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School Board Places Bond on November Ballot

"Public education is in a major crisis," Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District board member Oscar de la Torre says in asking voters to approve the bond measure.

The Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District Board of Education voted Wednesday to place a $385 million bond measure on the November ballot to fund facility and technology upgrades.

At the urging of Malibu community leaders, it includes a provision to give 20 percent of the funds to Malibu schools.

If approved by voters, it would cost homeowners $185 per year for up to 30 years (and possibly more for property owners in Malibu). It would only be used for public works projects and facility improvements and could not be used to fund teacher or other employee salaries.

"Our schools are aging," said Superintendent Sandra Lyon. "We do want to create 21st century learning environments."

The board agreed to place the measure on the ballot in a 6-1 vote with board member Ralph Mechur dissenting. The district will have until Aug. 10 to get the wording of the bond measure to Los Angeles County for it to make it on the Nov. 6 ballot.

"This is going to involve a great deal of collaboration, communication and engagement,” board member Ben Allen said after the vote

Given California's ongoing budget woes and November's already-crowded ballot, much of the board discussion Wednesday centered on timing.

"The time to do it is now because public education is in a major crisis," said board member Oscar de la Torre.

It will accompany Gov. Jerry Brown's Proposition 30 and activist Molly Munger's Proposition 38. If both tax initiatives do not pass, the school district could face up to $10 million in next year and could be forced to place a parcel tax on the ballot in the spring, finance staffers warned.

At the same meeting, the board unanimously voted to support Brown's and Munger's measures.

According its analysis, the district will face $1.2 billion in facility needs in the next 15 years. With only $268 million in Measure BB bonds left, it needs to find another source for the $932 million.

Future needs include the reconstruction of existing buildings, replacement of temporary classrooms with new buildings, infrastructure upgrades and updated computer and technology equipment.

"We are depriving students, we are depriving teachers of what they need," said Board member Laurie Liberman.

Board member Jose Escarce, who initially opposed placing the bond measure on November’s ballot, said he changed his opinion based on two factors, especially the support of Superintendent Lyon.

“This will help us develop a technology plan. I certainly expect that it incorporates training for our staff,” Escarce said.

But board member Ralph Mechur said he could not support putting the bond measure ballot as soon as November.

“I feel we can do this in 2014 either June or November and we will be better prepared. There are so many unanswered questions about what we would do,” Mechur said.

Mechur wanted the district to focus on supporting Propositions 30 and 38 to make sure either one or both pass in November.

But board member Laurie Liberman disagreed. She said passage of either state bond measure would not hurt the chances of a future parcel tax in the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District.

Lyon, who came out in support of the bond measure early in Wednesday's meeting, said polls indicate voter support.

“I think many parents are looking for not just a quality teacher but also a welcoming and enriching learning environment,” she said.

Barry Snell, Community for Excellent Public Schools member, said, "not voting to support his measure would be a missed opportunity."

Santa Monica-Malibu PTA Council Co-President Lori Whitesell said the messaging around the bond will have to be carefully thought out. 

“Parents are going to be very concerned about what that technology piece looks like,” Whitesell said.

Malibu Involvement

Craig Foster, president of Advocates for Malibu Public Schools, chastised the board for not including Malibu in the feasibility committee’s discussion about the bond measure.

“Given everything we all know, given Malibu’s lack of a voice in general and specifically in this process, given Malibu’s disproportionate share of the burden, given Malibu’s aspirations for independence, it would be easier for Malibu to oppose a bond measure than to support it,” Foster said.

He outlined possibilities of how the school board could begin to gain the support of his group.

Foster asked for the board to set a percentage for Malibu schools written into the bond of at least 20 percent, which he said would still be “too low.” Foster also said the Malibu portion of the money would need to be governed by a joint powers agreement, made up of two Malibu City Council members and two Santa Monica-Malibu Unified Board of Education. 

"The burden is on them. If they want Malibu’s support, they have got to give Malibu a reason to vote for this," he said.

Karen Farrer of Malibu echoed Foster’s sentiments.

“You all can pass this without us. We have no control over this, like many issues," she said of Malibu. "The least you can do is guarantee us that 20 percent."

Board member Jose Escarce said that he wants to make sure the bond would meet the needs of every school in the district.

“The point is to make sure we work in some collaborative way that we work with the campuses and to make sure we are meeting their priorities,” Escarce said.

Board member Laurie Liberman said she is in favor of finding a way to meet Malibu’s needs in future discussions.

“What I think I hear being requested is something that goes beyond site by site, but somehow addresses in some kind of way, the participation or some kind of guaranteed participation of what is the Malibu pathway,” Liberman said.

Board president Allen said he supports exploring the idea of a joint powers agreement with Malibu.

The bond measure needed five votes to pass.

