As you likely know, the El Paso Independent School District (EPISD) is floating a $668.7 million bond for the school district. It is the largest bond attempt in the history of El Paso. If approved by the voters, the EPISD bond will cost El Paso taxpayers about $260 per year. A few years ago, the El Paso school district’s board of trustees were disbanded by the State of Texas and replaced with an appointed caretaker board. The current trustees are the newly reconstituted board after Texas returned control of EPISD to the community. The old school board was disbanded as a result of district-wide cheating on standardized student testing and public corruption.
The first order of business for the newly-elected trustees was to propose the bond election intended to shore up the finances of the school district as a result of declining student enrollments. The school district, by law, is prohibited from spending money advocating for the bond election and can only offer general information. Susie Byrd, one of the recently elected trustees, has been spearheading the release of information about the bond for the school district.
Competing against other taxing entities that are also raising their tax rates, EPISD has enlisted Mark A. Smith of Mark Smith Public Affairs to raise funds for the El Paso Rising PAC. The PAC is led by Jaime Barceleau, who recently ran for Democrat Precinct Chair and is involved in a relationship with El Paso District Clerk, Norma Favela. Barceleau is also the CEO of Paso del Norte Children’s Development Center. A few days ago, Norma Favela sent out an invitation asking individuals to attend the “Jaime Barceleau will launch his campaign for elected office” at Dominic’s Italian Restaurant today, 6:00pm, El Paso time.
Mark Smith has been operating Mark Smith Public Affairs since 2010. Previously, Smith worked for Woody Hunt’s company, Hunt Companies as a government affairs liaison. Before working for Hunt, Smith worked for Rick Perry’s office.
Smith has been involved in recent controversies involving political lobbying. In 2013, Mark Smith sent Canutillo’s board president, Armando Rodriguez, a text messaging advising him that Smith could “get marisa [sic] (Marisa Marquez) to run interference” for $13,500 per month. (link) A former employee of Mark Smith also filed a restraining order against Smith for stalking her. (link)
Barceleau, through Mark Smith, began quietly asking for money this week from El Paso businesses for the EPISD bond PAC. Smith is asking for $1,000, but will take any amount the local businesses want to give to the PAC. Any donations to the PAC are not tax deductible, according to Smith’s communications to several businesses.
Besides the controversies about the test cheating, EPISD has had other controversies involving its bond elections. In 2003, former radio talk-show host, Paul Strelzin sent out letters to EPISD vendors asking for money to help inform the voters about the $207,435,000 bond they were floating at that time. Strelzin’s letter became controversial because it contained the amounts each business had been awarded by EPISD for school district work. The controversy centered in that businesses felt they were being extorted to contribute because of how the amounts had been added to the letters they received.