Poll shows DMUSD voters split on support for a school bond

A recent survey showed that voter sentiments have not changed significantly on a potential Del Mar Union School District (DMUSD) bond in November 2018 to address facilities needs.

At the school board’s Feb. 28 meeting Adam Sonenshein, vice president of FM3 Research and Associates, reported that support for a bond is right at the 55 percent necessary to pass,10 points below where the measure tested in 2016.

The survey tested ballot language for a $198 million bond to help the district’s needs to “repair deteriorating classrooms, upgrade science technology and engineering classroom/labs, improve security, fire safety and emergency communications and provide safe drinking water.”

In 2016, the board conducted a similar survey and decided not to move forward with a November 2016 bond after results showed just a bare majority believed that the district had a significant need for funding. Compared to other districts that have been successful with bond measures, Sonenshein said there is a relatively low perception of DMUSD’s need for funding.

“A districtwide measure at the current level of support has significant risk of not passing,” Sonenshein said.

At the meeting, the board received the report from the consultants and discussed the survey results.

“This is an opportunity for us as a board to listen and take in our community’s thoughts and feelings on our facilities issues,” DMUSD President Kristin Gibson said. “We don’t need to, nor do I think we should, begin making any specific decisions as there is going to be additional information for us to consider in subsequent meetings from our staff and consultants that will give us a more complete picture of all the opportunities available for us.”

FM3 Research conducted the phone and online survey in February, polling 530 registered voters in the district likely to vote in the November 2018 election.

The proposed bond measure is required to include the “challenging” language of “$198 million in bonds, averaging $10.4 million raised annually until 2049, tax rates at 3 cents per $100 assessed valuation, requiring annual independent audits, citizens oversight, no money for administrators, all money for local schools.”

Voters that live west of the I-5 freeway were significantly more supportive of the measure than those on the east side, with 65 percent of voters west of I-5 in support and 51 percent of the east side in support.

In light of those results, consultant Adam Bauer, president of Fieldman, Rolapp & Associates, suggested that the district continue to explore the option of School Facilities Improvement District (SFID). SFIDs are a means of conducting a general obligation bond within a portion of school boundaries. With a SFID, only the voters who live within the SFID vote and only the residents who live within the SFID are taxed to pay the bonds.

Bauer said a districtwide general obligation bond is usually the best option for a school district but the survey suggests that the district may look at its options differently now. He noted that the west side does show more support but there is still the need for potential school number nine in Pacific Highlands Ranch, which is on the east side. The district would have to explore other funding options available for that ninth school, he said.

Per the survey, the majority of voters think that the schools are safe but were split on the condition of the schools—42 percent said they do not want to pay for upgrades to schools and only 38 percent agreed with the statement that “school buildings are old, deteriorating, rundown and in need of repair.”

Sonenshein said the assessment of overall need for funding is “nearly unchanged” since the April 2016 survey—53 percent saw the need in 2016 and 52 percent in 2018—22 percent said they didn’t know.

“Continuing to communicate with voters about the need, we think is really important,” Bauer said. “Those that did recognize the need were very supportive.”

Bauer stated that the board would need to decide by August if it is moving forward on a November 2018 ballot measure.

The district’s last attempt at a general obligation bond in 2012 was for $76.8 million. It received 53.7 percent of the vote, short of the 55 percent approval rate required. The district did not have a master plan in place at the time—the board approved a refreshed facilities master plan in 2017.

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