TUSD Seeks Support for Taxpayer Borrowing

Courtesy of the Sierra Sun

I am not big on bonds to pay for much of anything in government. It is, basically, borrowing on the taxpayer credit card. Proponents of bond measures like to point out the urgent need for whatever it is the bonds will pay for. What they often fail to say is that it adds to the overall debt of the issuing agency and obligates the taxpayer to pay those bonds with interest that is, too often, more than the agency should be taking on.

In this particular case, I received an email from School Board member, Lynn Davis, regarding proposed bond measures that Tustin Unified School District is contemplating. The email is an invitation to a one hour informational briefing by TUSD Superintendent, Greg Franklin, outlining proposals being considered by the TUSD Board to place a technology bond on the ballot this November.

From the email:

We need to be prepared to provide the equipment, facilities and technology needed to teach these skills, as well as providing 21st century educational technology in all classrooms.  We can’t count on the State of California to fund these needed improvements in Tustin schools. Locally-controlled funding is the only certain source of resources to protect and provide the top-quality education our students deserve.
 
 You are invited to join us for a one-hour informational briefing by TUSD Superintendent Greg Franklin outlining proposals being considered by the TUSD Board of Education to place a technology bond on the ballot this November.  All money raised by this measure will stay in the district to support our students.  It cannot be taken away by the state, or used for other purposes.  An independent Citizen’s Oversight Committee will assure accountability for all spending, including annual independent audits.

Well, just the title, SAVE THE DATE – TECHNOLOGY FOR TUSD, is pretty catchy. And, I am sure it will generate a fair amount of interest, although I am not sure how that will equate to attendance. Most people are getting tired of bond measures and are finally getting the idea that bonds are not free money. In fact, they are quite costly in the long run. The one thing this proposal has over others is that it is for the schools. That tugs at the heart of every parent of a public school child and can equate to a huge amount of support. It’s also why we should be very wary.

The school district, like any other government entity, is scraping for cash to keep the system going. Bonds can’t be used to pay salaries but they do pay for construction which frees up other money for teachers and administrators. But, do they really need to saddle taxpayers with more debt through bonds that will probably not do what they are designed to do? Oh, and as a reminder, voters approved Measure G & L in 2008 by almost 60%, phenomenal for a bond measure. But, that was in 2008 before the public realized there was a real financial meltdown that would eventually bring the United States to its knees. Although we are recovering well, compared to the rest of the world, that isn’t because anyone is willing to go into debt…well, except maybe Jerry Brown and the State of California – but, that’s another post.

In any case, Measure L was a general obligation bond that was supposed to be used, in part, to increase the technology of the TUSD campuses. Reading the 2010 auditor’s report, it looks as if the school district has been a good steward of the money it has received. However, the interest rates for the various instruments issued range from  3% to a whopping 6.589%. This was for 95 million dollars in bonds. I will let you do the math on the amortized amount but, suffice it to say, you are saddling your children with enormous debt.

Also, in looking over the documents from Measure L Citizens Oversight Committee, much has been done in the building and refurbishment area, little has been done in the technology area. That could be because the bulk of the bond money is obligated to construction with just a slice taken for technology.

Questions that I hope will be asked, is how much of this money will go to increasing technology rather than just more construction? How much will go into improving classroom technology? How much will be directly spent on our children as opposed to new building construction?  As a reminder, Measure L was supposed to pay for technology as well as construction (yeah,yeah, I know – the science and technology building at Foothill). If sufficient controls are not put into place (besides a Citizens Oversight Committee that includes the City Treasurer, Geroge Jeffries who in all likelihood is reporting to Jerry Amante on the doings of TUSD), how will the taxpayers know they got what they will be paying for (for a long time)?

Apparently, the school district is just in the “contemplation” stage of the bond game. In a time when austerity should be the word, it is a bit disconcerting that anyone, let alone a school district, would think of floating more debt in hopes that the magic financial fairy will make it all go away. These are your taxpayer dollars they hope to put to work. It will be up to us to decide if the benefit outweighs the cost.

