June 2018 Ventura County School Bonds, The Untold Story

If passed Measures A, B, and C will add nearly $1 billion dollars in new property taxes

 

 

By Deborah Baber Savalla

School Bonds, An Introduction

Everybody pays for school bonds even if a person does not have children in the public school system.

Whether or not you cast a ballot or vote for or against a school bond tax and whether you own property or not, you pay for school bonds. Homeowners and commercial property owners are assessed taxes annually based on their property’s value. Renters pay school bond taxes in increased monthly payments to landlords covering the owner’s increased cost to operate the rental.

There are three school bonds on the June 2018 ballot. Together, including finance charges, they total nearly $1 billion dollars. The largest is Oxnard Union High School District’s Measure A. The price tag is $350 million dollars which balloons to over $625 million when finance charges are added. Hueneme Elementary Measure B goes from $34,200,000 to over $62 million. Measure C for Pleasant Valley Schools starts at $119 million and rises to over $200 million.  What follows generally applies to all three bond measures. Specific examples are included about Measure A because it is the largest.

Learning Environment

All significant research done on what influences a child’s education and capacity to learn cite parental involvement, teachers, and school administrators as the key. Far down towards the bottom of the list one may find mention of the physical building but it is by no means a “measure” used to determine how well or how much your child learns.

Measure A asks voters to approve new taxes totaling over half a billion dollars for buildings, not for children and not for education. People should know something about the personality of the group seeking such enormous sums of taxpayer money. Three recent examples of OUHSD leadership should give all reasonable people concern about turning over taxing authority to this District.

1) In early 2017 several uniform complaints were filed by one family. They charged that over a period of several months beginning in Fall 2016, five teachers on 13 different occasions made “politically-charged liberal statements that served to indoctrinate students and intimidate and alienate students with conservative viewpoints or Republican values.” The complaints involved teacher remarks in the classroom and/or assignments that spoke of “hate”, invoked assassination, talked of a deadly apocalypse, mentioned bringing a gun to class for “extra credit”, and otherwise denigrated the incoming President and/or people with “conservative views”. A third-party was hired by OUHSD to investigate the claims.

2) At the May 10, 2017 school board meeting OUHSD trustees voted unanimously to accept support from LULAC, , the League of United Latin American Citizens, for a District resolution. LULAC’s endorsement of the Board resolution reads, in part, as…

“Please know that our organization fully supports the public educational system of our state and our nation. This is not the first time and it will most likely not be the last time that conservative right-wing individuals and their supporters make attempts to attack and weaken our democratically run system of public education under the guise of free choice these socially regressive individuals seek to promote a return to segregation that under their plan would be determined by virtue of race and economic status. Public education settings are this nation’s sanctuary where our children and youth can learn and develop within a racially and socially tolerant environment that prepares them to exceed and excel in the global marketplace…”

3) On January 10, 2018, four of the five accused teachers were found guilty of Board Policy 4119.21. One of these teachers was promoted to vice principle and another of the teachers, the one found not guilty, was promoted the previous year to vice principle but at a different school.

How many more examples of bias are there? We do not know. A much more important question is, however: How many parents and students are silenced because they are too intimidated to speak up in an environment wherein leaders embrace bigoted views and teachers violating board policy are promoted?

This is the context in which to consider facts, figures, and fantasies used to sell school bonds to voter-taxpayers.

Performance in Public School Education

No building in history has taught a child math! Every significant piece of research cites parental involvement, teacher interactions, and school administrator-leadership as overwhelming factors influencing how well and how much a child learns. Further, there is no yardstick or benchmark mentioned in any of the measures that taxpayers can use to assess the rate of return on our money. Before a voter decides on increasing property taxes to support school districts, it makes sense to look at education outcomes. After all, student performance is the product. OUHSD is the largest district with the largest new tax request so we looked at it in greater depth. The information is found on the California Department of Education, CDE website.

