ASK FOR ALMOST $700 MILLION!!!

    A Critical Analysis of The Cabrera EP Times Interview Last Sunday – This is the Superintendent?

    Bond votes are not really votes for projects. They are typically votes of confidence and trust (or lack thereof) in the system and its leaders. If the bond is voted down, it has little to do with the needs of the district. It has to do with the credibility of the leaders…

    To be clear, I think the new school board is doing ok. They just need to avoid the pitfall that previous boards have fallen in to. That pitfall is trusting the superintendent and his people too much and not checking facts and providing effective supervision thus becoming a rubber stamp. Are things really as good as administration wants us to believe? Let’s not forget that Garcia was also superintendent of the year and gained contract extensions, bonuses and adulation from the board of trustees because somebody didn’t read The Emperor’s New Clothes.

    Coverage of the Garcia stuff and whether you agree or not aside, you guys seem to have missed the train-wreck of an interview with Cabrera in the EP Times this weekend. It was weird that the interview was actually published in its raw form taking up a lot of column inches!

    Here was Cabrera’s big chance to really talk substantially about the school district and where it is headed. The questions were softballs! Unfortunately, he didn’t come across as a leader in education. He came across as arrogant and pretty ignorant and…unfortunately…full of……(well we won’t use the vulgar word he used in the interview….we will just say …) excuses.

    Here is the interview link: http://www.elpasotimes.com/story/news/education/episd/2016/07/30/cabrera-discusses-episd-challenges-successes/87618562/

    And here is the play-by-play post-game analysis for some of his answers, Baseball style:

    QUESTION 1 What has changed in the last three years?

    CABRERA’S ANSWER: “When I got here, the interim superintendent, he didn’t hire anybody but retiree hires and interims. So when I got here everybody left or was wanting to leave. My direct reports and their direct reports — essentially everyone’s new. That’s a big change.
    I think that, you know, it’s hard to tell that the culture’s changed because I wasn’t here. I inherited it from Day 1. … I have noticed that when we first opened up jobs, nobody in the school would apply for a job in central office. And now we get a lot of people doing that. We get a lot of people from around the city applying for jobs.”

    VERDICT: POP FLY – CAUGHT BY CENTERFIELDER – HE’S OUT (MISLEADING-NOT TRUTHFUL). First, Cabrera just put out a Press Release last week listing no less than 11 Interim Positions including many retired people in principal positions. At least ten positions at the central office level are filled on “ temporary professional” contracts by retirees. One of those is an executive director job in the Academics Department that has been filled by a temp retiree for at least the last four years. It takes about six months to fill principal jobs. And, he has a track record of putting people in “ interim” roles and then, sometimes with interviews and sometimes without, placing them in the same role permanently. If people don’t apply for positions, its because this guy has a track record of rigging personnel placement. Speaking of the Superintendent Position, which some claim nobody wanted, I hear tell that there were over 70 fully certified applicants including the very talented and experienced current YISD superintendent Xavier De La Torre! Cabrera strategy: Blame Vern Butler.

    QUESTION 2: What about academics? What has changed?

    CABRERA’S ANSWER: “One of the things that I struggle with, and I’ve talked with TEA about this a lot, is in terms of baseline numbers, what’s accurate and what was manipulated? Where do we start and how do we get going? They acknowledge that’s a good question. We haven’t really come up with an answer for that.”

    VERDICT: SWING AND A MISS – STRIKE 1 (EITHER EVADED THE QUESTION OR DIDN’T UNDERSTAND IT) So girls and boys, this is a softball question asking the Instructional Leader of the EPISD how education has gotten better in the last three years. Cabrera completely misses the point and seems to say that he doesn’t know whether we are better off or not because the Garcia numbers were cooked. The last Garcia numbers were three years ago! So how ‘bout we use the numbers from Cabrera’s first year and compare them to now and see if kids are learning more or not. Oh, but wait… Cabrera answers later in the interview that the district no longer uses numbers as a measurement of success…kind of. So he decides to answer that he blames TEA and bad numbers for not knowing whether we are better off now than we were then. The Times reporter must have been confused by his answer so she asks a clarifying question…

    QUESTION 3: “In terms of student performance?” (It is amazing that the interview has to actually explain that she is looking for a student oriented answer about academics…)

    CABRERA’S ANSWER: “Yeah. Graduation rates and all that…” Read the interview for his complete answer.

    VERDICT: POOR BUNT ATTEMPT…CAUGHT BY THE PITCHER AND HE’S OUT (POOR UNDERSTANDING AND FLIP-FLOPPY). First of all, by the flippant response above, obviously the education part of the job is a second priority to him. You know…graduation rates and all that. Gosh…like maybe all that education stuff? He then gives a weak canned response talking about Active Learning and Dual Language (of course with no real substantive examples or stories) and then he goes for the vote-winner: we don’t teach to the test anymore but, in the same sentence, says that we do.

