As an exceedingly combative election season draws to a merciful conclusion, Santa Monica schools have not been spared from the tribal rhetoric so common on the nightly news. Our school district’s Board of Education, on which I serve as Vice President, has placed a $485m facilities bond called Measure SMS on your ballot. This has led to a conundrum where a small but vocal cadre of people say they support our schools but don’t support this bond. This sentiment continues to be expressed no matter how much evidence is presented to refute the supposed concerns about the measure.
Construction and modernization of schools can only be funded through these types of bonds. Other sources of revenue — state funding and local parcel or sales tax measures— must be spent on operating expenses. That is why we must ask the property owners of our community for this type of support.
We seem to have full agreement throughout the community that our schools are in dire need of modernization and safety upgrades. Most of them are 60-100 years old. The Santa Monica Police Officers Association and the Santa Monica Firefighters have endorsed this bond because they know that the safety demands for our school campuses must be addressed now, not in 2020, or at some other convenient time. Our first responders have asked you the voters to help them keep our children safe.
As we prepare our students for jobs that have not even been created yet, repairs, upgrades, and modernization are urgently need at most school sites. Our teachers know this, which is why the Santa Monica-Malibu Classroom Teachers have endorsed Measure SMS. Our school PTA organizations, representing our most involved parents who volunteer thousands of hours annually on our campuses, have ALL endorsed SMS. The people who are hands on, every day understand the need.
With respect to oversight, understand this: our district has a AAA rating from Moody’s and AA+ from S & P Global which means that we can borrow money at the lowest possible cost to property owners. We received these ratings upgrades because of our sound financial management and our considerable oversight. These top ratings are not handed out indiscriminately.
Beyond that, the League of Women Voters of Santa Monica studied this bond from top to bottom and back again before endorsing it. They did so because they know that all dollars will be spent in Santa Monica only, with annual independent audits to ensure that every dollar is used properly and effectively.
Lastly, and most importantly, despite insinuations to the contrary, the district knows what will be built with SMS bond funding. We have developed a comprehensive project list, based on input from teachers, parents, and facilities staff. Funds from Measures BB and ES have all been fully spent or allocated on important projects. There is no more bond money to fund necessary facilities construction going forward. Please see this link for lists of new projects and completed projects from prior bonds.
SMS monies will pay for the next phase of construction at Samohi, our very old but justifiably revered high school. It will enhance security and safety at every school. It will address the need for HVAC in all classrooms as our students cannot learn in rooms that are too hot. We will remove portable classrooms that have long outlasted their usefulness. And most important to the students who we all know are our future, this measure will allow our community’s public schools to embrace fully current and future learning needs, transforming schools step by step into dynamic learning spaces which promote student engagement as we strive to create rewarding pathways to success for every student in our district.
Asking you to spend your money is not a decision that we take lightly on the School Board. We have a responsibility to be accountable, transparent, and prudent. The facts show that the current Board and past Boards have risen to the occasion, as evidenced in no small part by our bond rating and impressive list of endorsers.
If you truly support the students of Santa Monica then I ask you to support them with your vote for Measure SMS on Nov 6.