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Tornillo ISD To Discontinue Free Community Wireless Internet Service

A free community wireless internet service is set to be shut off by the Tornillo Independent School District following a board meeting Tuesday evening.

The service, created in 2004 and provided free of charge by the school district, has more than 500 subscribers in and around Tornillo. According to the district’s website, those interested in receiving the service were only responsible for a one-time $275 set-up fee once approved.

However, following a deadlocked vote during Tuesday evening’s meeting, TISD Superintendent Paul Vranish said he would shut off the service. No timeline was specified for when that would happen.

Vranish had hoped board members would approve a resolution relating to the service. The resolution said the superintendent would not continue the service without a “reaffirmation of the current board’s support and commitment to the program.” That commitment, according to the resolution, included a section that required the board’s approval to pay for any legal fees incurred by Tornillo ISD employees which result from potential complaints about the service.

The resolution did not pass, as the board was deadlocked in a 3-3 vote. The board members who voted against the resolution told ABC-7 they had been concerned about the section calling for the board to approve payment of legal fees.

“We are already up to our neck in legal fees,” said trustee Javier Escalante.

Vranish said the legal fee coverage caveat was necessary due to a “complaint-happy climate” within the district. He said during the meeting that the resolution would protect the district against liability for anyone who complains about the district’s service.

In the resolution, a Ricardo Hernandez is named as one of the reasons for the resolution’s introduction. The document states Hernandez reportedly “questioned a former employee as to the legality (of the internet service).”

Hernandez is also the man who filed an unrelated investigation against Vranish with the Texas Education Agency. Vranish is currently under investigation by two different agencies, including the TEA. He is accused of misusing district funds for personal gain. Vranish denies the allegations and has not been charged with any crime. He continues denying ABC-7’s interview requests regarding the investigations and most matters dealing with district business.

Hernandez told ABC-7 he had not filed any complaints against the wireless internet service, but had concerns about who is handling the service.

After the meeting, two community members said the internet service has been helpful to Tornillo and surrounding towns. They decried the trustees who voted against the resolution.

Other community members told ABC-7 they were uncomfortable with the resolution’s wording and wanted to know more about how the service was funded and why Vranish had final say over its future.

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