EL PASO, Texas (KTSM) – El Paso businessmen and board members of a nonprofit supporting the implementation of charter schools into the region are pouring big money into a political action committee ahead of the El Paso Independent School District board elections.

Several board directors of the Council on Regional Economic Expansion and Educational Development have contributed over $60,000 into the Kids First of El Paso Political Action Committee, according to a campaign finance report.

All major directors have made contributions to the PAC except for Amy O’Rourke, who is the choose to excel director for the nonprofit.

CREEED Chariman Richard Castro, Vice-chair Woody Hunt, treasurer Raymond Palacios, secretary and executive director Eduardo Rodriguez, data director Manuel Soto Jr. are listed among contributors to the PAC.

Rodriguez is listed as the PAC’s treasurer. Additionally, CREEED directors Ruben Chavez, Henry Gallardo and Dan Olivas are on the report.

CREEED is credited with providing grants and scholarships to educational institutions throughout the region but receives consistent pushback due its efforts to expand the charter school market in El Paso.

The report, released on March 31, shows the PAC has amassed $72,453 in monetary and non-monetary contributions. The activity is recorded over a period between January 15 and March 31 of this year. No expenses have been made.

Most notable contributions came from Castro and Hunt who donated $28,000 each. The PAC also recorded three in-kind contributions, each worth $1,500 for canvassing for supported candidates in the school board races.

El Paso Mail and Print also contributed a little more than $5,500 in non-monetary contributions to the PAC, according to the report. Listed are contributions of printed campaign material for supported candidates.

The printing business listed a $2,018 expense in printing for District 1 candidate Jennie Tipton Lasley, the report shows. District 1 includes the West Side, Downtown, Segundo Barrio and Chamizal.

It appears the committee has also chosen which candidates it is supporting in the school district’s four races. The PAC’s report lists support for Leslie Hoard, Isabel Hernandez, Israel Irrobali and Lasley.

Veronica Escobar pulls endorsement of candidate

On Saturday, U.S. Rep. Veronica Escobar published a Facebook comment saying she was pulling an endorsement she made for Lasley in her school board race. Escobar cited “new information” for pulling the endorsement after the PAC’s report began generating discourse on the social media platform.

KTSM 9 News asked Escobar if it was the PAC’s report that caused her to pull the endorsement. She replied that she would only add “I have much love for Jennie and her family.”

The El Paso American Federation of Teachers posted on their Facebook criticizing CREEED’s support of EPISD candidates, saying it was a move to expand the charter school market in the region.

“Their goal is to own and operate a the EPISD School Board with a five Trustee majority consisting of Daniel Call, Jennifer Tipton-Lasley, Leslie Hoard, Isabel Hernandez, and Israel Irrobali,” the union posted.

Josh Acevedo, an incumbent running for reelection in District 3, says he sees the influence of dollars from the PAC as problematic due to the individuals who are contributing to it. The board of directors of CREEED are supporting the expansion of charter schools in El Paso, which pulls resources and damages service to the community, he added.

“The public has to understand that they’re supporting charter schools because they have that privilege,” he said. “Those of us without that privilege are left to pick up the pieces.”

PAC supported candidates speak out

Lasley, who was a public school teacher, told KTSM 9 News she feels public schools are the best option for parents to consider for their children. Public schools provide services that charter schools cannot and provide education to all students.

“I think the best bet is to put your child in a public school,” she said. “But charter schools are also public schools and I think one thing that they do provide us is an opportunity for some competition. I think that a little competition just makes us better and it is never bad to up our game.”  

Lasley said Escobar was given “misinformation” and the representative was pushed to reconsider her position.

“I don’t think that she was put in the best situation being asked to either endorse or not endorse or what was going on after some information came out about CREEED,” Lasley said. “So, I feel really bad for her in that sense.

Lasley said she feels El Pasoans do not care who is supporting a candidate if their mission is to better the educational experience for their children.

Other candidates supported by the PAC say they’re looking to provide adequate leadership at EPISD and are willing to accept assistance from like-minded groups who want to help students.

Leslie Hoard, who is a candidate in the District 3 race and realtor, said groups looking to better education for students should not be turned away. She acknowledged the community’s concern about charter schools but said she is focused on EPISD.

Israel Irrobali, a District 5 candidate supported by the PAC, said he has shaped his vision for the school board with the interests of the community and other stakeholders. He said he does not agree with everything CREEED stands for but is willing to work on the things they do agree on.

He said he has met with teachers unions and CREEED and other groups. “When we talk about charter schools, they are here and are receiving public dollars. But I don’t support them.”

Irrobali says residents are concerned about how tax dollars are implemented, how their children are being taught and what attributes the next superintendent should have.

“When I look for support, what I tell folks is ‘this is my vision for the district. This is what I believe we need, this is what my residents are telling me we need. This is what families need,” he said. “If they see eye-to-eye with me on these issues, I am happy to have their support.”