  • OUHSD has 17,401 students. Of them, only 40% are considered fluent/proficient in English. COMMENT: 60% of the children are at risk to become poor performers in an English-language environment.
  • 76.4% of OUHSD students are Hispanic and of them, over 90% cite Mexican heritage. COMMENT: Are parents aware of their children’s poor academic performance? If so, do they realize Measure A will increase taxes with no guarantee their children will improve academically?
  • Over 66% of the OUHSD student population is considered “socioeconomically disadvantaged.” COMMENT: An already economically depressed class of families will feel the weight of new taxes more profoundly than other families with more resources. Providing these students with a new gym or swimming pool will not help their parents get high school degrees, reduce their often over-crowded living conditions, help them with access at home to technology, nor remedy a host of other ills that contribute to them being defined as “socioeconomically disadvantaged.”
  • For the school year 2016-17, there were 890 school dropouts in all Ventura County school districts. OUHSD has the highest dropout rate of any district, 47% or 417 students. The statewide dropout rate is 1% of all enrolled students. OUHSD is double that at 2%, the only district in the county that exceeds the state average. COMMENT: Why should taxpayers continue investing in buildings for a district that has the highest dropout rate in the county and which is double the state average?
  • The average cost per student per year at OUHSD is $13,101. The statewide average is only $12,334. COMMENT: If parents were given $13k per child/per year to educate their children they could send them to private schools including Saint Bonaventure for $8,788 or to Santa Clara High School with tuition that ranges from $6,816 – $9,022 or meet 74% of the cost of La Reina’s tuition which is $17,650 per year. How does student college admission from these private schools compare to students graduating from OUHSD? Before shelling out additional taxes, voters should know how the schools compare to non-public school options. Nothing in Measure A addresses this.
  • There are 31 high schools in Ventura County, 9 of which are in OUHSD or 29%. 8 of these schools reported on SARC, the School Accountability Report Card (One school is too new to include academic data.) COMMENT: 6 of 8 OUHSD schools, or 75%, rank 5 or less on a scale of 10 academically. Importantly, the school buildings score far higher on maintenance than OUHSD’s students do in academics! Nine schools were evaluated: 4 facilities scored “good” and 5 ranked “exemplary”!

SARC Collects & Reports on the following criteria:

Policy Position by School Boards that Infringe Upon Parental and/or Personal Freedoms

Measure A asks voters to approve new taxes for buildings that will total over half a billion dollars. What does this mean? It means that if successful, five school board members will have convinced enough voters that it is acceptable to tax ourselves $100s of millions of dollars more than we already pay.

  • Decisions made by five people, OUHSD’s elected board members, will affect property owners in 9 areas and/or cities. The communities are Camarillo, Malibu, Moorpark, Newbury Park, Oxnard, Point Mugu, Port Hueneme, Santa Rosa Valley, and Somis. COMMENT: The high schools listed in Measure An are in Oxnard and Camarillo. Most voters casting ballots on the measure reside in these two cities. This means that just two of the nine communities are likely to decide whether ALL nine communities will be on the hook for the new taxes or not.
  • Typically, school bond proponents talk only about the face value of the tax measure. Proponents do not talk about how numbers nearly double when finance charges are added. COMMENT: In a recent presentation to the Camarillo Chamber of Commerce, Superintendent Dr. DeLeon boiled the numbers down saying, “So, passing the bond will only cost you $.35 a day.” A more transparent and accurate representation of the real costs makes clear to the voter just how much more tax debt Measure A adds. We fill in the gap with actual numbers tied to specific property addresses within the OUHSD jurisdiction. The numbers match voter records with property tax assessor rolls. For example, a specific family who lives at an address on Calle Argolla in Camarillo will experience a property tax increase of $7,700 if Measure A passes. The new total of outstanding school property taxes will mushroom to $11,091.

 

Alternatives to public education including charter, home schooling, faith-based schools

  • All the nearly $1 billion dollars-worth of school bond measures on the June 2018 ballot promise improved campuses but none speaks of academic goals as a function of the expenditures. COMMENT: There is no incentive for bond supporters to discuss or otherwise reveal to parents that other education choices exist at a lower cost and with better outcomes than what the district schools are providing.
  • If passed, seniors who have no children in the system will still pay for other people’s children to attend public school. And, parents who send their children to private schools or opt for homeschooling will still have to pay additional property taxes even though they’re not using the system. COMMENT: The voters have only two choices, pay or move away.

School Bond Report Card

Accountability: F-

  • It is argued that taxpayer bond money will improve student outcomes through facility upgrades, repairs, and renovations yet there is no accountability since there is no means to evaluate performance as a function of a new pool, air-conditioned classrooms, or a new stadium into which all the new classrooms for the “Oxnard New High School #8” would fit!
  • It is argued that taxpayer bond money is needed because without it, OUHSD will lose “matching state funds”. This is akin to a person saying I need to buy another $5 worth of something in order to get my 10% discount.
  • It is argued that taxpayer bond money is necessary if the District is to meet growth estimates with new construction. Does this mean that without the monies the District will turn away the nearly $12k per student-head when the current schools reach capacity? The wording is more extortion than explanation.
  • It is argued that taxpayer bond money is a must if the District is to retain top-notch teachers and staff. Does this mean that with new funding the District would censure itself and rid their schools of teachers who convicted of Education Code violations doing untold harm to young minds and hearts?
  • It is argued that taxpayer bond money would be spent “wisely” because of “citizen oversight and annual audits”. Both items are required by law. And, the citizen oversight committee is appointed by the very Board that is advocating for the money. It is akin to asking the fox to watch the hen house.
  • It is argued that taxpayer bond money sums will be financed at the best and lowest rate possible. But what good does a high-value Aa3 credit rating do for students in a toxic learning environments?

