Eanes ISD is buying Teslas for its new police department. They’re cheaper than you think.
The words "Tesla" and "affordability" don’t usually go hand in hand when you think about buying a car on a budget. But a Central Texas school district — in the process of forming its own police department — said the Austin-based company had the most competitive bid for patrol vehicles.
The Eanes Independent School District’s Board of Trustees voted unanimously Tuesday to purchase nine Teslas for police officers that will be stationed at each school. A new Texas law that took effect last month requires districts to have at least one armed security officer on every campus during regular school hours. Eanes ISD has decided to comply with House Bill 3 by creating its own police department. For the department to be commissioned by the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement, the district must purchase patrol vehicles.
“It really comes down to three factors: affordability, availability, and sustainability,” Eanes ISD Superintendent Jeff Arnett said of the district's decision to go with Tesla.
Arnett said traditional police vehicles are normally large SUVs that have a high price tag and are expensive to retrofit with the necessary technology and equipment. “And we knew from surveying the market that those vehicles were probably going to be somewhere in the neighborhood of $60,000 to $70,000,” he said.
How much will the Teslas cost?
The district has chosen the Tesla Model Y, which will cost about $42,000 each. The cost of outfitting those vehicles with the appropriate equipment will be another $6,952, according to a spokesperson for Eanes ISD. In contrast, upgrading a Chevrolet Tahoe with police equipment would be $10,206, the district said.
The total cost of the Tesla is on par with or cheaper than what other districts in the Austin area are spending on police cars. The Del Valle ISD school board recently approved the purchase of six vehicles from a Ford dealership in San Antonio for about $43,800 apiece. Austin ISD is looking at Ford SUVs that would total about $76,000 when fully equipped.
Arnett said vendors also told Eanes ISD the large SUVs police traditionally use were backordered and would take 12 to 18 months to arrive.
“The thought of waiting more than a year for those on backorder was very difficult for us to contemplate," he said.
The Teslas the district is purchasing will likely be ready in about 60 days.
Eanes ISD also anticipates long-term savings on fuel over the eight to 10-year lifespan of the Teslas. The district estimates installing charging stations will be a one-time cost of $3,000.
“So if you multiply the electricity costs and the cost of the charging station over eight to 10 years, it’s still considerably less than the maintenance and the gas and oil that would be required for a traditional police vehicle,” Arnett said.
Board President James Spradley added the district is going to be installing solar panels on its buildings too.
“We’re making our own fuel for these cars and I think that just kind of closes a loop on the whole initiative that we have taken to reduce our reliance on outside electricity,” he said.
The district is using bond dollars that can only be spent on capital expenditures, like purchasing vehicles or construction projects.
Eanes ISD faces pushback from state legislator
Eanes ISD’s plan to purchase Teslas as patrol vehicles drew criticism from a Central Texas Republican lawmaker. State Rep. Ellen Troxclair, whose district does not include Eanes ISD, described buying Teslas as wasteful in a post last month on X, formerly known as Twitter.
Eanes ISD is spending hundreds of thousands of tax dollars to buy a brand new fleet of TESLAs. Raise your hand if you’re tired of being gaslit by some districts claiming they don’t have enough money while they spend wildly on luxury cars 🙋🏻♀️ #txlege pic.twitter.com/TLQVHiawgM— Ellen Troxclair 🇺🇸 (@EllenTroxclair) September 19, 2023
But Eanes ISD officials said they followed the legal procurement process and invited more than 90 vendors to submit bids, but only two qualified vendors actually did. Still, Troxclair had questions about the process.
“I remain concerned that their procurement process was not done in a way to solicit more responses,” she said in an emailed statement to KUT. “Are we to believe that of all of the car dealers in central Texas, only two wanted to sell nine cars to a ready and willing cash buyer? The bottom line is that buying Teslas sends the wrong message to students and teachers alike about the district’s financial priorities.”
Eanes ISD said the only other qualified bid it received was from a Dodge dealership, but it was offering a vehicle that was going to be discontinued in 2024.
Superintendent Arnett said the concerns raised about the purchase of Teslas gave the district the opportunity to better explain why it went in this direction.
“[It's also] helping our stakeholders understand that as taxpayers this is a good value for them and more importantly, it provides the protection and the safety and the security on each of our campuses that we heard from our community is so important,” he said.
But, ahead of the vote, trustee Jennifer Champagne did not mince words about some of the criticism the district had received.
“I personally would encourage those politicians and spin doctors out there to spend a little bit more time focusing on getting us the funds that we need to keep our schools and our students safe, rather than publicity efforts,” she said.
Why nine cars though?
Board Secretary Heather Sheffield said that she had been debating with herself whether purchasing nine patrol vehicles was necessary. But she said at the end of the day it was about safety.
“If we have an instance on our campus where we need our police department to come, I would hate for it to be an issue for them to not be able to get there,” Sheffield said. “And so, I want to make sure that we’re protecting our students every way we possibly can.”
Arnett said it is important for the officers to be able to travel quickly throughout the 32-square mile district to respond to emergencies.
“We can’t ask the officers to drive their personal vehicles. That would mean, for example, one of the officers might have to speed up Bee Caves Road driving at 75 miles per hour, honking his or her horn hoping that people will get out of the way,” he said. “They need an actual police vehicle as a first responder, including the lights and the sirens.”
Arnett added that having a police car visible on each campus may also be a deterrent.
“[It] might prohibit someone from thinking about any kind of unacceptable behavior or criminal activity on any of our campuses when you see those vehicles parked in front of the school,” he said.
Eanes ISD isn't alone in choosing Tesla
Board President Spradley said Eanes ISD is not alone in buying electric patrol vehicles.
“We’re not the first police department to get Teslas, we’re not the first police department in the country to look at electric cars. I wish we were that cutting edge but this is becoming more and more standard,” he said.
Dallas County, for example, approved the purchase of three Teslas last year for law enforcement departments. South Pasadena, a small city in Los Angeles County, announced earlier this year its police department’s entire fleet of vehicles will be Teslas. Other municipal police departments in New York, Colorado, Washington and Minnesota also use Teslas as patrol vehicles.
Arnett also pointed out that school districts, like Eanes ISD, are not just looking at electric patrol cars.
“It probably won’t be long before we have time to consider the possibility of electric buses for our students as other school districts are doing too," he said.
Austin ISD, for example, announced last year its entire bus fleet will be electric by 2035.