Viewpoint: Early concerns about school bond ignored by PUSD leaders
By Sioux Duddy and Cindy Zdvorak
Are we surprised at the news that the Poway Unified School District school board bamboozled the “simple majority” and has now cost tax payers nearly $1 billion to fund a $105 million bond?
No, not really….
At the first mention of a bond, over a decade ago, one of PUSD’s tactics to convince voters this was the only solution to revamp aging schools was to aggressively recruit PTA volunteers to sell their solution to the masses by distributing PUSD propaganda provided by an outside consulting firm.
Although the idea behind the proposal sounded inviting, we had a few basic questions.
Why in 1999, with over 40 percent of the state budget going to education, did PUSD not have enough money to maintain and upgrade schools?
Why, when the state was expected to end the 2000-2001 budget year with $6.9 billion in excess revenues, did PUSD need to burden Poway residents with another line item on their property tax bill?
The powers that be did not want to answer those specific questions, so we did some research on our own.
We learned that the state inequitably disbursed funds to different school districts throughout the state, with poorer performing districts receiving more monies than higher performing districts like PUSD.
Additionally, we learned about prevailing wage, a state mandate that is required in government contracting that significantly balloons construction costs.
Finally, we learned about categorical spending, earmarked funds given by the state, that prevent districts from spending money where needed locally.
It was evident to us that the problem was systemic and a more lasting approach to the short-term problem was reform at the state level.
Apparently we were too vocal with our concerns, because we were called into our principal’s office, with John Collins and other PTA presidents, to help us understand why we should change our position and join forces to pass the bond. Mr. Collins respectfully acknowledged that our findings were valid, but lobbying at the state level to remedy these issues would take too much time. PUSD needed a quicker solution and that path was passing a bond.
Obviously, other voters had the same concerns, and common sense did prevail because PUSD, along with other districts, were unsuccessful in their bond attempts.
And so PUSD and other districts joined forces to push a statewide initiative to lower a passing vote from two-thirds to a simple majority, allowing districts to more easily get their hands on local money. They couldn’t win so they decided to change the rules of the game.
Proposition U, the $198 million bond, passed in 2002, and by 2008 the district had overspent taxpayers’ money to the tune of $40 million and they came back asking voters to pass yet another bond, Proposition C. At this point, we could challenge PUSD’s claims that they were over budget due to inflated construction costs. We could also challenge their integrity when they masked the truth about the additional costs to taxpayers if Proposition C passed.
In light of the current information, these past concerns don’t even come close to measuring up to the “madness” of their decision to commit to a capital appreciation bond.
PUSD claims that they have been good stewards of taxpayer money. We would hate to see what a mess we would be in if they had acted irresponsibly.
The fact that PUSD was reportedly warned last year against making this deal by the county tax collector’s office really speaks volumes. PUSD promised something that they knew was not possible (no increased taxes), so in order to save face, PUSD swept the problem under the rug only to let our children and our grandchildren worry about it in 20 years.
We can’t even preach to the voters to educate themselves before voting, because PUSD withheld information and was not forthcoming about their long-term plans. Although it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that when you borrow more money, and someone says it isn’t going to cost you anything, you’ve got to wonder. Come on people!
Honestly, we are not sure how PUSD board members and staff sleep at night.
Duddy and Zdvorak are Poway residents.
- PUSD releases statement on school bonds
- PUSD not alone in high-interest financing
- Borrowing $105 million will cost PUSD nearly $1 billion
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