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Your Voice, Your Vote

Questionnaire: Josh Acevedo, incumbent candidate for El Paso ISD Board of Trustees – District 3

Josh Acevado.
Josh Acevado.

-What relevant experience qualifies you to serve as a school board trustee?

Since July 2019, I have been a member of the EPISD Board of Trustees, where I have brought a unique perspective to the board. I have advocated for equity in making decisions in education, analyzed and approved the district budget, and have held the superintendent accountable. I have also created rapport with my constituents, via monthly community meetings, that I held prior to the pandemic, as well as engagement through social media, phone calls, and text messages. The simple notion of engaging with the people that one represents goes a long way. 

My educational and professional background have given me the experience needed to lead in this position and provide a voice for my community. On April 21, 2021, I successfully defended my dissertation to earn a Doctor of Education (Ed.D.) in Educational Leadership and Administration that will enrich my experience and allow me to use this knowledge, as a trustee, if re-elected.

I also have the following education:

  • Three-Time UTEP Graduate: 
  • Bachelor of Science in Microbiology, with a Concentration in Chemistry
  • Master of Arts in Political Science 
  • Master of Public Administration in Public Policy and Management
  • Certificate in Education Finance – Finance Strategy, Policy, & Leadership, from Georgetown University McCourt School of Public Policy

-What is the top issue that's driving you to run for this position?

The restoration of transparency and accountability at EPISD has been a top priority, since taking office in 2019. I have been successful in improving processes at the district that provide transparency and accountability. I held the past superintendent accountable for the consulting jobs he held outside his duties as superintendent of EPISD. I believe that his focus was no longer on EPISD. Due to his overly generous contract signed years past, his separation cost the district over $500,000. Although a great deal of money, accepting his resignation saved the district millions in the long run, by foregoing the litigious path of outright termination. His departure gives us an opportunity to hire a leader that is focused on education, transparent, accountable, and inclusive of the community. 

-On the search for the new superintendent: what are the top 3 qualifications you seek in a candidate?

For many years, EPISD has hired superintendents from outside of our community. They damage the district and leave with a large sum of money because of generous contracts. Let’s change that! I want the next superintendent to be from El Paso because they will better understand our community’s needs. It is also crucial that we create a contract that will benefit the taxpayer, not the superintendent. I would also prefer if the next superintendent holds a doctorate and is a strong advocate for public schools. This individual also needs to build trust with the community by engaging families. They must commit to allocating resources for EPISD families in an equitable way that will provide a top-notch education to all students, in every zip code. Upon taking office, the next superintendent must address two pressing matters – the ramifications sustained by our students’ education, due to the pandemic, and declining enrollment.

-What's the biggest challenge the district faces when it comes to educating the students and what will you do to address it?

The first place to start is the EPISD budget. District finances need to be approached with an equitable lens, not a business mentality. Every year, the district designates dollars for each school. This money needs to be allocated in a fair way, based on need, at each school. This approach works toward dismantling institutional racism. Many parents at the district want to be involved in their child’s education, but do not know how to get involved. EPISD can educate parents with knowledge that will increase their social and cultural capital and enhance their involvement in their child’s education. 

-Another challenge the district is facing is that enrollment continues to decline. What should the district do to better address this?

The district needs to be aggressive in combating declining enrollment, especially against charter schools. This needs to be a top priority for the next superintendent. I believe the superintendent should create a position that focuses on declining enrollment to focus work on this. We need to knock on people’s doors and encourage them to come back to EPISD. When families leave EPISD, we need to encourage them to stay at the school district. If unsuccessful, a week or two after leaving EPISD, we need to call families and convince them to return to the school district. 

-Do you see the value in the hybrid learning model in a post-pandemic classroom? What do you think is needed to improve upon what exists?

The COVID-19 pandemic has been a fluid situation that has made everyone adapt to new processes, in order to balance daily life with safety. I worry that the district did not do enough to approach the pandemic with an equitable lens. While every student at EPISD was given a laptop or iPad, and access to a mobile hotspot, if needed, a digital divide emerged. There are many parents that need guidance and support on using these devices. The district did not do enough to provide the resources needed, in certain neighborhoods, to close these gaps. This is why I will advocate for an equitable response to a post-pandemic world, where the focus should be on the student and family needs that will enrich their education. We also need to provide families with rigorous course to catch students up through the summer, intensive tutoring, and support for mental health. 