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8 thoughts on “TUSD Seeks Support for Taxpayer Borrowing

  1. It is difficult to remember how bad off our schools were before Measure G was passed. Many school bathrooms did not work. We had basic infrastructure problems with electrical, plumbing and sewer. We had safety issues at some schools. Much of the Measure G money went to address these health and safety issues, which are easy to forget in hindsight, but were critical to the quality of our schools and the enhancement of property values that quality schools bring about.

    In addition, building and providing all of the equipment for new science buildings at EACH of our three high schools (two of which were paid for with bond money) represented another sizable investment that will pay dividends for decades to come. These new buildings will be in use for another fifty to seventy years, based upon past practice.

    The past six years have seen a huge leap forward in classroom technology. Investing in that now can bring world-class educational material into each classroom – and help us begin to replace paper textbooks that are costly to update with on-line educational material that can be updated without printing new textbooks. In addition, students and their families want and need more technical courses. Our robotics programs are doubling in size. Without the equipment and material necessary to teach these important technical courses, we will have to turn students away – which in the long run hurts our local economy. A well educated and technically trained workforce is vital to the future of our local economy.

  2. While I won’t argue the benefit of Measures G and L on our school system, it is still no excuse for putting the taxpayer more and more into debt at a time when families are struggling to pay their bills. The school district, if it truly has the students interest, needs to exercise fiscal responsibility here and find other ways to bring the technology up to date.

    Thanks for reading and commenting.

  3. TUSD has lost a lot of credibility. The current school board already shafted the residents of Tustin Legacy by building a school they never intended to open to the people that paid for it. Before TUSD gets another dime I think the school board should be replaced. I’m concerned about corruption and the lack of responsibility they’ve shown over the years.

    • You may have a champion on the Board in Lynn Davis. Don’t forget, they do things by majority vote. Take the time to see who is for and against.

      Your allegation that they never intended to open Heritage as an elementary school is displaced. Once there are enough families in the area to warrant it, the school will open. Otherwise, they would be open to lawsuits from the families in the area.

      • Sorry but that doesn’t jive. By their own estimates they knew they wouldn’t have gotten enough kids within that CFD to open the school. Once they finished the school they came out with a minimum child count for opening the school that was higher than their estimate for that CFD ever was. So my allegation is not displaced, they knew all along that CFD would not generate enough kids, yet they claimed building the school was necessary. You cannot reconcile these facts without recognizing the inherent fraud, not to even mention the obvious influence by big developers who absolutely have to be able to say a new school will be opened because otherwise no one would spend $500k+ for a home in that neighborhood with the crappy existing schools they’d have to choose from.

  4. You mentioned the lack of technology in the current bonds G & L. You are not entirely correct. A lot of the technology in these bonds were for the construction of the infrastructure to allow the use of technology in the classrooms. When the new schools were built in the ranch, this infrastructure was included in the construction. The technology infrastructure isn’t always visible to the public, i.e. under ground and in school walls. Clarity2012 obviously haven’t visited the schools for which he says are crappy. The reason for the bonds are to fix the schools that have been neglected for decades. Teaching in the classrooms are excellent. That is what is important. Maybe if clarity2012 would volunteer to help out in the schools, he or she might have a better understanding of what is involved in the education here in Tustin. Also, the cost in Amante’s vendetta against the school district could have been spent in helping the schools. He has lost one battle and hopefully will lose the rest!

    • You are correct and that should not be minimized. The infrastructure has been laid. But, too little of the money for the previous Measures are going to the obvious aspects of the technology, the part that people expect to see. And, it looks like they won’t see it without another bond measure.

      It’s not what they did with the money that is an issue. It is the fact they think this is all “free” money (to quote OC Supervisor, Janet Ngyen). It isn’t free and we are saddling our children with enormous debt they will have to pay for. There has to be a better way of funding schools than incessant borrowing.

      • Oh, to be clear, this is not just about TUSD. In 2011, there were 10 school bond measures floated in California with 7 of them passing. On the June 5th ballot this year, there were 34 school bond measures with 23 of them passing muster. Total bond money brought in? $1.8 billion dollars. Cost to taxpayers? Priceless!

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