There they go again...

Marsha Sutton
Marsha Sutton

By Marsha Sutton

A direct-mail piece was sent out two weeks ago to many residents of the 92014 and 92130 zip codes, about the $76.8 million General Obligation bond initiative the Del Mar Union School District trustees voted to place on the November ballot.

In the famous words of a former governor and president, “There you go again.” The missteps that occur with uncommon regularity in Del Mar just keep on coming.

This four-page full-color glossy piece, devoid of meaty details, includes “frequently asked questions” and a letter from DMUSD superintendent Holly McClurg outlining the district’s sketchy need for more money.

The ostensible intent of the mailer is to inform constituents about the bond, which asks voters to approve taxing themselves $8.44 per $100,000 in property value annually, for about 30 years, for a vague assortment of facility upgrades.

A list in the mailer of what the bond will fund includes constructing “modern facilities to prevent overcrowding.” Although the district’s enrollment is currently declining, with empty seats at several schools, this refers to a projected need in the distant future to build a ninth school, based on long-range estimates.

Also on the list is to “repair or replace leaky roofs.” Leaky roofs? Is this a current problem in the district’s relatively new schools or another anticipated future need?

General Obligation bond money is supposed to be spent on existing overcrowding and on improving or upgrading facilities in immediate need of repair and modernization. The money is not to be used for some far-off scenario or a dreamed-up wish list.

Here’s another one: “Create potential budget savings through increased efficiency that could be used to help offset state budget cuts, attract and retain qualified teachers and protect the quality of education in our schools.”

GO bond money is not to be used for teachers’ salaries, nor to “offset state budget cuts” by using the money as a way to preserve the general fund and insulate reserves in a budget crisis.

Perhaps the biggest overall objection to the mailer is that it blurs the line between “information” and “advocacy” – an important legal distinction for campaign material.

Although it’s clear the mailer’s intent is to advocate in favor of the bond, the district’s lawyers have deemed it “informational” which is allowed.

Producing such a mailer certainly violates the spirit of the law, which prohibits public agencies from using taxpayer money to lobby taxpayers for more taxpayer money. But it doesn’t specifically state, “Vote for this bond,” so it gets the go-ahead from the district’s team of attorneys and consultants.

Because the mailer’s return address was the school district’s main office, the question was if the DMUSD paid for this piece and how much it cost.

Delay, evade, dismiss

“It was paid for by local sponsors,” said McClurg, on Aug. 31. Curiously, she claimed she didn’t know who they were and declined to be more specific. “I’d have to find out more information about that. But it has not been funded by the district.”

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