Decisions on fate of El Paso school facilities await elected school board

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EL PASO, Texas — After months of deliberation, the El Paso Independent School District Board of Managers decided to postpone most decisions on campus consolidations.

The El Paso Independent School District last year released results from a $4.2 million study of existing school facilities in various areas throughout the the city.

The study analyzed the operation of the schools, focusing on issues of student capacity and efficient use of resources. It initially included recommendations that the school system consider closing eight elementary schools: Roberts, Vilas, Beall, Alta Vista, Zavala, Fannin,Travis and Schuster Elementary schools.

One recommendation in the plan is to rebuild some of the elementary schools entirely; while the others would become campuses for grades K-8. At this time, no middle or high schools are at risk of being closed.

The study considered the mobility of the local population and population trends. According to the study, EPISD will lose 5,200 students by 2020. The schools recommended for closure are located in some of El Paso’s older neighborhoods with many residents that are senior citizens.

After various community groups raised concerns about the recommendations, the EPISD Board of Managers decided in March to consolidate only Vilas Elementary in the Sunset Heights neighborhood with Mesita Elementary in Kern Place. Vilas would have students from prekindergarten to first grade; second through fifth grade students would go to Mesita.

Other decisions or consolidations will be left to an elected school board that will take office in June. The Board of Managers has been serving since May 2013 after Texas Education Commissioner Michael Williams stripped the previous elected board of power for failing to respond to a cheating scheme in EPISD.

The debate over school closings or consolidation began after the release of a study by Jacobs Engineering on the district’s facility usage and demographic trends. The study found that EPISD enrollment was falling by 1,000 students each year.

As a result, many campuses were well short of capacity, prompting concerns about whether the district could continue to maintain its current number of campuses in face of shrinking enrollment. Parents and supporters of some of the schools targeted for closing or consolidation said more conversation was needed on the impact students, families and neighborhoods around schools that might be closed.

Guillermo Glenn , a member of the Parent Committee at Beall Elementary, said closing schools will negatively affect various communities and that board members should seek other options.

“We believe that Beall is the heart of the community in the area of El Chamizal,” Glenn said. “The school can be used at its capacity and could use up the (existing) resources that the elementary has to offer.”

Beall has capacity for 725 students but currently has a student population of 494 students from pre-kindergarten to fifth grade.

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Many of the residents affected by the proposed closures are low-income families without resources to transport their children to new schools that are farther away from home.

EPISD also faces significant costs to maintain the schools slated for closing.

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According to the district, closing any schools would benefit the students because instead of paying for maintenance on old buildings the savings could be used for new programs or campuses.

EPISD spokesperson Melissa Martinez said public communication is an important part of the process of determining how to best use school facilities.

“We are asking (the public) to give us time to take all the information in as well as to be prepared and know that all the recommendations … will be the best for our children and our schools,” she said.

Braulio Sanchez, a Zavala parent, believes that new residents are moving into the neighborhoods around some of the schools recommended for closure or consolidation.

“New people are coming,” Sanchez said. “People in this area are renting their homes. Many of those are people from Juarez.”

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