It’s another election year and yet another school fundraising scheme is on the ballot.

Measure ES is a $385 million bond to supposedly pay for repairs and renovation of the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District (SMMUSD) facilities.

ES will cost the average property owner $30 for every $100,000 of assessed evaluation or $300 annually for a house or condo assessed at $1 million. Costs will be divided equally among all units in apartment buildings and added to monthly rents.

Polling conducted by the district’s Economic Feasibility Committee (EFC) earlier this year revealed that voters would be more likely to approve a construction bond (which can only be used for capital improvements) and requires 55 percent voter approval over a parcel tax which can be used for general classroom expenses and needs two-thirds voter approval. So, ES was born.

ES proponents state that bond money is needed to make schools safer and for repairs, technological upgrades and a vague roster of “If we don’t get this the ceiling will cave in” items. The truth is there may be a “wish list” but a specific list of critical projects that require funding didn’t exist when the measure was approved for the ballot by the school board.

Some $268 million from the previous bond (Measure BB) is still being spent to upgrade facilities and provide repairs “for a modern, safe educational environment.” There’s been no study or evaluation done on potential projects nor were priorities determined. ES is strictly a con game, not about any real needs. It’s pure greed — a scam.

There’s no incentive here to trim fat, eliminate the overabundance of overpaid administrators, cut frill programs, remove the Classroom Teachers Union president from the district payroll or implement other cost saving measures. There’s also absolutely no interest in securing new revenue streams such as licensing school names and logos that alone could be worth millions.

Attorney Neil Carrey, chair of the EFC said, “If we wait until 2014, there’s a strong possibility that we’ll be competing with bond measures from City Hall and Santa Monica College.” Really Neil? Neither entity has announced any ballot measures for 2014. Nevertheless, despite Carey’s prognostications, the usual cheerleaders are contemplating another school parcel tax or money raising scheme for 2014.

Take a look at the recent history of school tax and revenue measures:

1988 Measure TT: $58 per parcel tax

1990 Proposition ES: $75 million school repair and upgrade bond

1994 Measure K boosted TT’s rate from $58 to $68 per parcel

1998 Measure X: 42-million school bond for classroom modernization, science labs and repairs

2000 Measure Y: $98 per parcel tax

2002 Measure EE: $300 per parcel tax (failed)

2003 Measure S: $225 per parcel tax (barely passes)

2004 Parcel tax proposition being circulated to qualify for the ballot is canceled when a “shared revenue agreement” between the SMMUSD and the city of Santa Monica is agreed upon

2006 Measure BB: $268 million school renovation and construction bond

2008 Measure R Parcel Tax: Combined and extended (forever) existing parcel tax Measures Y and S that were expiring

2010 Measure A: $198 “emergency” parcel tax on a mail-in ballot (failed)

2010 Props. Y and YY: A half-cent increase in the sales and use tax that splits revenues between City Hall and SMMUSD

2012 Measure ES: Current $385 million school construction and renovation bond proposition

School supporters suggested sharing school playgrounds and athletic facilities with the city of Santa Monica in July of 2004. A Master Facilities Use Agreement was approved and $6 million in annual city money flowed into SMMUSD coffers.

An increase of $529,000 was approved in June 2007. This past May, the agreement was extended for a 10 year period — with a built-in, annual cost of living increase. This year’s agreement will generate $8.1 million for the district. Malibu also gives a couple hundred thousand dollars a year to the SMMUSD.

I’m voting “no” on ES because it’s just another school money grab.

This isn’t the right time to ask voters to open their wallets, again. The usual wealthy attorneys and North of Montana school activists behind this measure don’t give a hoot about low- and fixed-income residents that have a difficult time making ends meet.

Approximately one-third of SMMUSD student families pay neither parcel tax or bond expense. We the taxpayers of Santa Monica and Malibu subsidize approximately 3,500 students because non-resident permit families don’t pay SMMUSD tax and bond assessments nor do student families living in Santa Monica’s tax-exempt low-income housing.

In February 2007, the state-endorsed Fiscal Crisis and Management Assistance Team (FCMAT) reviewed district operations and declared, “Strategic changes in regard to spending, staffing, handling money and enrollment were needed. Continued changes in financial management policies, increased revenues and/or cuts in costs would be necessary to avoid future fiscal crises.” Nothing’s changed in five years

The SMMUSD is still a deep money pit run by administrators and governed by a school board with little aptitude for managing money. Well-intentioned but clueless school cheerleaders with their heads in the sand keep coming to the public trough because they think we’ll keep blindly supporting tax and bond measures, indefinitely.

It’s not “for the children,” either because our children are being exploited while hard-working taxpayers are asked to ransom them over and over again.

There is a better way and school board members and their well-meaning supporters need to find it.

 

 

 

Bill can be reached at mr.bilbau@gmail.com