ECISD Clearly Has More Money than Sense

June 19, 2013

Yesterday, the Ector County Independent School District (ECISD) school board voted to spend $3.25 million to partner with two other taxpayer-funded entities to build a $27 million, 234-unit luxury apartment complex.

In a stunning admission that the District has more money than is needed to educate their students, ECISD voted to join two other taxing entities – the Odessa Housing Finance Corporation and Medical Center Health Systems – in this “investment” venture.

This massively inappropriate use of education funding was brought to our attention by award-winning AFP watchdog Jason Moore who hosts a radio talk show on KWEL Radio in West Texas.

The Odessa American summarized the board meeting which, in addition to this expenditure, discussed the Superintendent search and possibly hiring the interim Superintendent who pushed this project, and a petition to remove a school board member who told the newspaper he smokes marijuana at parties and concerts.

As a graduate of ECISD’s Odessa Permian (Friday Night Lights), this leaves me wondering if this is really Odessa, Texas, or Berkley, CA.

Jason Moore, a builder himself, said the $130-$136 per square foot price isn’t what would be considered affordable housing even in the oil boom Permian Basin area. Moore points out that the housing would be owned by tax-exempt entities, so no property taxes would be collected.

“While they talk about a 10-percent internal rate of return for a period of time, they could be collecting property taxes in perpetuity if they simply allowed the private sector to build it,” said Moore.

The NPR Group out of Cleveland, OH, is the developer proposed for the project, which will be built on land owned by the hospital.

Jason and I discussed this project on his radio show Watchdog Radio on KWEL yesterday evening, and after which he went directly to the school board meeting and spoke out against the building project.

ECISD is no stranger to wasteful spending. Last year, the District gave a $100,000 public relations contract to a family member of someone who had promoted their last successful bond package.

Many questions remain, but the overriding issues taxpayers deserve to have addressed are two. First, should school districts focus their attention on educating kids, or investing in building apartment complexes? After all, ECISD isn’t doing a bang-up job of educating the kids. And second, how does a school district that sued the State of Texas for more money – claiming that the state school finance system was inadequate and inequitable – have the money to invest in an apartment complex?

We at Americans for Prosperity believe the school finance system is unconstitutional because it is clearly inefficient. ECISD appears to have money to burn on projects they have no business funding.

State District Judge John Dietz decided today he would reopen the case and hold another hearing in January on what the additional funding the State provided during this most recent legislative session means to the lawsuit.

He would be wise to consider what school districts like ECISD have done with the state funding they had.

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