San Dieguito grapples with bond restrictions

Marsha Sutton
Marsha Sutton

By Marsha Sutton

I know, I know … you’re bemoaning another column about bonds and school finance.

Although it may make your eyes glaze over, there’s a lot of money at stake here, as the San Dieguito Union High School District moves forward with its publicly funded facilities projects.

When last we left off, I was crowing about San Dieguito’s willingness to comply with the proposed legislation in Assembly Bill 182 that restricts how bonds are issued.

Whether you were in favor of the bond or not, it matters little since that ship has already sailed. The point is, if you’ve got to have taxes (and apparently the voters in San Dieguito think we do), best to do it right.

And with new school bond legislation that has popular public appeal and bipartisan support in Sacramento, it makes sense to comply with the proposed rules of AB-182, even though those rules have not yet become law.

Voters approved a $449 million facilities bond for San Dieguito last November, and the district is planning its first of four draws next month. Every draw after that is based on assumptions.

“We will not know what is reality until we get closer to each one of those dates,” said Eric Dill, SDUHSD’s associate superintendent of business services, in a meeting Feb. 21.

Crystal ball projections include whether – and how much – property values may (or may not) increase in the next few years.

“If you had asked other districts in 2004 where they thought their assessed valuation would be in 2008, they would probably have vastly different assumptions than what actually ended up happening,” Dill said.

Currently, the district assumes slow growth, “because that’s the reality that we’re living with right now,” he said.

SDUHSD took a “very long view” of assessed valuation in the district over time and learned it averaged about 6 percent, he said. “But we never get up to 6 percent in any of our assumptions.”

For the next draw, anticipated in 2015, Dill said the district will carefully evaluate the market and the assessed value trends, before moving forward.

“We’re going to be going through this exercise over and over and over again and refining where our projections are,” he said. “It could very well be we get into another period of explosive growth like we had before. If that happens, that will change what the out-year projections will look like.”

But the reverse situation is possible.

“If things are like they were for the last three years, suddenly we’re looking at negative growth, declines in our assessed valuation,” Dill said. “Then we will have decisions to make at that time.

“Do we go out again for another bond? Do we hold off because as we look down the line there won’t be enough to complete all the projects? Do we go for a smaller authorization and just work on specified projects and hope that in two years, three years, things have recovered?

“These are all the things we will be doing during the life of this bond project.”

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