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Education Election Featured

Irrobali wins EPISD District 5 seat

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After being just shy of avoiding a runoff last month, Israel Irrobali comfortably won the race Saturday for the District 5 seat on the El Paso Independent School District Board of Trustees.

He received 62% of votes cast during the runoff election, according to unofficial final results.

Challenger Vanessa Betts trailed with 720 votes to Irrobali’s 1,196 votes.

Israel Irrobali, left, and Vanessa Betts

Irrobali came close to winning the May 1 election outright, receiving 48% of the vote in a five-way race for the open Northeast seat on the seven-member EPISD school board. The District 5 trustee represents schools in the Andress High School feeder pattern.

Saturday’s runoff saw higher turnout in District 5 than the May election. In that election, 1,441 of District 5’s 31,687 registered voters cast a ballot — a 4.5% turnout. The runoff saw 1,917 ballots cast, according to unofficial figures from the El Paso County Elections Department.

Irrobali works in the city of El Paso’s Economic and International Development Department and is the city’s legislative liaison.

His win is a victory for the Kids First of El Paso political action committee, which invested in his campaign and that of three other candidates. Only one other of the PAC’s favored candidates, Isabel Hernandez, was successful in her bid to represent District 4, the other Northeast El Paso seat.

The PAC’s funders are affiliated with the Council on Regional Economic Expansion and Educational Development, or CREEED, which has promoted and funded charter school expansions in El Paso, and also has made significant investments in traditional school districts. Irrobali told El Paso Matters he does not support charter schools.

The two interest groups backing Irrobali and Betts spent heavily in the weeks leading up to Saturday’s runoff, according to May 28 campaign finance reports. Irrobali reported $9,209 of in-kind donations from Kids First for a range of campaign services. Betts reported a $5,000 donation from the El Paso chapter of the American Federation of Teachers. She also reported $4,297 of in-kind donations for voter canvassing, which El Paso AFT President Ross Moore said the union funded.

El Paso AFT previously spent $2,000 on Betts’ campaign, with the union’s Texas chapter contributing close to $3,000 in in-kind donations. Irrobali received approximately $7,800 in in-kind donations from Kids First in the run-up to the May 1 election.

Two of El Paso AFT’s four favored candidates saw success this election season: District 3 incumbent Josh Acevedo and newcomer Leah Hanany, who won the District 1 seat.

Irrobali will likely be sworn in to office on June 15, when the EPISD school board is next scheduled to meet.

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Molly Smith

Molly Smith has been a reporter for the El Paso Times and The (McAllen) Monitor. She’s covered education, criminal justice and local government. A Seattle native, she’s lived in Texas since 2014, with stops in Austin, the Rio Grande Valley and now El Paso. She can be reached at mksmith@elpasomatters.org or 915-247-8857.

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