Dick Lyles: Are Poway Unified bond critics helping community or themselves?
By Dick Lyles
Unfortunately it has become a necessity during political season to challenge the motives of those stirring up controversy. Are they working for the good of our community or selfishly for themselves?
The most recent hysteria about bonds and the Poway Unified School District calls for such a challenge. What is really going on here?
The story starts with Proposition U, a $198 million bond initiative passed by a super-majority (two-thirds) of Poway voters in 2002 to fix Garden Road, Midland, Meadowbrook, Valley, Pomerado, Twin Peaks and Poway High schools. All needed major renovations. Inflationary increases in materials costs in the 3- to 4-percent range were included in Proposition U’s cost projections.
In 2003, contrary to everyone’s predictions, costs of construction materials sky-rocketed at unprecedented rates. Between 2003 and 2008, structural steel prices increased 161 percent and structural concrete increased 55 percent. These increases were four to five times the projected annual inflation rate and were virtually uncontrollable by the district. In 2006 and 2007 it became obvious prices were not going to decline and that the district faced three choices. They could either: stop renovating and abandon the remaining improvements, raise taxes to cover the higher costs, or take out a new bond that would be repaid after the existing Proposition U bonds were retired.
During 2007, PUSD surveyed the community to determine their preference for dealing with this unfortunate, unpredictable, and uncontrollable circumstance. The overwhelming response was to take out a new bond. PUSD then drafted Proposition C and presented it to the Board of Trustees who voted unanimously to take it back to the voters for their approval. In early 2008 Proposition C was approved by voters, after having been endorsed by all local and regional press, the San Diego Taxpayers Association and just about every interested group or individual.
Proposition C allowed for interest rates up to 12 percent on a bond of $179 million to finish work started on Proposition U. The actual amounts of the Proposition C-triggered bonds were unknown at the time and were unknowable. PUSD was commended by the San Diego County Grand Jury for exercising bold leadership and moving decisively to get the severely needed improvements without being exposed to even greater future cost increases which subsequently became reality. More than 70 districts throughout the state have successfully used similar bond strategies. The first bond of $74 million was funded almost immediately so work could continue.
In 2011, the year after Jeff Mangum resigned from the school board, the time came to fund the final $105 million approved under Proposition C. PUSD negotiated a deal well inside voter-approved Proposition C parameters. Payments won’t start until Proposition U bonds are paid off and it will accrue interest until then. By the time it is paid off, unless early payoffs are implemented, the total payback will be just under $1 billion. Broken down further, this means the average homeowner will pay under $20 per month in bond payments. Homeowners with above average assessed valuations will pay more. Other portions of PUSD pay substantially more for their schools – some in the hundreds of dollars each month – because of Mello-Roos or other levied assessments.
The 2011 bond for $105 million will neither “impoverish future generations” nor “drive Poway home prices to the bottom.” It’s time for those who are stirring the pot to re-assess the impact of their actions. Creating hysteria for personal political gain at Poway’s expense is unconscionable. Inappropriately maligning our community and PUSD will have a greater negative affect on home prices than this bond assessment.
Lyles, a Poway resident, is an author and film producer. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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