EDINBURG — Voters overwhelmingly struck down a $220 million bond for the school district here, according to unofficial results released Saturday by the Hidalgo County Elections Department.
Over 72% of voters cast ballots against the measure with 1,972 voting for it and 5,141 voting against.
Had the Edinburg Consolidated Independent School District measure been approved, it would have resulted in a 5-cent tax rate increase and funded the construction of a new high school and middle school, two Career and Technology Education centers, and renovations at 17 school gyms, among other facility improvements.
“I think the fact of the matter is that we will respect the decision of our community and move forward, and we’re just going to have to accommodate for the needs of the students — whether that means additional portables or other types of facilities,” ECISD Board President Robert Peña Jr. said following the early voting totals. “We’re just going to have to plan that going forward.”
ECISD trustee Mike Farias expressed the same sentiment and added, “Either way, I’m just glad. I really believe these are record numbers on something like this.”
More than 7,100 residents cast their ballot in the bond election.
The bond was perhaps the most contentious race on the ballot this May. It pitted district trustees against each other and ended up in court when two residents accused the district of spending taxpayer money to push the bond forward. Under Texas law, the district cannot spend money to advocate in favor or against any political measure.
However, a state district judge ultimately sided with the district and found no wrongdoing on its behalf.
Still, the debate boiled over into city politics, with Edinburg Mayor Richard Molina speaking out against the measure in a four-minute video making serious allegations against the ECISD board majority, which was in favor of passing the $220 million bond measure.
“Someone has already made a deal. A contract has been awarded and lots of people are going to make serious money off of this new school — using your tax dollars,” Molina, who himself is facing illegal voting charges, alleged without offering any proof. “This bond is about contracts. It’s not about kids.”
Trustees Peña Jr. and Farias were perhaps the most vocal of the lot, with Peña serving as a voice for the majority, which included Carmen Gonzalez, Oscar Salinas and Xavier Salinas, while Farias spoke on behalf of the minority faction, which included Dominga Vela and Leticia Garcia.
The Monitor hosted a discussion as part of its debate series last month, with Peña and Farias both defending their positions and sparring on the overcrowding of students at middle schools and high schools.
Peña argued the schools were above capacity by more than 1,400 students, while Farias argued they were only over capacity by about 40 students based on the architectural designs for the schools.
“We do have needs,” Farias said Saturday night. “We just need to meet those needs correctly and involve our community, and hear their voice, and include them in the decision we make as a district.”
When asked why he thought the bond had failed, Peña could not point to a specific reason.
“Honestly, I don’t know. I could presume all day, but overall, the voter sentiment or idea was that they didn’t want to to see more taxes and they’ve certainly expressed that message,” he said.
Like Farias, Peña said the district needed to go back and revisit the issue.
“I think we need to come back as a district and regroup and assess exactly where we can accommodate these students,” the school board president said.
For Farias, Saturday’s election results were a big win for his faction.
“I’m a dreamer, but quite frankly I’m still kind of on cloud nine,” he said. “I did predict a 70-30 (margin) and it came out even better than that.”
Both sides made it a point to praise the voters.
“We thank and appreciate the community that did come out and exercise their right to vote,” Peña said. “Nevertheless, we will continue to provide the best educational environment for our students.”