The Canutillo school board is again asking voters to approve a multi-million dollar bond to fund school construction, renovation and security upgrades.
The board voted 4-1 on Aug. 22 to place a $264.1 million bond on the Nov. 8 general election ballot, a second chance attempt at securing funds to address the district’s rapid growth and aging buildings after voters overwhelmingly rejected a similar proposal last November.
Superintendent Pedro Galaviz said he had no hesitation about asking trustees to send an even larger bond to voters.
“It’s inflation, the cost, materials,” Galaviz said. Waiting even longer, he said, would come “at a price.”
He pointed to Northwest Early College High School: it will now cost an estimated $25 million to replace the portable classrooms with a new, permanent building for the school’s nearly 400 students, up from the $12 million estimate from just a year ago.
The biggest changes to this year’s bond proposal include additional campus security upgrades and a $62 million reconstruction of Canutillo Middle School rather than the original $10 million in targeted renovations. That change, Galaviz said, came out of conversations with parents, teachers, staff and community members who wanted to ensure that the older portion of the district receives the same level of investment as newer, rapidly growing areas.
The proposal still includes moving Jose J. Alderete Middle School from its current location in the 79835 ZIP code south of Interstate 10 to the 79911 ZIP code north of the highway to address student growth. That is estimated to cost $67 million, up from last year’s $58 million projection.
“This is not a luxury bond,” district spokesperson Gustavo Reveles told trustees ahead of their vote. “Every single one of these items is on the list because it’s a critical need based on the four areas that we identified: safety and security, growth, equity and student programming.”
Blanca Trout was the lone trustee to vote against the bond election. Trustees Laure Searls and Tristan Hernandez were absent.
Trout, in a statement after the vote, said she had wanted to see a “more conservative” proposal that only included “something that we really needed.”
“I think this is too much for the community,” she said, adding, “Taxes are getting outrageous — we have taxes from the city council, we have taxes from the county and now from Canutillo ISD.”
Trout is running as the Republican candidate for the Precinct 4 seat on El Paso County Commissioners Court and faces Democrat and fellow Canutillo Trustee Sergio Coronado in November.
Despite her concern about tax increases, Trout joined her colleagues on Aug. 23 in approving the new tax rate for the 2022-23 school year. Though about 4 cents lower than the current rate, many Canutillo homeowners will still see the school district portion of their property tax bill increase as a result of sharply rising property valuations.
If approved, the bond could require the district’s tax rate to rise by 3 cents at the height of its 40-year repayment schedule, which Reveles said would cost the average homeowner about $55 more annually.
Canutillo last passed a nearly $44 million bond in 2011. At that time, it had a little more than 6,000 students enrolled, according to Texas Education Agency records.
The number of students has fluctuated over the years, with current enrollment at 6,024, according to figures provided by the district. But in five years, that number is expected to be closer to 6,900, and around 7,700 by 2032 as a result of new home construction.
“You need to adjust to the dynamic, the intricacies of change, of a growing system,” Galaviz said. “Districts, or any business that doesn’t, are going to fail.”
A number of campuses, including Canutillo High School, Canutillo Elementary School and Congressman Silvestre & Carolina Reyes Elementary School, are at or over capacity.
“I had to make difficult and creative discussions to accommodate the growth,” Reyes Principal Jessica Meléndez-Carrillo told trustees ahead of the vote. She has converted a teachers’ lounge, conference room, locker room, book room and a custodial lounge into classrooms.
The district spent about $2 million to put in two portables this school year to create more space at Reyes.
“I do not want my fellow principals to face the circumstances I had to face for the past four years,” Meléndez-Carrillo said, urging trustees to call for the bond, which would include $10 million for an additional classroom wing at Reyes.
Galaviz attributes the failure of last year’s bond to insufficient engagement with voters and a misconception that the district and previous boards mismanaged the 2011 bond. Every cent of the 2011 bond went to bond projects, he said. One project wasn’t advertised as originally presented to voters.
The two bond propositions, which totaled $187.5 million, each failed by about 65% of the vote. Less than 1,700 voters cast ballots on each of the propositions.
Reveles has spent the summer talking to teachers, staff and parents about their concerns about last year’s proposal and outreach effort to learn why the bond didn’t pass. This time around, the district will work harder to educate voters outside the school system about the districts’ needs, he said, and will be speaking with prospective voters at the Outlet Shoppes, football games and restaurants.
The administration will soon ask trustees to adopt what Reveles calls “a contract with the voters,” which would legally-bind them — and future boards — to a project list and timelines, establish a citizen-led bond oversight committee and call for the creation of a web portal that would provide project updates.
“Given the growth patterns that we’re going to see here, we know this is not the last time we’ve got to go out to them (voters),” Reveles said. “We want to make sure that we develop a system of trust and transparency.’”
Canutillo ISD’s bond will consist of two propositions on the Nov. 8 ballot, which will be voted on individually:
Proposition A includes $255.7 million for school construction and renovation, land purchase for the new Alderete Middle School campus, and security upgrades, including putting secure vestibules at every campus entrance, campus security cameras and classroom door locking technology.
A full list of projects can be found here.
Proposition B includes $8.4 million to refinance maintenance tax notes (non-voter approved debt) that the district issued in 2020 to pay for district-wide WiFi, student laptops and LED lighting.