Editorial: School board headed in the right direction

It appears as though our elected school board members are headed in the right direction toward improving transparency when discussing future use of municipal bonds to finance school construction projects.

The board’s use of long-term capital appreciation bonds to finance the balance of its ambitious Building For Success campus renovation program left the district having to digest a large helping of negative media attention. While clearly no laws were broken, after-the-fact assessments of the CAB vote painted a picture of an under-educated board relying heavily on the “expert” opinions of bond consultants who might have been a bit too eager to get the bonds sold so they could be paid their commissions. As a result, Poway Unified School District property owners (not in Mello-Roos districts) will be paying for newly renovated schools for the next 40 years.

Meeting in a special session last week, the board began discussing steps that can be taken to make sure everyone better understands the complexities of such bonds.

Supt. John Collins led the board in discussing possible steps that might be implemented to foster transparency. Among these:

• Hold an annual board workshop on municipal financing;

• Have the board annually review all outstanding bonds, refinancing opportunities, assessed valuation projects and related topics.

• Pay a district financial adviser on a fee basis, rather than commission.

• Provide the board with far more information about the proposed bonds than what was offered with the CABs.

• Use “common English” when doing bond work so interested citizens (and board members and the media, we suspect) can better understand what is being considered.

• Approval of new bonds would be done over the course of two public meetings, permitting more time for review of the details.

• Video tape all regular monthly board meetings which would be posted on the district’s website.

These are all excellent recommendations; ones that should ultimately be adopted as board policies.

Yes, it’s all hindsight. But in the case of the controversial CABs, it appears that valuable lessons have been learned.

Will all this be enough to fully heal the black eye suffered by the district and its school board? We hope so, but we’ll have to wait until after the November 2014 school board elections, where two of the three incumbents were directly involved in the CAB approval, to know whether voters are ready to forgive and forget.

   
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