Bond Boom Headed to November Ballot

About nine school districts will ask voters to pay more on property taxes to fund educational needs

By Lauren Steussy
|  Friday, Aug 10, 2012  |  Updated 7:00 PM PDT
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Bond Boom Headed to November Ballot

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At least nine financially strapped school districts in San Diego County plan to appeal to voters with bond measures this November.

The number has more than doubled since 2010, when there were four school bonds on ballots countywide.

In 2008, there were eight, including one in the Primary Election, versus three in 2006.

“We’ve definitely seen an increase in bonds for schools and community colleges in general,” says Scott Himelstein, director of USD’s Center for Education Policy and Law. “I think it’s viewed in these fiscal times as a way to bring dollars to the district not controlled by the state.”

The following schools passed resolutions to place bond measures on the November ballot as of Friday afternoon, according to the San Diego County Office of Education.

- Cajon Valley Union School District
- Chula Vista Elementary School District
- Dehesa School District:
- Del Mar Union School District
- Ramona Unified School District
- San Diego Unified School District
- San Dieguito Union High School District
- South Bay Union School District
- MiraCosta Community College District

In an interview Friday, Himelstein said the rise and success of bond measures on the ballots over the past several years shows that voters generally favor bonds over tax increases, such as the state's upcoming Proposition 30.

That measure, proposed by Gov. Jerry Brown, would raise personal income tax on individuals who make more than $250,000 per year for the next seven years, and would use some of the revenue for schools throughout the state.

On the other hand, bond measures such as those set to appear on the November ballot use a percentage of property taxes to pay off loans purchased under the measures. Most go directly to capital improvement projects or much-needed educational supplies, district advocates say.

Many school districts urge the passage of the state’s Prop. 30 in addition to their bond measures. But the bond measures tend to appeal more to the local community, and are marketed as district-specific, said Himelstein.

“People feel much more comfortable paying taxes that support their local schools,” he said. “You drive by these schools, you know the teachers, maybe you have kids who go to the schools.”

However the bonds have their drawbacks, Himelstein pointed out. They are financed over a period of time, usually about 20 years. With so many bond measures passing, the debt runs the risk of piling up, especially if property values in the area continue declining.

“Within these bonds, there is a perilous future debt,” he said. “It raises some serious fiscal questions.”

The potential risk became especially apparent after Poway Unified School District came under fire for using a financing method called a Capital Appreciation Bond. The bond will eventually cost 10 times more than the district borrowed, NBC 7 reported.

“The general public, in my view, doesn’t have a full understanding of what these bonds mean in terms of the debt,” Himelstein said.

He urged voters facing a decision on a school bond this fall to look into how the money will be spent, and how it will be financed. For example, bonds that pledge money to deferred maintence projects are especially favorable, he said, since on average, schools in San Diego are about 43 years old.

For more information on this year’s election, check out the County Registrar of Voters’ website, or read through our coverage of election issues on our Decision 2012 page.
 

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