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EPISD Plans School Closures, Consolidations Amid Sharply Declining Enrollment

El Paso ISD is also looking at bond issue in 2025.

El Paso Independent School District Superintendent Diana Sayavedra discusses the “Destination District Redesign” plan at Burges High School on May 1. EPISD is seeking community input as it considers “sunsetting” some of its campuses in response to El Paso's declining population. (Corrie Boudreaux/El Paso Matters)

The El Paso Independent School District is planning to close or consolidate schools — which the district calls “sunsetting campuses” — by the 2025-26 school year as it braces for continued declining enrollment.

EPISD Superintendent Diana Sayavedra on Wednesday announced the district is evaluating programs, resources and facilities and will present recommendations to the Board of Trustees in late fall.

The district will hold a series of community meetings this month to introduce their restructuring plans and gather public input.

In an interview with El Paso Matters, Sayavedra said the district still doesn’t know how many or which of its 76 campuses could be affected but noted it does not plan to close any high schools at this point.

“If we don't begin to have that conversation and make those difficult decisions, we will find ourselves in a crisis,” Sayavedra told El Paso Matters. “So before we get there, we're giving ourselves a good runway to partner with the community so that our decisions are informed.”

EPISD enrollment declines

The superintendent of El Paso’s largest school district said the change is needed due to declining enrollment that she expects to continue falling in the coming years.

EPISD’s enrollment has declined by 20% since the 2013-14 school year, according to the Texas Education Agency. The district currently has fewer than 50,000 students for the first time since the 1960s.

“Over the next 10 years, we stand to lose additional students. Because our birth rates and the birth rates nationally are showing that we’re graduating more students from school systems than there are children being born,” Sayavedra said.

The number of children born to El Paso County residents declined by 21% between 2013 and 2023, according to state data provided to El Paso Matters. Nationally, the number of births declined by 9% in the same period.

Elementary schools are the first affected by declining birth rates. EPISD closed nine elementary schools between the 2018-19 and 2020-21 school years. The declines then ripple through to middle schools and high schools over the years.

Sayavedra said she expects the district’s enrollment to settle between 36,000 and 42,000 students. That would take the district’s enrollment back to where it was in the 1950s, according to newspaper reports from that period.

El Paso ISD budget, teacher pay

As enrollment declines, Sayavedra said the district will likely have to tighten its budget and possibly forego raises for its teachers and other employees in the coming school year.

“I don’t foresee that we can give a significant compensation increase, if any at all. But what I can share with you is that I’m going to bring a balanced budget to the board,” Sayavedra said. “We're not at a point where we’re having to make significant staffing cuts because we’ve been very conservative and very fruitful and very strategic about our budget development process.”

She said the district plans to maintain its fund balance at 75 days or higher and keeps its employee’s insurance premiums the same.

Trustees for El Paso’s two other largest school districts, the Socorro and Ysleta Independent School Districts, have also said they may not be able to give employees raises in the 2024-25 school year.

During an April board meeting, SISD trustees discussed possibly reducing its employee health plan contributions as it deals with a $33 million deficit.

The future of EPISD high schools

Though Sayavedra said EPISD does not currently plan to close any high schools in the district, many have also seen declines in enrollment.

Since the 2013-14 school year, enrollment dropped by over 43% at Irvin High School, 27% at Austin High School, and 21% at Andress High School.

Among EPISD’s 10 traditional high schools, El Paso and Franklin were the only ones to see their enrollment increase during that time, by 31% and under 9%, respectively.

2025 bond election plans

The district also plans to bring a bond election to voters in November 2025 to upgrade heating and cooling systems throughout the district, improve security and potentially pay for upgrades or the construction of new consolidated school campuses.

Sayavedra said changes would need to be made even without a bond.

“If we were to sunset a campus, and families are going to transition to another campus, with a bond there may be opportunities for us to update that facility so that it’s a healthier learning environment for children. But if we're not able to pass a bond, at the very least what we will be able to offer is program expansion for the receiving campus,” Sayavedra said.

What’s next in school closure plan?

A series of public meetings will be held this month to gather input from the community. Over the summer, the district will develop preliminary criteria for school consolidations and closures.

The criteria will be shared with the community by early fall, and the district will conduct a preliminary analysis of campuses, including which schools require facility improvements or have opportunities to implement or expand programs.

Recommendations will be presented in late fall to the EPISD school board, which will vote on which schools to close or consolidate.

Timeline:

May 2024: 10 feeder pattern community meetings

Summer 2024: EPISD reviews feedback; begins developing preliminary criteria for school consolidations, closures

Early fall 2024: Criteria shared with the community; begins preliminary analysis of campuses, including which schools require facility improvements or have opportunities to implement or expand programs; more community meetings

Late fall 2024: EPISD presents recommendations to the Board of Trustees.

2025-26 school year: School consolidations, closures implemented

This article first appeared on El Paso Matters and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

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