School districts approve bonds for fall ballot

By Kathy Day

With matching 4-1 votes, trustees in the Del Mar Union and San Dieguito Union High School Districts moved ahead last week with plans for general obligation bonds they agreed are essential to keeping them on the leading edge of quality education.

Each of the measures that will be on the Nov. 6 ballot asks voters for approval to issue bonds to upgrade campus facilities and technology and to improve safety and security.

Both measures use the words “21st century” education in their ballot language. Both will require a 55 percent majority to pass.

The local measures will be joined by competing education funding measures at the state level and possibly a bond measure in the MiraCosta Community College District, whose trustees are set to decide on their own GO bond on Aug. 2.

Despite their concerns, trustees of the two districts said they would support each others’ efforts to pass their bonds.

Those other school measures were among the reasons cited by the trustees in each district who voted not to put them on the ballot: John Salazar in San Dieguito and Doug Perkins in Del Mar.

In seeking the trustees’ votes, the heads of both districts said the funds are needed because state funds have dried up and the districts are pushing the limits on their own budgets.

As San Dieguito Superintendent Ken Noah said in his report to the board, “There is currently no available funding to accomplish all of the necessary upgrades and projects called for in the master plans.”

During the July 26 meeting, he said he didn’t have much more to add about the topic other than pointing to his report which noted “four years of planning and community engagement” had gone into the proposed measure. He also noted it has been more than 40 years since district residents were last asked to back a school bond.

Del Mar School District Superintendent Holly McClurg, who took over as the district’s leader on July 1 and previously served as assistant superintendent for instructional services, had much the same message.

“Some of our core values can’t be done without funding. We need access to 21st century tools and infrastructure,” she said on July 25.

Both district chiefs also stressed the importance of keeping funding sources local because of uncertainties about state funding They also both said that by issuing the bonds they could offset expenditures that otherwise would have to come from the general funds.

“We are looking at a drastic deficit of $4 million in the best-case scenario over the next couple of years and farther out,” McClurg said.

In the San Dieguito district, with its four middle schools, four high schools, two alternative schools and an adult education program, the measure seeks $449 million, which would cost property owners about $25 per $100,000 of assessed valuation. The bonds, to be issued in four offerings over six years, would also raise funds to build a new middle school in Carmel Valley.

The Del Mar district has eight elementary schools, as well as preschool and after-school programs that serve residents in Del Mar and Carmel Valley. Its $76.8 million measure would cost property owners $8.44 per $100,000 of assessed valuation.

DMUSD Trustee Comischell Rodriquez said one of the challenges in getting voters to get on board will be overcoming “myths” about the district. She said some people believe the district has a large reserve and doesn’t need more money, and that all of the schools are “new” and don’t need modernizing or repairs.

Catherine Birks, assistant superintendent for business services, pointed out that “last year we broke even and this year is the first year we will run a deficit.” The district is not getting “categorical” funds for special programs from the state that it once did and income from property tax “is not what it was,” she added.

“The reality is, yes we have reserves, but we don’t know what will happen with the state,” she continued.

While it took more than two hours for Del Mar trustees to arrive at their 4-1 vote, San Dieguito’s board moved quickly on theirs.

SDUHSD Trustee Amy Herman, who called the vote a “momentous decision,” said that she was concerned a bit about the competing bond measures “but we’ve cut and cut and there’s no place else to go. I can’t imagine stopping now because we’re worried.”

She repeated what some her fellow trustees and some on the Del Mar board had said: “We have to go forward. The voters will decide.”

Her colleague, Beth Hergesheimer, also had a succinct statement echoed by others: “This is not just a wish list – it’s a needs list.”

Even so, Salazar and Perkins, the trustees in the two districts who voted against putting the measures to the voters, had reservations.

Salazar said he felt the amount of the bond was too great.

He also said, “In reality, some people in our district are not doing well. Their homes are underwater, they already pay Mello Roos and homeowners dues and they can’t afford the added tax.

The timing is not right, he added, because of too many competing measures.

But the other four trustees in each district agreed it was essential to seek the funds in order to protect the quality of education in the district.

In casting his “no” vote, Perkins also raised concerns about the economic impact of additional taxes on local families and said he felt a “standalone” measure later would be better when the district has a clearer picture on the state finances.

Current state finances have put education funding in jeopardy, forcing many districts to lay off teachers and expand class sizes. Faced with that there are two state measures on the ballot.

According to the California School Boards Association website, Gov. Jerry “Brown’s plan would generate about $8.5 billion in the first year and close to $6.5 billion annually thereafter by creating new income brackets for the state’s highest earners for seven years and by hiking the sales tax by 3.45 percent.”

CSBA states that a second plan, put forward by Molly Munger, “would provide close to $10 billion annually in additional income for the state by increasing personal income taxes over the next 12 years on a sliding scale for virtually all Californians – from less than one-half percent for the lowest earners to 2.2 percent for individuals earning over $2.5 million.”