The Wrap-Up

Marsha Sutton
Marsha Sutton

By Marsha Sutton

The defeat of Proposition CC, Del Mar Union School District’s bond measure, was so close to a victory, thanks to the valiant efforts of supporters, that it can hardly be regarded as a failure. What it indicates is strong support in this district for education and fiscal stability. That it barely failed to reach the 55 percent mark points to easily fixable remedies should the district propose another bond measure in 2014.

San Dieguito Union High School District’s bond measure, Proposition AA, was successful, so all that may be needed for Del Mar is attention paid to the differences between the two approaches. Figuring out what went wrong by examining what nearby districts did right might be a starting point for next time, if there is a next time.

Critics, including the San Diego County Taxpayers Association, generally point to five or six problems with Del Mar’s bond.

The district often spoke of its intent to use General Obligation bond money to offset general fund expenditures, which violates the conditions of a GO bond. If the district had stopped calling the bond an alternative funding source to plug a gap in funding for general-purpose expenditures – and spoke instead about using the money appropriately to provide capital improvements – it would have helped.

Also, those capital improvements should be for immediate, critical facilities needs. Districts can’t ask for money from constituents with a wish-list of projects they’d like to do or that would be nice to have some time in the future.

Plus, not every school needs major work. Bond measures need to be specific, cite actual projects that require immediate attention, and estimate how much each will cost, to arrive at a substantiated, justifiable total. Not all schools are in desperate need of repairs and upgrades, so including them just to get more parent buy-in is a bad strategy. Inventing a need when there is none sours many on the entire list.

And the much-publicized use of bond money by districts to pay for electronic devices with a short life span, although nice to have, is not a capital improvement. It’s like taking out a 30-year home loan to buy a new appliance.

Perhaps the greatest obstacle facing Prop. CC was the perception that the bond was slapped together at the last minute and lacked proper preparation and due diligence, something this community demands. Voters understood the difference between a vague strategic plan and a specific, in-depth, well-considered report, compiled by dedicated task force members, of exactly what’s needed and how much each project will cost.

The district has time over the next two years to fully address some of these issues and will likely find a very different outcome if the decision is made to try again.

Strategy for success

In a story by reporter Karen Billing in the Nov. 22 issue of this publication, she reports that bond supporters said one disappointment was the “thin support” from parents, teachers and the PTAs.

Isn’t that like saying the team lost the basketball game because players didn’t score enough points?

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