New bond could bring voter overload

first_imgSACRAMENTO – Voters in the eastern San Francisco Bay Area suburb of Discovery Bay approved a contentious school bond in June to refurbish the city’s middle school. In November, they’ll face another ballot measure seeking to build a new high school. And that’s not all. They also will be asked to vote on a $10.4 billion statewide education bond – part of a record public-works package supported by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and legislative leaders. Altogether, the November election will mark the 19th time in four years a local or state school bond has appeared on a Contra Costa County ballot. “I’ll vote for it, but there really is a feeling of `Oh, God, are we doing this again?”‘ said Maria Sturdivant, a candidate for the Byron Union School District in Discovery Bay. AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MOREThe joys and headaches of holiday travel: John PhillipsHer sense of dej vu is being shared by voters throughout the state this election season. California voters have approved major statewide education bonds in all but one election year during the past decade at a cost of more than $37 billion. Combined with scores of local school bonds passed during the same time, California voters since 1996 have authorized $95 billion in borrowing for school construction – more than in the previous 50 years combined. As Californians this fall confront another mega education bond – Proposition 1D – polls show voters are becoming wary of more bonds. If approved, the measure would push total school construction borrowing for the decade to well over $100 billion, before interest. There also are signs that the state’s borrowing cycle may not be sustainable. Even before this year’s bond – which would add $680 million in annual repayment costs if approved – California’s bills to cover past education bonds are reaching record levels. And despite its size, Proposition 1D won’t cover the remaining need. The measure would account for only about a quarter of the state’s school construction needs for the next decade, according to long-term bond plans the Schwarzenegger administration released in January. Even if Proposition 1D is approved, voters likely will face an additional $40 billion or more in state and local school bonds before 2015, according to estimates by state officials and school groups. Education proponents promise the cycle of school bonds will someday level off, but for now they say the continuous ballot requests simply reflect the need. California does not set aside money in the state’s annual budget for school construction. That forces local districts to rely almost entirely on bond money to pay for everything from air conditioners and leaky roofs to refurbished classrooms. $26 million a day “I think intuitively voters understand that buildings get old and need to be brought up to speed, and this is how we pay for that,” said Scott Plotkin, executive director of the California School Boards Association. Between local and state bonds, public schools and colleges in the state have spent an average of $26 million a day – every day – for the past 10 years on construction or refurbishing. Proponents say the money has been well spent. School districts have built 40,000 new classrooms and modernized 97,000 others. Colleges have also built new campuses and upgraded labs. Yet by other measures, progress has remained elusive. In 1998, after voters approved $9 billion in statewide education bonds, a Department of Finance report estimated that an additional $10 billion in state bonds would cover California’s share of school construction needs for a decade. Since then, voters have approved an additional $25 billion in state bonds, but the remaining estimated need has only grown. In January, the department pegged the state’s outstanding need at about $11 billion. The governor’s plan suggested that Californians will need to approve 31/2 times that by 2015, plus local matching bonds. The state Department of Education calculates the need differently. California each day through 2010 must build 18 new classrooms and modernize 25 others. Proposition 1D won’t cover the demand alone. To build that many classrooms, voters will have to approve billions more in bond money in 2008 – even though the state’s K-12 population will grow by less than 1 percent during that time. California already spends more per pupil on school construction than any other state, said Eric Brunner, an economics professor at Connecticut’s Quinnipiac University. He calculated that California from 2001 to 2004 spent an average of $1,245 per K-12 student on construction, compared with a national average of $1,086. That even outstripped the amount spent in other states with growing student populations. “The need seems to be a moving target,” Brunner said. Growing burden Repaying the school-construction bonds, meanwhile, has become an ever-larger burden. California this year will make payments on 18 school bonds dating back to 1974. The combined cost will exceed $1.3 billion. Next year, the annual cost will jump to $2.3 billion and remain there for the rest of the decade. A large part of the cost is interest. Of this year’s costs, the state will pay $493 million toward principal debt and $834 million in interest. If Proposition 1D passes, the state’s annual school bond debt payments would top $3 billion, taking away money from the state’s general fund, which pays for social services and most other programs. One potential weakness of Proposition 1D is that it would allocate money for programs that seem to go beyond traditional brick-and-mortar classrooms. Among the expenditures are $500 million for “career technical facilities,” $100 million for unspecified “environment-friendly projects” and $200 million for a University of California medical curriculum focused on “telemedicine.” The California Taxpayer Protection Committee argues that too much goes for such earmarks. Backers have other worries. They’re concerned the ceaseless cycle of bonds, combined with the rest of this year’s infrastructure package for roads, levees and housing, might create voter fatigue for new spending. This could be the year that breaks the string of success that education advocates have had in persuading Californians to approve school bonds, said Bob Stern, president of the Center for Governmental Studies in Los Angeles. “Voters may think, I’ve been there and done that,” he said.160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!last_img read more

Vets honor fallen alumni

first_imgWHITTIER – A tear slid down Jim Pilkenton’s face as he used Brasso to scrub a weathered Vietnam War memorial at the Sierra Education Center on Monday. For Pilkenton, the plaque on the white memorial at the education center, formerly Sierra High School, was much more than a piece of metal on a wall. It was also a trip down memory lane. He said it brought back some fun times when he surfed and ditched school with his classmate Terry Jones, the young man named on the plaque, who laid down his life during the Vietnam War. “He was a friend and I can put faces to a lot of the other names here,” said Pilkenton, a 1966 graduate of Sierra and Vietnam veteran. “It’s a very nice, commendable gesture on the part of these two gentlemen,” said Leo Camalich, assistant superintendent for personnel services for the district. Maxwell said he will never let the memorial fall into disrepair again. “As long as I am alive I will be working on this,” he said. [email protected] (562) 698-0955, Ext. 3028160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set! AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MOREPhotos: At LA County Jail, Archbishop José H. Gomez celebrates Christmas Mass with inmatesThe memories flowed back as he scrubbed and scraped off layers of paint on the tribute wall that was last upgraded in 1998. About three months ago, Pilkenton, 58, now a resident of Los Alamitos, drove by the wall after attending a funeral at Rose Hills Memorial Park. That’s when he was saddened to see the poor condition of the memorial with the faded name plaques of nine graduates of Sierra High School who died in Vietnam. “I shed a tear and decided I wanted to do something to let people know what these guys stood for, despite how they feel about Vietnam,” he said. Helping him is Butch Maxwell, a 57-year-old fellow Vietnam veteran from Chino, who got involved after Pilkenton showed him pictures of the wall at their 1966 high school reunion. Whittier Union High School District officials said they were happy to see the upgrading of the memorial, a senior class gift to the school in 1979, on Painter Avenue. last_img read more