It's a go: DMUSD moves to place bond on November ballot

The Del Mar Union School District board voted unanimously to place a $186 million general obligation bond on the November ballot. The bond will fund the complete rebuild of Del Mar Heights Elementary School, a modernization of Del Mar Hills Academy, a ninth district school in Pacific Highlands Ranch, as well as provide for improved safety and technology infrastructure, classroom renovations and repairs and upgrades at all neighborhood schools.

“We’re going to do our part tonight but everybody else has to do their part in November,” board member Doug Rafner said at the Aug. 6 meeting.

Chris Delehanty, executive director of capital programs and technology, said the district went through an “exhaustive process” over the last four years to develop the facilities master plan that was approved last month, including extensive public input.

“As much as we’ve been told we have a lack of transparency up here, I would say Holly has bent over backward to involve the community,” said board member Scott Wooden of Superintendent Holly McClurg.

Delehanty said the resulting facilities master plan, which provided guidance for building the bond measure and the project list, addresses urgent facilities needs and dramatic shifts in enrollment that the district faces.

“With a general obligation bond we would be able to fund the imminent issues that are arising at our oldest schools, including portables that are past their useful life, a new school to address shifts we’re seeing in enrollment and the reconstruction, renovation and modernization that will be necessary to keep the rest of our schools running smoothly without impact to our general fund,” Delehanty said.

The bond language states that the district would issue $186 million in bonds at legal rates, raising $10.4 million annually over 32 years at approximately 3 cents per $100 of assessed value. The average tax rate would be $29.25 per $100,000 assessed valuation.

The bond language includes the required taxpayer protections that bond funds will only be used for the specific projects listed and that the district will conduct annual independent audits as well as the appointment of a citizens’ oversight committee to oversee expenditures of bond funds.

The bond will need 55 percent of the vote to pass. The district conducted a poll of 530 registered voters in February that showed that support for a $198 bond was right at 55 percent.

“I’ve already begun to persuade my neighbors about supporting the bond measure,” said Del Mar resident Harvey Goldman during public comment. “I think what happened at the last meeting presented us with the best alternative possible. I’m planning to walk every street in Del Mar west of the 5 starting at the beginning of October.”

Ocean Air parent Christene Renner, who has been vocal over the past several months about moving forward with a plan that supports equitable, safe and innovative facilities for all children, said she was happy that the board was taking the next step in the process by placing a bond on the ballot. She said a bond was the only way to ensure that general fund money is not used to pay for facilities needs, which would jeopardize small class sizes and the retention of teachers and staff.

“While I must acknowledge the road to tonight has been winding and uncertain and at times downright contentious, I do believe the conversation was always open and in the end our district and school board truly listened to our community members and our DMUSD parents with integrity and transparency,” Renner said. “Our community will support you.”

Sara Lake, a Sycamore Ridge School parent, said she was grateful for the bond effort as her school has been effected by the enrollment growth in Pacific Highlands Ranch—when her child started at Sycamore two years ago, there were 450 students. Last year there were more than 600 students.

“That number is increasing rapidly and it’s so important to have this bond on the ballot, to get it passed to get what we all deserve in the district,” Lake said. “It just kills me to spend money on temporary solutions like portables at our school. So please let’s move forward, let’s get this bond passed so we can actually put the money into more permanent solutions.”

Wooden reflected on how the district has come a long way to get to where they are today—he and fellow board members Kristin Gibson and Rafner experienced the disappointment of their last bond effort’s failure in 2012.

“We put a bond out there in 2012 and it only failed by a few hundred votes. One of the concerns there was that we didn’t have a facilities master plan,” Wooden said. “2014 was the next chance, we weren’t ready then.”

The board again opted against going out for a bond in 2016 and Wooden said there were many things he wanted to see happen before their next bond effort. Those things included getting a comprehensive facilities master plan in place (which happened in 2014) and seeing some implementation of that plan, and putting money toward modernization and maintenance, which the district has done. He also wanted to see more community involvement.

“I’ve seen (the community) galvanized over the last few months and that certainly has influenced me that it is now time,” Wooden said. “It wasn’t time in 2014, it wasn’t time in 2016. It is now.”

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