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Early voting for Canutillo ISD bond election begins Monday

The ceiling of the Canutillo Middle School library shows water stains and damage on April 17, 2024.
Luis Torres/El Paso Matters
The ceiling of the Canutillo Middle School library shows water stains and damage on April 17, 2024.

by Claudia Lorena Silva, El Paso Matters
April 18, 2024

Early voting begins Monday for the Canutillo Independent School District's $387 million bond proposal to build new schools and renovate its existing ones as the district grapples with declining enrollment and a $6 million budget deficit.

If approved, the bond would be used to replace three schools in older neighborhoods with new campuses in growing neighborhoods, as well as build a permanent facility for the Northwest Early College High School.

Canutillo ISD leaders say the bond is necessary to save the district from an ongoing financial crisis. Voters have rejected similar bond proposals in recent years.

“The bond is a catalyst for Canutillo; this is going to determine how the district moves forward and the future here for our students,” Canutillo ISD Superintendent Pedro Galaviz told El Paso Matters.

Voters will see two propositions on the May 4 ballot.

Missing light covers are common in Canutillo Middle School classrooms like this one on April 17, 2024. (Luis Torres/El Paso Matters)

What’s on the Canutillo ISD ballot?

Proposition A asks whether they support or oppose a $379 million bond to build four new schools, to pay for repairs and safety and security improvements, and to upgrade its career and technical education services. 

This includes replacing Deanna Davenport Elementary School, located in the small isolated community east of Vinton, Texas, and Alderete Middle School, located off Transmountain Drive near the Outlet Mall, with new schools in the Enchanted Hills subdivision near the Franklin Mountains. It would also replace Canutillo Middle School with a new Upper Valley campus.

Those funds would also be used to purchase new roofs and heating and cooling systems for existing campuses.

A teacher at Northwest Early College High School says that she has to move supplies around in her classroom to avoid ceiling leaks when there is rain, April 17, 2024. (Luis Torres/El Paso Matters)

Proposition B asks voters to support or oppose a $7.2 million bond to repay maintenance tax notes, or debt that did not require voter approval, used to provide students with laptops during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Early voting runs from April 22-30. Election Day is May 4.

Galaviz said that he hopes the new schools will also attract more students and increase enrollment, bringing more revenue to the district. Texas schools receive state funding based on enrollment, so the more students that attend the district, the more money it makes.

Canutillo ISD enrollment, transfers

Though the Canutillo area continues to grow, data shows students have been leaving the district to attend school elsewhere.

Almost 30% of students living within the Canutillo ISD boundaries are enrolled in another district, primarily the El Paso Independent School District, according to data from the Texas Education Agency. Canutillo ISD currently has about 5,900 students.

The number of students that transferred out of the Canutillo district jumped from just under 1,800 during the 2022-23 school year to 2,300 during the 2023-24 school year, according to TEA.

Galaviz said this is costing the district $17 million a year in potential state funds.

Though many Canutillo parents don’t have their children in the district, district leaders said many would still want to approve the bond and an increased tax rate because it would build new schools in many of their neighborhoods.

“The school in that growing part of the district is at 107% capacity. So people do want to come to our schools, but they're also looking for convenience and proximity. Unfortunately, we don't have a middle school in that area and we only have one elementary school,” Canutillo ISD Communications Director Gustavo Reveles told El Paso Matters.

A sign at Canutillo Middle School urges voters to support the proposed bond. (Angela Saavedra / El Paso Matters)

“We know that families want neighborhood schools and they want their tax dollars to be used for their own benefit,” Reveles said. “We're banking on them realizing that having schools in their neighborhoods is going to be beneficial for them.”

If approved, the bond would raise the district’s tax rate by 2 cents. This would increase school taxes on the average $288,000 Canutillo home by $38 a year, according to the school district. Homeowners with a qualifying senior citizen homestead exemption would not see an increase.

School conditions worsen, bond proposals fail

Galaviz said the bond would also help the district cover the costs of ongoing repairs, which have been cutting into the district’s budget.

Some district leaders said the bond will also help give students a better school experience, as many attend classes in aging buildings with poor air conditioning.

Students at Canutillo Middle School deal with leaky ceilings and science labs with no running water or gas for experiments.

Classes at the Northwest Early College are held in several dilapidated portable buildings with moldy ceilings and floors that have caved in. Safety has become an additional concern for the open air campus that has students walking from one building to another between classes.

“The students deserve to have an appropriate learning space for the work that they're doing,” Northwest Early College High School Principal Frank Clark told El Paso Matters, citing safety concerns.

Ceiling tiles in the portable classrooms buildings at Northwest Early College High School are stained from water damage, April 17, 2024. (Luis Torres/El Paso Matters)

The district has had a history of failed bond proposals, making the election an uphill battle.

Just under 65% of voters opposed a $187.5 million bond to build a new campus at the Northwest Early College High School in 2021 and 60% of voters rejected a $264.1 million bond to relocate Alderete Middle School, reconstruct Canutillo Middle School and make other general improvements in 2022.

The bond has received support and opposition from local businesses. The Canutillo ISD Bond 2024 PAC has received $20,000 in political contributions, $15,000 of which came from Hunt Communities, a development company that built the Cimarron and Franklin Hills neighborhoods. 

The PAC also received $5,000 from Jobe Materials, a local concrete and construction materials supply company.

CISD bond opposition sparks ethics complaint

Opposition by some local businesses has sparked an ethics complaint against Canutillo ISD Board President Armando “Mando” Rodriguez.

A sign asks voters not to support the proposed Canutillo Independent School District $387 million bond on the May 4 ballot. (Angela Saavedra / El Paso Matters)

After Speedy’s Mexican Restaurant posted a banner opposing the bond issue, Rodriguez posted a sign near the restaurant asking voters to approve the bond and not support the restaurant.

The complaint, submitted by Samuel Carrejo, an El Paso resident from outside the district, alleges that the sign had misleading information and did not have the proper political advertising disclosures.

Rodriguez’s sign stated that Speedy’s didn’t support district students and teachers and asked passersby not to support the restaurant. It also said, “Paid for by: Mando.”

“I paid for it as a private citizen. I put ‘Mando.’ Everybody knows who that is right? I didn't know since it was out of my office, that I had to provide that (additional) information,” Rodriguez told El Paso Matters.

Rodriguez said he later updated the sign with his full name and the proper disclosures after speaking with the Texas Ethics Commission in early April.

The complaint also alleged that the sign made misleading statements by telling residents to save teachers and schools by voting for the bond, implying it could be used to pay their salaries.

In a response to the complaint, Rodriguez stated that the sign was intended to protest the restaurant and never implied that the bond “could be used for anything other than the payment of debts for capital improvements.”

Rodriguez said the Texas Ethics Commission dismissed that portion of the complaint. The agency didn’t immediately confirm that action, asking El Paso Matters to submit an open records request.

This article first appeared on El Paso Matters and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

Article Topic Follows: Education

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