Del Mar district explores funding options to pay for projects

The Del Mar Union School District is exploring the options of a general obligation bond or establishing school facilities improvement districts (SFID) to help meet their list of facilities needs.

Last year, a working group developed the district’s facilities master plan, a comprehensive list of projects to complement the district’s educational goals. While the master plan has a list of facility plan improvements that totals $126 million, the district’s five-year facility plan priorities is about $35 million.

The big-ticket items on the prioritized list include transforming libraries to innovation centers at all sites ($3.8 million), creating modern learning studios at all sites ($12 million) and replacing 25-year-old portables with permanent classroom buildings at Carmel Del Mar, Del Mar Hills and Del Mar Heights ($13 million).

In May, the board asked staff to come back with some options on how to meet their facilities funding shortfall.

Cathy Birks, assistant superintendent of business services, discussed the funding sources of DMUSD’s Community Facilities Districts (CFD), in which special taxes are placed on homeowners’ property tax bills to fund schools and improvements. The district’s CFD 95-1 includes the Torrey Hills and Ocean Air communities, and CFD 99-1 covers Sycamore Ridge and the district’s future ninth school, if needed.

Another possible funding option is the state’s School Facility Program, which provides grants for school districts to construct new facilities or modernize existing ones. Birks said the bond authority for the program has been virtually exhausted — about $149 million remains statewide. The district would be eligible for about $1.9 million in modernization funds for Carmel Del Mar and $1.3 million for new construction at Del Mar Hills, Del Mar Heights and Sage Canyon.

The board was most interested in the potential funding impact of a general obligation bond or SFID.

Birks said state law allows school districts to create SFIDs that carve out a specified portion of their territory, where only those voters residing within the SFID would vote on the general obligation bond. Projects funded by a SFID must be located within its boundaries.

Birks said the district could form a SFID to include Del Mar Hills, Del Mar Heights, Carmel Del Mar and Ashley Falls.

Trustee Scott Wooden said with any option, he wants to understand what the tax burden will be for the constituents.

The district’s last attempt at a general obligation bond, Prop CC in 2012, was for $76.8 million, which would cost taxpayers an average of $65 a year. With a 55 percent approval rate required to pass the bond, it received 53.7 percent of the vote.

Wooden said there was some criticism of the district in 2012 because they went out for a bond before a facilities master plan was in place.

“$126 million is a big wish list and I don’t see us doing anything close to $126 million. I would like to get a really prioritized list … what do we think we really need to have,” Wooden said.

Superintendent Holly McClurg said she would avoid using the word “wish list,” as items wouldn’t be in the facilities master plan if they weren’t deemed important. She said all of the items in the plan are considered essential.

President Doug Rafner said as the district decides what option to take, he would like to engage the district stakeholders, and find out how closely they want the district to stick to the master plan.

Rafner said they have done well with what they have, such as spending reserves this year to partly modernize Carmel Del Mar, but they may have stretched as far as they can.

“If the community wants us to fufill our facilities master plan and make dreams come to light, they need to energize us and let us know,” Rafner said.