    QUESTION 4: “People don’t always see those differences. Why do you think that is?”

    CABRERA’S ANSWER: “I thought from the beginning this was a three- to five-year process to begin to make real change, so I honestly feel like we’re poised now to do the work. People need to realize it took me 18 months to really start hiring the people and putting them in place. … So I really feel like the real work in terms of moving the needle begins today.”

    VERDICT: SWING AND A MISS – STRIKE TWO (ADMITS HE HASN’T REALLY DONE MUCH IN THREE YEARS) So, he changes organizational charts like most people change underwear…daily. It has taken him two years to just “start hiring people and putting them in place…” and the “real work in terms of moving the needle begins today…” Great balls of fire! He says he has wasted three years!

    QUESTION 5: “What still needs to change?”

    CABRERA’S ANSWER: “A greater sense of urgency about making sure all of our kids are successful. I think we have some of the best schools at the top 25 percent of our schools. The bottom three-fourths of our schools need to get better…I don’t want the great ones to get any worse….”

    VERDICT: SWING AND A MISS – STRIKE THREE…OUT (SO…EXCUSE ME, WHAT?) So, the district is coming off of what Shapleigh says is the worst corruption case in the US. Cabrera was hired to make things better! And he says that, three years later, people need to care about kids more? He clearly says that nothing has changed since the Garcia days! And, statistically, he makes a glorious revelation that the best schools are in the top 25 percent. He then says he doesn’t want “the great ones to get any worse (!?!?!?!)…”

    QUESTION 6: “Even though it’s five years out from García’s arrest, three years out from you coming on board, there are still a lot of lingering effects. Tell me how that affects your day-to-day.”

    CABRERA’S ANSWER: “It’s really, really tough that there’s so many nonacademic issues that we face. You know, we’ve lost 4,400 kids in the last four years. That’s $26 million in funding. A good chunk of our buildings are about 80 percent capacity. That problem wasn’t created in 2013. That problem started in 2000, 2001. … The trustees 15 years ago would’ve known that… I want people to understand, that’s a 15-, 20-year problem. You can see it coming…”

    VERDICT: SWING AND A MISS – STRIKE ONE (!?! ) So it looks like his strategy here in this question is: let’s evade the question, create a need for bond and blame trustees and administration past (at least 20 years worth) and future all in the same answer…

    QUESTION 7: What about the lingering effects of the Texas Education Agency investigation on credit recovery?

    CABRERA’S ANSWER: “So the fact that we spent time on that, the fact that I talk to TEA about that, the fact that we still have to interact with the FBI — that’s not normal for a school district. And that is — distraction is probably not the best word, but it’s the most accurate. I mean, it is something that takes away from the day-to-day of the school district, and you sometimes feel more like you’re fixing a broken business than you’re running a school district…But it also is motivation for me to keep doing the right thing, right? Because just those glimpses that I get in talking to those agencies is — just doesn’t feel good…”

    VERDICT: POP FLY INTO THE OUTFIELD…CAUGHT AND HE’S OUT First of all, he missed the point of the question…whether he simply didn’t understand or evaded it. Second, after following the link to the Times story on Credit Recovery, looks like that happened on Cabrera’s watch…not Garcia… Investigation looks like it was initiated by Commissioner Williams. This guy sure likes to blame everyone else for his inaction.

    QUESTION 8: What more can you do to rebuild that trust — staff’s trust, public’s trust — ahead of the bond but also in the years to come?

    CABRERA’S ANSWER: “I think I have to go out and visit schools more again. This last school year was tough. I visited fewer schools this last year than I did two school years ago, and I think it’s because I spent more time training with the trustees. … We actually had nearly 80 meetings with the trustees in 2015 from May to December.”

    VERDICT: SWING AND A MISS – STRIKE TWO (!?!) Here, Cabrera blames the current Board of Trustees and the number of times he has been in meetings with them for not visiting campuses and being visible out there. And also for not rebuilding trust. Meeting with trustees and visiting campuses are both part of his job. Cabrera has a history of being a no-show at all sorts of events at the schools. Guess that’s just not his priority. The best way he can rebuild trust is by keeping his word and promises and by being ethical in the way he does things. I remember a quote from a movie that goes kind of like this: He’s a politician…when he’s not kissing babies heads, he’s stealing their lollypops.

    QUESTION 9: Looking back on the past three years, what were some defining moments?