Karen Farrer August 02, 2012 at 04:27 PM
"'This is going to involve a great deal of collaboration, communication and engagement,' board member Ben Allen said after the vote." That's interesting. I guess they forgot to tell the Bond Feasibility Committee that part. Malibu literally never got the memo.
Hans Laetz August 02, 2012 at 04:44 PM
Yeah, collaboration. They need to carefully coordinate how to grab Malibu's ankles and shake hard. It's amazing that the Santa Monica Malibu School (dis) Unified Board has been able to make the school's strongest supporters in Malibu feel like Tea Party zealots. But they've been able to do just that.
Joseph Delano August 02, 2012 at 05:36 PM
And what is it about being a "TEA PARTY ZEALOT" Hans that is so terribly wrong? Is that like being called a racist? Or homophobe?
Hans Laetz August 02, 2012 at 06:00 PM
No. It is like being called a tea party zealot.
Jamie Ottilie August 02, 2012 at 06:48 PM
well they have a no vote from me. I agree public education is having a crisis - but facilities aren't the issue. I am quite tired of bond measures and apparently we can afford lights for the sports fields so...
Joseph Delano August 02, 2012 at 08:14 PM
Cute Hans....cute. But as one "Tea Party Zealot" to what would appear to be a self annointed intellectual superior I can tell you that throwing money at the education system is NOT the answer. One need look no further than LAUSD (or SMUSD for that matter) to confirm that.
SantaMonicaNative August 02, 2012 at 08:47 PM
They want more money again, am i surprized? No, every election they want more money. The bonds get slapped on your tax bill and you get the pleasure of scrambling to find the money every six months. Yet the city is trying to figure out how to give smaller annual increases while looking for a way to cap pass throughs. When will it be enough? Once upon a time Santa Monica was a nice little middle class city by the bay, now it has become a rival to Beverly Hills or at least that's the public perception. Unfortunately we don't have the deep pockets of Beverly Hills. Our current administration has decided to see how far they can push their greed and like nice little sheep we will let them. With all the other proposals lining up to suck every last dime from our pockets, it is a path to disaster. Yet, if we don't agree we are bad people who don't care about the consequences of our no vote. Time to learn to live within our budget. No more bond issues.
J. Flo August 02, 2012 at 10:38 PM
Most cities get classic architecture - The George Washington High School. What does the apparently loaded (in more ways than one) Santa Monica School District toss to Malibu? The George Jetson High. More ridiculous spending for a school that will be losing nearly half of their students in a few years? Waste and more frivolous waste and now they want more of our money . . . humorous if it wasn't so outrageous. Hopefully, we all get the joke and say "no".
Terry August 02, 2012 at 11:12 PM
the amount quoted of about 185 per year is for a parcel worth approximately $400,000 so the real cost with someone with a 3 mil house is closer to $1000 per year. they were talking about 20% of the money going back to malibu but in reality i believe we pay about 34% of the tax. they want to make things more tech advanced---u could by a new lap top for every student in malibu and be under $400,000. so $300 million seems a bit much. none of this is for teachers saleries. at the same time i was just told class size was increased and in a few grades malibu lost some teachers. next year the community colleges will also be having a bond coming up. and there are 2 other huge state wide school tax propositions. what will they think of next
Craig Strachan August 03, 2012 at 12:16 AM
If this passes, and one or both of the Brown or Munger props also pass, it might be okay. If this passes, and the props both fail, it'll be a pretty big ask to pass a parcel tax on top of the bond. And the bond money can't be used to pay for staffing or programs. So we could arrive at a situation where we have shiny new facilities...and 45 students per class? That would make no sense at all.
Craig Strachan August 03, 2012 at 12:32 AM
@Joseph Delano - throwing money at public education isn't the answer? Who's been doing that? The current crisis is the result of years of swingeing CUTS to spending on public education. Maybe we need to go ahead and throw some money for a change!
Concerned Resident August 03, 2012 at 02:42 AM
The physical plant facilities of SMMUSD are very much in need of renovation and upgrading (have you been to the high school recently)? The high school, in particular, has not been well-maintained and with its large, oceanview campus, it should be a gem but isn't. Unfortunately, the state of CA and for that matter, the entire country, is either already bankrupt or bordering on being bankrupt although you wouldn't know it from the way most people are walking around in a content state of bliss waiting for the tooth fairy who will certainly arrive soon. It is not the right time for a huge new bond issue even though it is sorely needed. The proponents of the bond are congratulating themselves that they can tell taxpayers that not a single penny of the bond would be used for teacher or other personnel salaries. Huh? Facilities are important but good and motivated people are the life-blood of any organization-public or private. Class size up, art and music programs cut, demoralized teachers? I urge the school board to re-think the timeliness of putting a bond issue on the November ballot.
Steve Scheinkman August 03, 2012 at 12:35 PM
