Del Mar school district to consider polling for bond on November ballot

At its Jan. 20 meeting, the Del Mar Union School District board gave direction to move forward in hiring a polling firm as they decide whether or not to go for a general obligation bond or school facilities improvement district (SFID) on the November 2016 ballot. At the board’s February meeting they will look at the costs associated with a poll and weigh them against the value and benefits.

The board was a little hesitant as their last polling, before its 2012 general obligation bond, informed them they would have a high guarantee to pass the bond. The bond failed, receiving 53 percent of the 55 percent approval requirement.

The cost of the survey last time was about $40,000.

“I don’t like spending money on polls,” board member Darren Gretler said. “But it does shine light on how the community feels instead of flying blind.”

The board was hopeful that the recommended sample size of 600 community members would answer the call and respond to polling.

Should the district opt to proceed in February, polling could occur in April aiming toward a July decision by the board on whether to order an election.

At the Jan. 20 meeting, the board heard a presentation from Adam Bauer of Fieldman, Rolapp & Associates on DMUSD’s potential GO bond or a SFID, which is essentially a GO Bond but just carving up the district into different boundaries. Only voters within the SFID vote and only the people in the SFID are taxed to pay the bonds.

Bauer said a successful district-wide GO bond in November 2016 would allow the district to issue $175 million bond, at an estimated tax rate of $29.25 per $100,000 of assessed value. The estimated tax for an average assessed value homeowner would be $292 a year.

Board member Erica Halpern said it should be noted that just because they could generate $175 million doesn’t mean they would necessarily go for that large of a bond.

There are three options for SFID boundaries, but with an average tax rate of $29,25 per $100,000 of assessed value, they could generate $75 to $85 million with a yearly tax for the average homeowner at $292.

Trustee Scott 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. Things have changed since then.

In 2014, the district developed a comprehensive long-term facilities master plan that identified a list of projects to support and complement the district’s educational goals. The plan represents $126 million in improvements including transforming libraries to innovation centers, creating modern learning studios at all schools, modernizing the district’s oldest campuses of Del Mar Hills, Del Mar Heights and Carmel Del Mar and replacing 25-year-old portables with permanent classroom buildings.

The district has also conducted a lot of outreach over the last year. In 2015, the board heard several presentations on the master plan and facilities needs and late in the year, the district held four community forums. Assistant Superintendent Jason Romero said the forums were well-attended by community stakeholders and they provided a lot of valuable input.

“The sentiment was that they really do love what’s happening in our schools and they want to know what they need to do to support our needs,” Romero said.

Individual school-site visits were also held in November and December for additional feedback on the three ways the district has to fund facilities: through deferred maintenance out of the general funs, a district-wide general obligation bond or the SFID. Romero said a lot of the feedback from the newer schools questioned whether now was the right time for a bond and residents who already pay into Community Facilities Districts (CFDs) shared concerns about adding to their tax bills. With the use of SFIDs, there was also concerns about creating a district of “have and have nots.”

Based on a very informal survey at the forums, 8 percent were in favor of continuing with deferred maintenance, 48 percent favored a GO bond and 44 percent favored a SFID.

Superintendent Holly McClurg said that obviously it was not very clear on how the district should move forward from that informal survey and said it also should be noted they were also polling people who had a vested interest in the district, people with children in the schools.

Wooden said he was a little disappointed in the informal survey’s results, viewing them as 44 percent supporting a SFID and saying “I don’t want to pay for improvements, I want someone else to” and eight percent saying no to a bond of any kind.

Gretler said he saw the results a different way.

“What I take from these numbers is there’s a will to do something, not to do nothing,” Gretler said.

“Through community forums and school site visits it is clear that the community places a high priority on education and believes in the investment in schools,” Assistant Superintendent Cathy Birks said. “Currently the needs at the district’s original three schools are significantly greater than the needs at the five schools constructed since however all eight schools will need significant facilities modernization in ensuing years.”