Clarity: F-

  • From bond-to-bond and year-over-year, the language used to argue for new property taxes is intentionally vague. Superintendent DeLeon has said the District used the services of Isom Advisors to help write, market, and campaign for the bond measure. The problem is that voters are NOT Isom’s client, the District is. This handily explains why Measure A, like Measure H before it, is rife with words and phrases like “may happen”, “could be done”, “might be possible”, etc.
  • There are spreadsheets with numbers to support the price-tag for Measure A. But there is also language in the bond that permits a high-level of discretion on which projects actually will be funded: “Projects are listed in alphabetical order and are to be completed as funding and phasing permit.” In fact, Measure A funds only 67% of the bonds ultimate, projected price-tag which is $497,883,635, a difference of $162,263,791. The bond does not fully explain how the difference is to be paid beyond claiming potential eligibility for “matching state funds”. Of course, those funds also come out of taxpayer pockets!

Transparency: F-

  • It is said that past performance is often an indicator of future success. Voters weighing the merits of Measure A should be given evidence of past bond history and performance. Yet when searching for information on the OUHSD website on the last bond, Measure H in 2004, the voter comes up empty-handed. A “404 Error, page not found” appears. If the District is so capable of handling hundreds of millions of taxpayer-dollars one would think the District would be eager to cite all the accomplishments Measure H produced. Remember, only one of OUHSD’s schools ranks #9 on SARC while the majority rank 5 or below.
  • Reasonable people would not hire a contractor to replace or repair the roof of their homes based only on an assertion by the person selling new roofs that their roof is “leaky”. Homeowners would be anxious to know more about the leak. Telling homeowners to just accept that the “leaky” roof is due to age without supporting evidence is asking the voter to write a blank check.

Summary

Perhaps the best evidence to vote no on Measures A, B, and C is to look at a school district that does school bonds right! The Fairfax County Public School District (FCPS) in Virginia academically is among the highest-performing districts in the country. Even a casual visitor to their website can easily find information about current bond proposals, past bond expenditures, and student performance. Most importantly, FCPS has succeeded in passing countless school bonds for years without significant tax increases!

Local school districts Hueneme Elementary, Oxnard Union High, and Pleasant Valley put the cart before the horse!. They will have voters believe their vision of improved/new campus “environments” will result in better “student outcomes”. The voter should demand first that school districts prove their capacity to educate our youth AND their ability to spend taxpayer dollars without significant tax increases before taxpayers write them a check. Indoctrination is NOT education.

It is said past performance is often an indicator of future success. Too often when talking about facts and school bonds, supporters of the bonds claim “It’s for the kids!” If measures were “for the kids”, districts would be transparent about current performance. They would also directly correlate student performance with requests for new taxes that can only be spent on buildings.

Approving any one of the three measures is like writing a blank check. Nothing in the them obligates the districts to execute their plans. The language is vague and non-committal. The literature is rife with “might be possible”, “could happen”, “may be done”. The voter is reminded that, “Projects are listed in alphabetical order and are to be completed as funding and phasing permit.” The new taxes for some of the plans are not even enough to complete the described projects. The districts claim the difference can be made up from “matching state funds”. The voter should remember this is ALSO taxpayer money.

Further, Governor Jerry Brown’s 2018-19 budget has more than $95 billion dollars earmarked for education, none of which can be used for school construction. But his problem is the same as our local bond measures: putting the cart before the horse. Brown asks for more school funding when California ranks 42nd nationally in K-12 education performance!

Lastly, it’s worth asking what happens to the students when they leave high school and head to college? What has been paid for with our taxpayer dollars? It is not a pretty picture!

High School Students will graduate and go to college. Where did they learn this behavior? Public summer schools?

 


 



Deborah Baber Savalla: I am a former New York City book publishing executive with over 20 years of experience. I believe in moral clarity because it leads naturally to personal responsibility which WILL RESULT in small governments. I am privileged to work for Citizens Journal. I write columns and editorials for the Journal as a private citizen. I strive to be scrupulous when identifying my work as a private citizen versus that of a reporter or Journal contributor. The views expressed as a private individual are mine alone and are not necessarily that of Citizens Journal. 


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