By Karen Billing
As the Nov. 6 election grows near, the Yes on Prop CC campaign is hoping to get the word out on the Del Mar Union School District bond by hosting community forums. The first forum was held on Oct. 4 and the second is upcoming on Thursday, Oct. 18, at 6 p.m. at the Ocean Air Recreation Center.
“The choice is up to voters to consider the impact of Prop CC on the quality of education in the district and what that quality has on their property values,” said Suzanne Hall, the co-chair of the Committee for Quality Local Schools running the forums.
Prop CC is a $76.8 million general obligation bond, costing taxpayers $8.44 per $100,000 of assessed property values. For the average homeowner in the district the cost would be $65 a year.
The district plans to have a debt service ratio of 2.1 to 1 and recently passed a new board resolution and policy regarding the controversial use of capital appreciation bonds (CABs).
Hall said the driving force of the bond is that state funding has been on a continued decline for several years.
The district needs funds to implement its strategic plan, and upgrade and maintain school sites in the district. According to U.S. Census data, California spent $3.465 billion less on K-12 education in 2009-10 than it did in 2007-08 and the state ranks 35th in the country in per pupil spending.
The 2011-12 school year is the first time DMUSD will deficit spend in the amount of $2.39 million.
A strategic plan, available on the district website, maps out DMUSD’s maintenance and facilities needs that the funding from Prop CC would be used toward, Hall said. To name just a few, the list includes technology upgrades for all campuses; an early childhood special education pre-school; a heating and air conditioning system for the Torrey Hills multi-use room, which the students could have benefited from during the recent heat wave, according to Hall; and a significant modernization for the aging, 20-year-old Carmel Del Mar campus.
Tarps are visible on the school’s library where leaky roofs have threatened books and a major sewer system leak has resulted in damage to the blacktop and play fields.
Hall said the state used to be able to help with modernizing school campuses but it is no longer able to. The burden of modernizing schools falls onto the district and the money would have to come out of the general fund, which would likely result in cuts elsewhere, such as furlough days and increased class sizes, Hall said.
“Something would have to give,” Hall said.
One forum attendee wondered why the San Diego County Taxpayer’s Association did not give its approval to Prop CC, while San Dieguito Union School District’s Prop AA and MiraCosta College’s Prop EE bonds were.
“They try to protect taxpayers from a bad deal but they don’t always get it right. They endorsed both of Poway’s,” Hall said.
Hall said that the Taxpayer’s Association did not allow the Del Mar school board to make a presentation, the district did not have an itemized list of projects at the time of the Taxypayer Association’s consideration (now, as mentioned earlier in the story, the district does have a project list) and the association had issues about paying for short-term technological devices with a long-term bond. Hall said that the devices represent a very small percentage of the $76.8 million, roughly $5 million but not all at once.
Parent Michael Robertson questioned the district’s spending and said the real issue was the high teacher salaries, benefits and administration costs. He said the average household in San Diego earns about $65,000 a year and DMUSD teachers average $82,000 per year, plus benefits.
“As much money as we give the school it’s going right to teacher salaries, that’s what I fear, not to improve the quality of education,” Robertson said.
Hall said that general obligation bond funds are pretty restrictive in what they can be used for; they can only be used for the list the district provided and they would be prohibited from being used for salaries.
She said the district’s compensation falls in the middle among San Diego County schools and the administration costs are well below the average.
Robertson also doubted the reasons needed for the bond money.
“The 7-11 Committee’s report three years ago found that all schools were modern with no defects,” Robertson said. “The district has sensationalized leaky roofs and worn-out floors and rushed to manufacture a need that doesn’t actually exist.”
Janet Handzel, who served on the 7-11 Committee, said the committee did tour the schools sites to look at classrooms and capacity, but did not look at the electrical or sewer systems, the technological capabilities or the roofs.