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Private Group Pushing for EPISD Tax Hike

You may have seen the signs around town pushing for a ‘yes’ vote in the El Paso Independent School District’s upcoming tax ratification vote.

They belong to a group called ‘El Paso for Education Excellence,’ a political action committee, or PAC, made up of private citizens using private donations to get the tax proposal passed.

“Our motto is, ‘yes for success,'” said co-chair Russ Vandenburg.

Remember, on June 15th, EPISD will ask voters to move the current tax rate from $1.23 to $1.36 for every $100 of home valuation. That would mean a homeowner with a house valued at $100,000 would pay an extra $10.83 per month.

“We really like what’s going on at the El Paso School District,” Vandenburg told ABC-7. “We like the progress that’s being made.”

The district says “that progress” is in jeopardy without the extra tax revenue and the $19 million in matching state funds it would bring in.

At Tuesday night’s school board meeting, Trustee Joel Barrios compared EPISD to the Titanic headed for a budget disaster.

But detractors say given the economy and the Ysleta District’s recently-failed bond initiative, it’s clear now is not the time to be asking taxpayers for more money.

Nevertheless, ‘El Paso for Education Excellence’ is having its volunteers send out e-mails to friends and organizing rallies to get out the ‘yes’ vote.

The group says it’s raised some $40,000 so far.

And the names behind the PAC include some heavy-hitters from El Paso’s business community.

Vandenburg is President and CEO of TVO North America, A real estate investment firm.

Other campaign co-chairs include Josh Hunt, Vice President of Hunt Development, Rick Hernandez, a Nationwide Insurance agent and Susan Melendez.

Melendez – who spoke in favor of the tax proposal at Tuesday’s meeting – is the president of Jefferson High School’s Parent-Teacher-Student Association. She’s also a business development executive for Inter National Bank.

Still, EPISD Board President Patricia L. Hughes wants to make one thing very clear: While the district clearly wants the new tax rate to pass, Hughes says ‘El Paso for Education Excellence’ is doing this all on their own.

“(The district’s) job is to get the facts out there and we’re very, very careful about that,” Hughes told ABC-7. “The PAC has another job. It’s to get the ‘yes’ vote out. We’re not able to do that at EPISD.”

‘El Paso for Education Excellence’ was formed in February, several months before the actual tax rate proposal and election date were officially set by the school board.

As far as filings and earnings reports go, the group says they’re required to check in not with the Texas Ethics Commission, but with the EPISD school board secretary.

Early voting for the tax ratification election begins June 1.

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