A controversial decision by the Robstown Independent School District Board of Trustees earlier this year to extend the terms of trustees has ended up costing the district more than the price of an election, according to information provided by district officials.
In March, the board voted 4-3 to change the terms the trustees serve from three years to four years. The change, proposed by Board Member Osvaldo Romero, also included an extension of board members' terms, in effect canceling elections for 2010 and 2011.
Under the schedule that was in place before the March 16 meeting, the three-year terms for board members Robert Tapia, Eva Orona and Richard Gonzalez were scheduled to expire in May 2010; terms for board members Pablo Avila and Adolfo Lopez were scheduled to expire in November 2011; and terms for board members Romero and Ernest Gallegos were scheduled to expire in May 2012.
The schedule proposed by Romero created four-year terms for the board members and extended Tapia, Orona and Gonzalez's terms to November 2012, and Avila, Romero, Lopez and Gallegos' terms to November 2014.
After first asking that the item be tabled, Orona expressed her disagreement with the proposal, and read an alternate resolution that would also create four-year terms, but would only extend the terms for she, Tapia and Gonzalez to November 2010, and the terms for the remaining board members until November 2012.
Romero's schedule was adopted by the board in a 4-3 vote, with Romero, Tapia, Gonzalez and Avila voting in favor of the proposal to extend the terms to 2012 and 2014, while Orona, Lopez and Gallegos voted against the measure.
The legal documents required to change the election policy were prepared by the law firm of Gale, Wilson and Sanchez, election specialists hired by the board in another split vote to address the election issue.
In the March 16 meeting, Orona and Lopez were vocal in their criticism of the decision to hire the law firm, and in particular of claims by Romero that the decision would ultimately lead to cost savings for the district.
"You talk about costs," Orona said in the meeting. "You hired legal counsel especially for this item. That's costs involved."
Earlier this month, the issue of costs once again came to the forefront, as the board reviewed bills during a regular meeting held June 8.
In that meeting, Orona, Avila and Tapia questioned a bill for $13,000 from the law firm, which brought the total paid by the district to nearly $20,000.
According to information provided by the district, the November 2009 election cost the district $16,300 and the May 2010 bond election is estimated to cost a similar amount, each less than the cost of hiring the law firm.
On Tuesday, Romero said he was surprised by the second bill, but only because it was received so long after the action was taken.
"I think it pretty much surprised everyone, not just me," Romero said. "I had expected that when you do some work you would submit the bill right away, because you want to get paid right away."
Romero stood by his decision to change the election dates, however, and said the district would see savings in the long run.
"Now it will be a two-year cycle, instead of having an election every year," Romero said. "The savings may not be substantially large, but there will be a savings for it.'
More important than the savings, Romero said, was the change to get election dates in line with national elections, which should bring a higher voter turnout.
"When it comes to school board elections, it's just not right that somebody can get elected with only a few hundred votes," Romero said. "I still feel pretty good about it, and I think it will still be worthwhile."
Romero also questioned Tapia's concerns with the bill, pointing out that many of the charges were for conversations Tapia had with the attorneys.
Tapia denied having any conversations with the attorneys during the June 8 meeting.
On Tuesday, Orona said she was disappointed when she learned the attorneys' fees would exceed the cost of an election, and reiterated her opposition to the change in policy.
"This was all politically motivated," Orona said. "I am very disappointed that this didn't go in the direction that the board should have, to look out for the district's spending."
Although the bill has already been paid by the district, Orona said she hoped the administration would review the bill carefully to see if any of the costs could be recouped.
"We're not spending our money, this is the district's money," Orona said. "I don't want to make money come to the board, when it should have been used somewhere else."