Equity and Representation
By Hayley Kappes
El Paso Times
State data show that the Clint Independent School District’s spending per student at different schools is not equal, and two community activist groups want to change how board members are elected to end the disparity.
The groups want the district to change to single-member trustee districts or they say they will work to create their own school district.
Under the single-member trustee districts, voters of specific areas elect their own representative, who would fight for the needs of that area. The groups want the change on the November ballot.
Before the board meeting on Wednesday, the El Paso Interreligious Sponsoring Organization, or EPISO, and the Paso del Norte Civil Rights Project argued that the district’s at-large elected board does not ensure equal representation throughout the communities it serves, particularly the Horizon City and Montana Vista areas.
Those areas have larger student populations, according to the district.
Six of the seven school board members live in Clint, and one trustee, Patricia Randleel, lives in Horizon City, said district spokeswoman Laura Cade.
The Rev. Ed Roden-Lucero, co-chairman of EPISO and priest at San Juan Diego Catholic Church in far East El Paso, said funding disparities wouldn’t exist if Horizon City and Montana Vista had more elected representation on the school board.
According to the groups, operating expenditures from all funding sources during the 2009-10 school year show that Clint ISD spent $9,983 per student at Clint High in the Lower Valley, which was 26 percent greater than the average spent on students in other areas of the state with similar economic and ethnic demographics.
During the same period, the district spent $6,471 per student at Horizon High, which is 19 percent lower than the average spent at other similar schools around the state, the groups said.
In 2009-10, per student spending at Mountain View High was $8,492, which is line with what other campuses with similar demographics spend, the groups said.
For comparison purposes, the Texas Education Agency groups each campus with 40 other public schools that have similar student ethnic makeups and similar numbers of economically disadvantaged students and limited English proficient students.
Cade said the Clint ISD is “unique.”
“We can tell you that the campuses in the ‘campus groups’ closely match Clint ISD schools and are demographically similar,” Cade said. “We do not know the programs, course offerings, federal funds, extracurricular offerings, or even the actual facilities of each campus in the ‘campus groups’ to determine why there may be a deviation in per pupil spending.”
Cade said the Clint ISD makes all efforts to provide the same level of education and quality of life for all students.
Jed Untereker, staff attorney at the Paso de Norte Civil Rights Project who researched the issue for EPISO, said he was shocked at the disparity in student funding among the district’s high schools.
“A student at Clint High had 54 percent more money spent on him or her than a student at Horizon High,” Untereker said. “What is particularly bothering is Horizon has the largest student population in the district but only has one seat on the school board.”
Board President James Pendell declined to be interviewed after the meeting.
In a statement emailed after the meeting, Pendell said: “The board will revisit and study the issue of single-member voting districts. The board and administration will also study and take into consideration the concerns brought before the board tonight.”
The issue of single-member voting districts went before Pendell, who has been on the school board since 1993, by the same group four years ago. In 2008, EPISO petitioned the board to put the issue to a vote.
Roden-Lucero said parents and students of Horizon and Mountain View high schools have complained about the quality of education and said trustees have dismissed their concerns.
Roden-Lucero said 300 community members filled the Clint ISD boardroom twice in the summer of 2008, but the school board didn’t support the move to single-member districts.
This time around, if trustees are not willing to put single-member districts on November’s ballot, Roden-Lucero said, he and supporters would begin steps to break away the Horizon City and Montana Vista areas to form a new school district.
Section 13.101 of the Texas Education Code allows for the creation of a school district by detaching land from an existing district.
Roden-Lucero said the group would need to gather the signatures of 10 percent of registered voters in those areas to call for an election that would consider detaching from the district.
A Texas Education Agency official could not be reached late Wednesday to clarify how that secession would have to take place.
“The board members have to be willing to say they’ll move in another direction,” Roden-Lucero said. “They could do this very easily if they wanted to.”