-Knowing that kids won't be vaccinated for many more months if not another year, should the district dedicate money to improve air flow and social distancing in facilities or should those funds be used elsewhere?

This was one of my biggest concerns as we learned more about COVID-19 because of aging buildings at EPISD. We have already invested in better ventilation for our buildings, since the Fall of 2020. All of our employees have access to vaccines, and this has given them peace of mind to be back at school. Conditions continue to improve and decision making at EPISD has been guided by science. I think social distancing and mask wearing should continue until we reach herd immunity. 

-Last summer, the board was set to consider another $242 million bond to pay for security upgrades, conversion to refrigerated air conditioner and LED lighting, and improving athletic facilities. The district is still working on completing the projects from the $669 million bond approved in 2016. Would you support another bond issuance in 2021 or 2022? Please answer Yes, No and Why.

I do not believe EPISD has the capacity or capability to manage bond projects in-house. Crockett and the new central office were plagued with issues, mainly stemming from change orders and inadequate processes. For the past year, there have also been prevailing wage issues at Austin and Irvin. 

Jacobs is scheduled to leave the district at the end of 2021 and transition the projects to EPISD’s Facilities and Construction Department. I believe the Facilities & Construction Department is in need of new leadership. I am not confident that this department is capable of handling these projects and could cause further delays in completing the rest of the bond projects. At this point, I would potentially support extending the Jacobs contract beyond December 2021. Recently, some issues at Austin High School have developed around this bond project managed by Jacobs. This has led me to questioning if Jacobs has managed other projects poorly. I want to make sure they are held accountable before casting a vote in favor of an extension. Overall, they are in a better position to manage the remaining bond projects than EPISD’s own Facilities and Construction Department. 

As for future bonds, the district has a myriad of needs that merit passing another bond in the near future. The 2016 bond could have been implemented in a better way and it worries me that this will make the community hesitant to vote for another bond. Last year, the past superintendent tried bringing a bond to voters, but I opposed it because we were in the midst of a pandemic and there was no clear plan in place. Before moving forward with another bond, I want to see a plan that includes a process for school closures and consolidation. This is a key step for the community to support another bond. 

-You represent voters in your district. Do you commit to communicating directly with your constituents and answering questions when asked about your opinion on a given issue? Some trustees punt to the board president even though they are not being asked to speak on behalf of the board, but to only share their opinion as an elected official for their specific district.

All leaders should be transparent and accountable because they make decisions on behalf of the public. I have been transparent, accountable, and accessible, to my constituents, in person, by phone, and online. Prior to the pandemic, I held monthly community meetings, the day before the regular school board meeting, where I reviewed the agenda with constituents and asked for their feedback. In a second term, I will continue to advocate for transparency and including the community’s voice in the votes that I take on the school board. 

I have always been very open, candid, and accessible to media. This is a practice that I will continue in a second term. 

-Last year, the board approved a 5 percent increase to the tax rate, raising taxes by $75 dollars on the average home (worth $150 million). The pandemic has brought deep financial challenges for most families and now the Central Appraisal District has raised valuations, too. Would you support a tax rate increase, tax rate decrease or leaving it flat?

The tax rate increase that occurred last year was because we sold the final part of the voter approved 2016 bond. The district had already issued the bonds in January 2019, so they could not be delayed. 

As we have discussed the budged for FY 2022, there has not been a mention of the tax rate increasing. At this point, I do not believe there will be an increase in the tax rate when it is adopted in August 2021. HB 3, that went into effect September 2019, has also limited school districts on increasing property taxes. If there is a significant increase in the tax rate, it will trigger an election and voters will decide if they want to vote for or against an increase. 

-What makes you the best candidate for the job?

Two years ago, I launched a campaign for school board because I did not believe that the district was moving in the right direction. There were grave transparency and accountability issues at the district, including the exclusion of the community from making decisions. 

I have made it a priority to make decisions, together, with members of my community. In less than two years, I have been effective in delivering on the promises from the first campaign. I have worked to protect transparency and have improved processes at the district that have created accountability. Employees have received Winter and end-of year stipends, as well as an increase in pay. I want to continue working with my constituents, receive their input, and pick who will lead the next chapter of EPISD, together.  

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