Malibu will pay for more than 35% of the Measure BB fund yet its schools will only receive less than 20% of the benefits. I do not understand why Malibu residents would agree to pay 35% of another bond fund and receive only 20% of the benefit? There is no question in my mind that SMMUSD will try to impose another parcel tax regardless of whether this new bond is approved. I supported the last parcel tax initiative that was not approved. While money is needed for teachers and operating costs, I will have trouble supporting another parcel tax given SMMUSD's propensity to cut teachers and services in lieu of reducing a bloated District administrative staff. that is less than responsive to the needs of the Malibu community.
Craig Strachan August 03, 2012 at 03:13 PM
Here's a thought - regardless of what we might do as voters, how many of us are buying into California bonds as investors these days?
Hans Laetz August 03, 2012 at 03:58 PM
Actually, I own California bonds as a part of my folio, and after yet another Wall Street firm's computerized cheating system went berserk and nearly brought down the NYSE,, that money is a whole lot safer than stocks.
Terry August 03, 2012 at 05:43 PM
the school board says this will help the economy but creating jobs. how about they help the economy by paying teachers better and concentrating on teaching instead of being building contractors. we cant afford their quest to be developers. no increase in state wide sales tax, and no additional bond issues is needed in this economy.
Craig Strachan August 03, 2012 at 07:21 PM
Hans - last time I sat down with a bond salesman, the first part of his pitch was that there was "nothing from California" in what he was selling!
Hans Laetz August 03, 2012 at 07:33 PM
I suggest you do some independent investigation on the credit ratings of California municipal bonds, Craig. A "bond salesman" is the LAST person you will want to go to for an impartial and unbiased recommendation on which bonds to buy.
Craig Strachan August 03, 2012 at 07:50 PM
No doubt. I wonder what kind of rating this school district bond might get? Do you happen to know how prior issues were rated?
GSGETSIT August 03, 2012 at 08:17 PM
Your pandering for votes is outragous. The timing you talk about is outrageous. For the past twenty year and more we are asked to raise our property taxes, increase sales taxes and pass the bonds. How do you intend to off the principle and interest??? How long is period of time before maturity??? I get it ... pay off in 10 20 ir 30 years. Use additional sales taxes or increase our property taxes to meet the financial liability of these bonds. VOTE NO VOTE NO VOTE NO. THIS IS THE YEAR OF FINANCIAL AUSTERITY FOR WE THE PEOPLE!!!!! TIGHTEN YOU BELTS AND HOLD ON EVERYBODY!!!!
Concerned Resident August 03, 2012 at 11:26 PM
In addition to my earlier comments about timeliness, I think that another bond issue proposal should wait until the taxpayers can see how the previous BB bond money was spent, if it was spent wisely, and were there unacceptable cost overruns on any of the construction projects. The new Sciences and Technology building at SAMOHI will be finished in the next year, let's see how that project comes out. There are also other district construction projects in various stages of completion; let's see how those have been handled. The school board does not yet have a track record on efficient use of facilities bond money. The school board should provide an accounting to the taxpayers showing how well (or not) the BB money was dispersed and utilized. After the November Brown initiative and an accounting, maybe it will then be time for a new facilities bond. NOT YET AND NOT AT THIS TIME.
Mark Hayes August 04, 2012 at 01:03 AM
Another absolute NO vote from me as well. This group doesn't manage their money any better than the Malibu government. Any taking bets on the over / under of the centralized wastewater plant?
SM_TAXPAYER August 07, 2012 at 05:56 AM
To the SMUSD Board, This is the most deceptive $385 million bond campaign this District has ever put on the community. Can anyone on the Board answer how much our community will be saddled with interest to pay this Bond. This is a $1.5 billion tax on our community for the next 30 years. When does it end? Year after year it's another local school tax. Bond tax, parcel tax, sales tax (yes sales tax) now it's back to the bond tax trough. How many inter-District transfer students use bond project financed facilities without paying a bond tax? All inter-District students don't pay a penny of the GO Bond tax. http://www.businessweek.com/news/2012-08-06/payments-on-105-million-school-bond-will-top-1-billion
CARLOS August 08, 2012 at 09:28 PM
" The santa monica/Malibu school district has squandered money thru the years , instead of saving for future repairs and work they knew would be needed in the future. now they want to burden the taxpayer with more taxes.. my answer and vote will be no!!!! absolutely not "
Terry August 09, 2012 at 10:05 PM
at the recent planning commission meeting the extremely flawed traffic circulation pattern was presented by the school district. the left turn turnout from lot "A" onto morning view goes before the drop off spot that is in front of the school. the school district didnt even know there was no light at gurnsey. malibu residents need to step up and give the school some imput on their proposal. they are also eliminating one of the kids practice sports fields for t ball to put in 2 additional tennis courts. thank god the planning commissioners caught some of this
Jessica E. Davis August 10, 2012 at 01:48 AM
Terry, I'll have a story on that meeting up on Patch in the coming days.
Jamie Ottilie August 10, 2012 at 06:34 PM
http://blogs.the-american-interest.com/wrm/2012/08/08/ripping-off-taxpayers-the-california-state-sport/ Pretty interesting insight on school bonds...

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