The El Paso Community Scholars first launched themselves into the El Paso scene in the summer of 2000 by releasing a report castigating the local banks for seemingly sending the community’s money out of town. Most El Paso businesses will attest to their inability to access start-up and other capital for their businesses. The question that the Community Scholars attempted to answer was whether or not the banks had a responsibility to keep the money in town or not. The answer is still hotly debated among the adversaries with some in the community arguing that the report did bring about some change while others state that the report further damaged the community’s relationship with the financial institutions. Texas Senator Eliot Shapleigh and Mary Hull-Caballero, wife of current Mayor Ray C. Caballero started the Community Scholars in 1998. According to their website, (communityscholars.org) the Community Scholars is a youth leadership development initiative. Their vision, according to the website is to develop “regional community leaders.” The student interns are paid $7.50 to $10 an hour for their research. They are selected from the region’s schools via a demonstrated academic history according to the organization.
Recently the Community Scholars generated their most recent controversy during the EPISD Board of Trustees candidate’s question and answer session at the Westside/Upper Valley breakfast meeting on April 12, 2003. Current president of the EPISD Board of Trustees, Dan Wever stated that one of his accomplishments was keeping the school district out of the TIF Districts recently implemented by the Caballero administration. Wever stated that this action saved the school district “100’s of millions of dollars” in potentially lost revenues. This statement and the comments Mr. Wever made regarding erroneous information found on the Internet led Al Jefferson to ask what he knew about the $75,000 EPISD grant given to the Community Scholars.
Dan Wever responded that in fact a $75,000 grant had been given to the Community Scholars to write a report about the lending institutions in El Paso. Mr. Jefferson asked Wever what he knew about the report and if he had any contact with the co-founder, Hull-Caballero to which Wever responded, “I know nothing about Mrs. Caballero,” adding that all he did was read the report. Asked to justify the expenditure of the $75,000 for 14 students, Board President Dan Wever stated that he had not received an expense report from the Community Scholars. Further prompting from the audience pressed Wever to state that the only thing he received from the Community Scholars was the controversial lending report produced by the non-profit organization. An exasperated member of the audience asked how could the school district spend $5,000 per student and not know how the money was used? Dan Wever responded “[Sen.] Shapleigh recommended it,” adding, “you should see some of the other stuff.” Well, yes Mr. Wever, the taxpayer would like to see the other stuff!
The 64,000 students and 9,000 employees of the El Paso Independent School District deserve an answer as to how $75,000 of their money was spent. As the largest taxing entity with a budget of $450 million dollars, it is incumbent upon the institution to step forward and show the community that they are good stewards of the community’s hard-earned money. $75,000 may seem like a drop in the bucket to Mr. Wever, but to the community it is a much-needed resource that could be used to pay an additional teacher for the local school. To leave the statement, “you should see some of the other stuff” unanswered is a clear indication that the school board has on interest in the welfare of the children or the community. It is time that the EPISD come forward and explain themselves to their ultimate bosses, the voters of the district. A current Trustee, much less the president of the board, has no place uttering Wever’s statement. It is time Dan Wever seriously reconsider his reelection campaign.