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Spending Plan For $385 Million Bond Unclear

Santa Monica-Malibu Unified wants to tax property owners to fund campus improvements, but won't have a spending agenda until if and when the measure is approved.

The Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District is drumming up support for a bond measure on the November ballot, but it's unclear exactly how the money will be spent if it's approved. 

If approved by voters Nov. 6, the $385-million general obligation bond would fund facility and technology upgrades across the district, but officials have yet to provide a specific spending plan.

A documented titled “Future Projects” on the district’s website lists cost estimates for capital improvements projects at elementary and secondary schools. Members of the board of education and other district officials have pointed to it while discussing the potential of the bond funds provided by Measure ES.
 
Yet the document is seen as little more than a starting point. Six years later, needs identified at some schools—such as building classrooms or replacing portables—are no longer relevant.
 
The district’s facilities improvements department did not respond to repeated requests for further specifics.

School Board Places Bond on November Ballot

Members of the board of education, however, have said that earmarking will not begin until after the bond money is approved. The district says it plans to go school-by-school to assess current needs and work with members of the community by that time.

The general obligation bond would cost the average home owner $185 per year for up to 30 years, at a rate of $30 per $100,000 of assessed value. So for Malibu homes worth $1 million, the cost would be about $300. The money could not be used to fund salaries for teachers or other employees.

Moving forward with a bond measure without a spending agenda set in stone can be a risky political move, according to Michael Shires, a professor of public policy at Pepperdine University and an expert in education finance.

Districts almost always tell voters exactly what they’re buying—it’s easier to sell, particularly when it comes to a price tag of almost $400 million, Shires said.
 
Cami Winikoff, a Malibu film producer and parent who is also a plaintiff in a lawsuit filed by the Malibu Community Preservation Alliance and Malibu Township Council to block the installation of permanent lights at the Malibu High School athletic field, said she wanted to see more specifics.
 
"I could never imagine going to a board and saying, 'Write me a $385 million check and I’ll let you know later what I’m going to do with it later,'" Winikoff said.
 
Malibu will receive 20 percent of the Measure ES funds. District officials are now floating the idea of a Malibu-only "super-site committee" to give a wide swath of community stakeholders control over where that money ends up.

At a meeting at Webster Elementary School in Malibu last week, district Board of Education member Laurie Lieberman stressed that Measure ES only authorizes the district to sell the bonds.

Until site committees have fully assessed the needs and construction plans are in place, Lieberman said, taxpayers will not pay a dime.
 
“We’re not saying, ‘We need money now,’” Lieberman said.
 
Other supporters of Measure ES echoed Lieberman’s emphasis on the future. Waiting until the bond money is approved will give the district the reason to move forward with the assessment process, said Rebecca Kennerly, a member of the Measure ES committee.

Hans Laetz October 02, 2012 at 03:48 PM
Ouch-y. Counter point taken, too. Well put. I think my early morning pre-coffee grouchy response was aimed more at the people who commented in the last Patch thread about Measure ES. And yes, most of those people are anti-school. They are against the role that schools play on our society. They despise "high paid union teachers." They homeschool because they do not want their progeny polluted by outside thought. They want to cut off school funding to the point where schools cannot help but fail. You don't think those people are out there? Really? And no, I am sorry to tell you that your opinion is not worth as much as those people who post under their real names, Please rest assured, I was a loudly opinionated person before I made the decision to try to win an election. I learned that offering controversial opinion equals, to many, being a self-righteous blowhard, and is no ticket to electoral success.
mathew millen October 02, 2012 at 04:09 PM
The problem is Santa Monicans for Renters Rights =SMRR lack of transparency. The SM City Council allowed the housing manager to make secret back room deals with develoeprs of low income housing, homeless shelters, housing for the mentally ill etc.without any public hearings or council approval. This allowed SMRR school board members and council members to put the schools LAST when it came to using redevelopment property tax money for the schools. The City of SM spent over $150,000,000 in redevelopment property rtax money on low income housing and zero money on the schools. The City bought the Bank of Am. and Chase banks on 4th St. for $40,000,000. Those properties are not blighted. They should be sold and the money used for the schools before our property taxes are increased.
Marshall Thompson October 02, 2012 at 04:32 PM
No, an opinion has exactly ZERO value without a real, engaged person behind it. ZERO. Oh, look, I'm using a real name, my own name and identity. If you feel strongly about an issue, so should you.
Terry October 02, 2012 at 04:43 PM
i disagree. these blogs are so people may express what is on their mind. it does make a difference if u use your real name or not. in some instances people have reached out to me and said how they agree. in others people have said they hated my opinion. but if u arnt a part of the community and dont use your real identity u may as well not share an opinion
Vaguely Worried October 02, 2012 at 07:31 PM
Jenna - my bad. Hans - I voted for you and appreciate your continued activism. Marshall - Dozens of national polling organizations would disagree with your attitude, never mind most of the denizens of the www, but whatever. Rock on.

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