Impact of election bond results discussed at Del Mar school board meeting

By Karen Billing

There was still a sliver of hope last week that Del Mar Union School District’s Prop CC would inch closer to the 55 percent voter approval required to pass. Although final, official results have been held in a bit of limbo by the late counting of provisional and mail ballots, the initiative’s strongest advocates conceded defeat at the Nov. 14 school board meeting. (At presstime for this newspaper, with 90,000 mail/provisional ballots still to be counted, Prop CC had received 53.97 percent of voter approval. A 55 percent majority vote is needed to pass. Election results are expected to be officially certified by early December.)

“We wish we could’ve brought it home for you,” said parent Suzanne Hall of the Quality Schools for Del Mar committee.

The trustees praised the tireless grass roots efforts of parents such as Hall, Janet Handzel and Jen Charat, who organized town hall meetings, led phone bank nights, wrote letters to the editor and waved signs on sidewalks.

“My biggest disappointment was not the negative or misleading press, but the thin parent support we had, the thin PTA support we had, the thin teacher support we had,” said Handzel. “Until this room is packed with 100 teachers and 1,000 parents saying stop the cuts, you shouldn’t stop. Send a message…we can’t continue to deficit spend. We have to live within our means.”

Charat said parents struggled to get information and that the mountains of misinformation was impossible to overcome in the end. She said information about potential cuts, which was reported on in September, shouldn’t be buried in board packets but made more available so parents know what situation the district is dealing with.

With the bond’s failure, superintendent Holly McClurg said the district has a lot of challenges but they are moving forward, and looking toward their strategic plan that outlines and helps define their needs.

“We’re still working hard to find what are our priorities and goals, and to be very smart about the resources and needs we do have,” McClurg said, “We have some tough decisions ahead.”

Local school bonds throughout the county struggled to gain 55 percent approval in the November election. At presstime for this newspaper, MiraCosta’s Prop EE had received 54.24 percent of voter approval. While it did not have enough votes to pass after the ballot count on Nov. 6, with the tally of mail/provisional votes it appears that the San Dieguito Union High School District’s Prop AA bond may pass. As of presstime, the high school district’s bond had 55.16 percent voter approval with about 90,000 mail/provisional ballots left to be counted.

The state’s education proposition, Proposition 30, did pass with 54 percent voting yes. (This bond only required a 50 percent voter approval to pass.)

The Del Mar school district was looking at a potential $2 million cut from its reserves if Proposition 30 did not pass, according to Cathy Birks, assistant superintendent of business services. Birks clarified that Prop 30’s passage does not mean DMUSD will receive any funding, it just means no mid-year cuts.

“We’re not in the clear,” said trustee Doug Rafner. “We’re still at bad, we’re just not going to worse.”

Birks agreed. “We’re still at bad.”

Birks said Governor Jerry Brown can still look at the weighted student formula funding model; the district still could face a basic aid reduction, it still has to make its fair share contribution. Birks said they just received an estimate on the district’s property taxes that it’s approximately $200,000 down from the budgeted assessed value.

“We are definitely faced with some challenges. Prop 30 was not the solution,” Birks said. “There’s no new funding coming.”

Birks said that they are now reviewing the budget and looking at what they can cut, and staff will be bringing recommendations to the board at its next meeting.

Potential budget solutions brought to the board in September included class size reduction, furlough days, re-organizing library services, eliminating over-size class stipend, maintenance and operations workforce reduction and cuts to programs, materials and supplies, special education transportation, professional services and professional development.

Trustee Kristin Gibson said her motivation during the campaign was to ensure there was enough information out there for voters to make a good decision. She said 50 percent of the community supported their solution, which she said makes it clear that they did the right thing by putting it on the ballot.

“It’s clearer to me now the impact (of Prop CC not passing),” Gibson said, reflecting on the fact that they could have had Chromebooks in all fourth through sixth grade classes next year but that is no longer going to happen. “I’m starting to realize the impact with some fear and some sadness.”

Hall said working with the board on the Prop CC effort “renewed and improved” her respect for them. She thanked President Scott Wooden as even though he didn’t agree with the bond, she appreciated that he moved aside and let the process unfold.

Hall said she was concerned about the role trustee Doug Perkins played in the failure of the bond. Perkins was the sole vote against the bond.

“You were the only member of the board who didn’t support CC and spoke out against it,” Hall said. “We were [about 2] percent short and I think your efforts had a part to play that we didn’t meet 55 percent. This board has history where a lot of the members of the public don’t trust you. [The board] worked very hard to repair its image to the community and I’m concerned when I see divisiveness in the media and public eye that does not foster that image very well.”

She said she believes that all the board members’ hearts are in the right place so it’s unfair that the community has that perception — she said that the board members need to consider the role they play so that the community is not suspicious of them or their intentions.