by Nikki Kolhoff and DeAnne Ozaki

SMS is a $485 Million SMMUSD (“District”) facilities bond measure that should be VOTED DOWN in November.  SMS will cost almost $1 BILLION with interest, passes through to renters with no senior exemption, and adds to nine existing District and SMC bonds and taxes.  As District parents, we support our schools and understand the need for bonds to finance capital improvements. However, we do not support SMS as written. SMS contains no specifics on how funds will be spent and the District has no Master Facilities Plan (“Master Plan”).  This makes support of SMS fiscally irresponsible, especially since the District recently issued $130 Million of Measure ES bonds that will provide sufficient funds and reserves for another two years.

SMS IS A BLANK CHECK  

Because SMS is not tied to specific projects and permits extensive spending latitude, it’s a BLANK CHECK.  SMS offers no guarantee that our existing K-12 public schools will receive necessary repairs, upgrades or remodels, and does not preclude the prioritization of new preschools, a new specialized high school, or administrative offices over existing K-12 projects.  Although SMS includes a project wish list, it creates NO obligation to complete any project and the District stated that $485 Million is nowhere near enough money to complete all projects. Under our last bond, long-awaited projects promised by the District never materialized (e.g., replacement of portable bungalows), and the District has not produced a list of projects completed under its prior two bonds.

THE MYTHS OF SMS

Oversight.  While SMS references oversight, the District’s bond manager stated the Oversight Committee legally cannot provide input on projects, priorities or costs.  Instead, because no projects are attached to the Bond, the Oversight Committee can merely confirm the funds aren’t spent fraudulently. Moreover, since no projects are attached to SMS, there is no accountability as to project completion or budget.
Flexibility.  By insisting on flexibility, the District is saddling taxpayers with a perpetual cycle of unchecked spending.  While the District argues the lack of specificity provides flexibility for unanticipated projects, it took six years for the District to install needed air conditioning at only some schools, and PTAs are paying for capital expenditures like school gates and awnings.
A Plan.  The lack of accountability in SMS is exacerbated by the fact that the District has NO Master Plan to serve as a plan or budget for use of SMS funds.  Other districts are providing specificity and accountability in their bond measures through master planning. In 2016, after completing its Master Plan, Manhattan Beach passed a $39 Million bond for high school gym improvements, and another $114 Million bond tied to EXISTING campuses and SPECIFIC project types.  Palos Verdes wanted to put forth a district bond in 2018, but after completing Master Plans, a bond survey, and ten community meetings, PVUSD directed its architect to scale down its Master Plan to reflect resident priorities.

OPPOSING SMS WILL ENSURE LONG-TERM BENEFITS TO SCHOOLS

Campaign donations in support of SMS pour in from vendors who want their piece of the $485 Million SMS pie, and PTAs rushed to endorse SMS (with two individual PTAs representing an aggregate of around 1900 students endorsing SMS with only TWENTY “yes” votes each).  But it’s important for the opposition to be heard because voting NO on SMS ensures long-term benefits to our schools. Opponents of SMS are not anti-school. In fact, many opponents are District parents who are concerned that the lack of specificity and fiscal accountability in SMS will result our EXISTING schools NOT receiving necessary repairs/upgrades.  We are cognizant that residents’ tolerance for bonds is decreasing and we need to make sure that every dollar counts for our schools.

With over $2 Million per week to spend through 2020 from existing bonds and excess reserves, the District should prepare a Master Plan and put forth a bond with specificity and accountability in 2020.  NO BLANK CHECKS. We urge residents to VOTE NO on SMS.

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1 Comment

  1. I agree fully on this. It seems in Santa Monica that these large building contractors are putting big money behind these blank check initiatives under the guise of helping students. 1 billion of extra funding in this small school district is a very high price to pay, considering we are already deep in debt paying other bond measures off for Santa Monica College and SMMUSD. Vote No on SMS.

    By the way, just because firefighters and police endorse a bond measure, doesn’t mean it is good for the city. Those groups can continue to get the fat lifetime paychecks way beyond what the city can afford only if the city raises money by outside means. It is all one pot of money and the police and firefighters want more than their fair share.

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