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School District Considers New Bond

By Ann K. Williams
Staff Writer

July 21 -- Seven years after Proposition X added $42 million to the School District’s coffers, District officials are considering putting a new bond measure on the November 2006 ballot.

In a race against time, they presented a proposal for a plan to improve school facilities to the Financial Oversight Committee Tuesday night -- a plan that must be completed before a bond measure can be drafted.

If the District decides to place a bond measure on the ballot, the Facilities Master Plan will have to be completed in July 2006, 88 days prior to the November election -- the deadline for getting paperwork to the County Registrar of Voters.

District Chief Financial Officer Winston A. Braham was confident that the plan can be completed on time.

“I’ve seen these teams (of experts),” Braham said. “They’ve got a significant number of skilled people, and it’s like a SWAT team, they come in, and somebody’s doing this and then that at various levels simultaneously and it all comes together.”

“It’s a lot,” Committee Chair Paul Silvern said of the plan, which includes extensive community involvement. “You have a tremendous amount of work to do just to do the physical facilities assessment, then trying to bring that together with the public involvement.”

“It’s going to take a lot of people. and it’s going to be very expensive,” Silvern added.

Committee Member Cynthia Torres worried that rushing might lead to costly mistakes.

“It’s not that difficult to really make a major miss on some of these (steps the plan calls for),” Torres said, “and that would throw us into having to rush through analysis to provide a sketchy conclusion that we will then regret for a long time.”

But School Board member Kathy Wisnicki urged the committee to be decisive.

“If you wanted to do a November election, you’d have to plan for the campaign over the summer, so the board needs to act quickly on this,” Wisnicki said.

The District has an incentive to reach the 2006 deadline. Unlike other facilities bonds that need more than two-thirds of the vote to pass, a facilities bond drawn up under Proposition 39 guidelines, like the one considered at Tuesday night’s meeting, just needs more than 55 percent of the vote to pass.

If the District can’t get a “Prop 39” bond on the ballot in 2006, it will have to wait until November 2008 to try again.

Silvern was optimistic that a bond measure can pass.

“Most people understand the connection between a good school system and property values,” said Silvern. “With one exception, they’ve passed with flying colors.”

Committee Member Patricia Hoffman was more skeptical of the anticipated reaction.

“’We want it all, we don’t want to pay for it, we don’t want construction noise and we don’t want highrises.’ That’s what you’re going to come out with the community input,” Hoffman said.

The committee, as well as its consultants, will consider alternative funding sources, Silvern said.

“It’s important for voters to understand that we’ve carefully looked at all the other sources and we’ve taken advantage of everything that we possibly can, so that we’re only asking them potentially to approve what’s necessary to make up the difference,” Silvern cautioned.

But an extensive presentation by Piper Jaffray -- a financial consulting firm -- dealt exclusively with bond funding alternatives, including one that would bring in $412 million dollars over four years.

“A scenario that’s been pretty successful at other districts” would extend existing tax rates over a longer time, so taxpayers wouldn’t see their taxes go up, said Piper Jaffray Assistant Vice President Tony Hsieh.

District staff will present the plan, called the Request for Proposal for Facilities Master Plan, to the School Board for approval at its next meeting July 28, 2005.

Though the Financial Oversight Committee did not have a quorum and so could not pass a motion, Silvern did say that Braham could report to the Board that “we did look at it and the members who were here all had good things to say about it.”

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