    CABRERA’S ANSWER: “I think the one that sticks in my mind most clearly, even though it’s more recent, is the transition from the managers to the trustees… What other days were really tough? Visiting all 92 schools in that first year — which I don’t think any other superintendent had done… Um, trying to do all the work and then study for principal’s and superintendent’s exams. There were a lot of long nights when I didn’t sleep, a lot of weekends. By anybody’s measure, the job is a hard job, with the added pressure of the whole world knowing that you gotta pass these exams to keep it. (Laughs.) I would joke with my kids. They’d say, “Oh, how important is that, Dad?” I’d say, “Oh, it’s not that big a deal. How do you like the house?” (Laughs.) “Keep that suitcase close.””

    VERDICT: FOUL BALL – NONE OF HIS DEFINING MOMENTS HAVE TO DO WITH MAKING EDUCATION BETTER. So the transition between appointed Managers that don’t answer to anyone and Trustees that are responsible to their constituents is tough, huh? Wait ‘til election time. And, by the way, shouldn’t it be expected for the leader of the district to be visible at all the campuses? I guess he wants a medal for doing his job. And, to add insult to injury, his defining moment is passing the tests and earning the certification that even an entry level assistant principal like my wife had to have before they are even considered for an administration position. Again, he wants a medal for meeting minimum job requirements…

    LAST QUESTION: Do you have any sort of message? Anything you want to tell people?

    CABRERA’S ANSWER: “Just be patient. It’s been three years, which sounds like a lot, but it took a year and a half to two just to get the right people in place and to rebuild structures and systems. So I feel like we’ve done the work with the current team for about a year… I’m an eternal optimist, man. It sounds like bullshit but I really actually believe that. (Laughs.) I do.”

    VERDICT: SWING AND A MISS – STRIKE THREE (!?!) Multiple Strike Outs – OFFICIALLY THE WORST BATTER EVER – Sent back to Little League because Minor League won’t take him. Our kids don’t have time for him to do On the Job Training for three years. This is officially the worst interview ever and is punctuated by the Leader of the largest school district in El Paso using the word “bullshit” in an on-the-record media interview. How classless. What a wonderful example for our kids!

    And now…Dee Margo…Mr. Land Deals….The Emperor of EPISD…and the guy who hired this dude… wants to be MAYOR! Anybody smell a political coup that started back in 2013?

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    • Jerry K says:

      I figured that EPISD hired a lawyer to deal with the fallout from Garcia, i.e., getting sued by the parents whose kids were hurt by the scam. Sort of like the church electing a lawyer as pope after the sex scandal.

      It was never about education. Now the focus will shift to asset disposal and the players are in place to see that EPISD assets end up in favored hands.

      Like

  5. Deputy Dawg says:

    “Its not a shiny building.” Well actually there are quite a few studies over number of decades that show the actual physical environment has a lot to do with how students learn and how teachers teach. I think I heard the EPISD say that if they closed schools that were falling apart, it didn’t make sense to move students to other schools that were also falling apart. That thinking actually makes sense from a teaching and learning standpoint.

    Consider this: The students at Chapin wanted better programs, but they go to school in one of the shiny newer buildings, that has had several classroom additions and a shiny new stadium in the past few years. Perhaps their viewpoint would have been different if their physical building was falling apart. Would students at Jefferson have the same attitude? I bet not.

    As for your argument about buying a house close to a good school, you are partially correct. But new schools are built near new housing. Most parents in my humble opinion, would pick a new school over an old school any day of the week all other things being equal. Why is that? Because they understand inherently that new is better for learning.

    As for the housing authority…they also know the value of closing old buildings, actually much sooner than the EPISDs average 60 year old campuses. They rebuild in the same spot not because they want to have the houses there, but because there are many many many neighborhoods (I’m looking at you westsiders) that simply do not want subsidized housing units in their backyards and actively fight against having them. That is why you won’t find a new housing project anywhere near Hornedo Middle school…

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    • Brutus says:

      Deputy Dawg,

      The students from Chapin spoke after meeting all day with students from high schools around the district.

      The point I was trying to make about older neighborhoods is that the district should consider remodeling those schools thus making them more attractive with the hope that people might not move away.

      Thank you for your continued input.

      Brutus

      Like

      • Disgusted says:

        Don’t you get it? The powers behind the throne don’t want people to stay in the those neighborhoods. This is about luring people to buy new homes in the new developments. And if you can’t afford to leave the old neighborhood, they don’t give a #$%! about you. They believe that if you’re stuck in a less desirable area, you must have character flaws and are of no benefit to them.

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        • Shin says:

          Not only do they want those undesirables away form what should be prime commercial real estate, they want to hand their kids to the for profit charters in a perfect little package. They’re even using tax dollars to send EPIS PUBLIC school administrators to engage in talks with charter schools that prey on poor brown kids.

          Like

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