By Marsha Sutton
In an interview last week with Scott Wooden, president of Del Mar Union School District’s Board of Education, he explained why he appeared to change his position on the district’s push to place a $76.8 million General Obligation bond measure on the ballot this November.
Because he opposed spending $20,000 from the general fund to conduct a feasibility survey to determine how the community would respond to such a measure, many assumed he was against the bond.
Although he and fellow board member Doug Perkins voted no, approval was given at the board’s April 25 meeting on a vote of 3-2 to proceed with the survey.
Then three months later, at the school board’s July 25 meeting, Wooden voted with the majority to place the bond measure before voters in November. This required a super-majority which the district got: The vote was 4-1 to approve.
Why the change?
“I honestly didn’t believe that the survey results would show that there was support in the community, so I didn’t want to spend the money to go forward with a survey at that time,” Wooden said.
The positive survey results surprised him, he said. The bond requires 55 percent of voter approval, which the poll indicated was well within reach, although Wooden said the polling questions could have been phrased better.
“I still have doubts on the ability of it to pass, but I’m willing to believe the survey results … and let the voters have a say on it,” he explained.
Wooden’s doubts stemmed from the country’s economic uncertainty. “I think the economy is going to make people think twice about these things,” he said.
He was also disturbed by the lack of detail from the district on which projects needed funding, for which schools, when and for how much.
Despite this, if the bond doesn’t pass, “I think it’s going to be an uphill battle to get the funds that we need to do our infrastructure improvements,” he said.
“It’s tough. I’ve struggled with this,” said the Republican party member who ran in 2010 on a campaign of fiscal responsibility. But he “didn’t want to be the vote” that denied the public the opportunity to weigh in on the measure.
San Dieguito’s bond
Ken Noah, superintendent of the San Dieguito Union High School District which has also placed a General Obligation bond on the November ballot, was dismayed over the possible impact of Del Mar’s bond.
“I know that sounds somewhat self-centered, but we’ve been at this for almost four years,” Noah said. “This is so significant for the future of our district and generations of students to come.”
He said he had hoped to avoid “what I perceive to be competitive issues on the ballot. “Now that it’s been done, it’s the reality that we have.”
At this point, he said SDUHSD “needs to make the best of it” and try to “work together [with DMUSD] in the best interest of all our kids.”
Wooden attended San Dieguito’s board meeting on July 26 for its bond vote and said he told trustees, “Don’t be afraid to vote to put this on the ballot. Don’t let what we have done influence your decision.”
He said he didn’t think one measure would negatively affect the other and asked them to make their decision “based on what’s best for the children in your school district and what you think your needs are.”
In an email, Wooden explained his position on the two bonds. “I do not believe that having them together will increase the chances of passage,” he wrote. “It was more the other way. I don’t think that having them both on the ballot would hurt the chance for passage.”
It makes sense, Wooden said, to support both bond measures “if you believe schools are important.”
Bargaining with teachers
Although he supports passage of his district’s bond, Wooden said he does not support state education Propositions 30 and 38.
Proposition 30, he said, “is not going to education. It’s a shell game to move money around with the threat that if you don’t pass it you’re going to eliminate education practically.”
He said he was willing “to call their bluff because I don’t think they’ll do that.”
Proposition 38 “actually does something for schools, but there is so much waste in Sacramento that if you wanted to prioritize schools appropriately you could do it.”
So why should voters trust the Del Mar Union School District to be fiscally responsible with their money when he won’t trust the state?
“This is money locally. It stays here in the Del Mar school district,” he said, mentioning the independent citizens’ committee that oversees GO bonds. The money, he said, will not pay for salaries for teachers or administrators. “It’s for infrastructure and it’s very specific.”
Wooden believes the district is doing a “good job of looking at where our cash is flowing.” He said if voters agree, then they should support the bond. If not, “then the same argument I have with the state would hold for them.”
Del Mar’s deficit spending – which he said was over $2 million last year – cannot continue, he said. “We’re going to have to reduce that budget deficit, and it’s going to have to come as far away from the students as possible,” he said.
This means possible negotiations with teachers over prep time and other benefits, he said.
“Our teachers are paid quite well for 20 or 27 students in a class, and that’s 80 to 90 percent of the budget,” Wooden said, “so we have to look at that in negotiations with teachers.”
Maintaining small class sizes and the Extended Studies Curriculum programs are essential, “but there are some other perks along the way that may have to go,” he said.