Writers note: I served an initial two-year term on the Carlsbad Unified School District’s Proposition P Citizens Bond Oversight Committee, 2007-08. Another founding member and I declined an opportunity to serve an additional two-year term for reasons that were outlined in a joint resignation letter to the CUSD Board on January 28, 2009.
Carlsbad has been blessed for years with sound governing led by and the various members of our community who have made up the City Council during his tenure. That same fiscally-conservative yet practical approach to budgeting has thus far been maintained by and the current Council. And, to that end, the same could be said of our school district. , under the steady direction of , has not allowed the district’s operating fund to fall into the red, unlike many of its counterparts here in San Diego County and throughout the state.
As we have all witnessed, Carlsbad has undergone impressive residential and business growth in the last twenty years, and to accommodate the need for a second high school, expanded as well as upgraded existing schools, CUSD asked voters in 2006 to approve Proposition P, a $198 million dollar bond measure funded by property tax assessments of $100 for each $100,000 assessed value of a home-owner. As a sweetener, an additional $35 million dollars in state matching funds was to be provided by Sacramento. Needing 55% to pass, voters overwhelmingly approved the measure with a 69% majority.
Most of the projects slated to be covered by Prop P expenditures have since been successfully completed on time, and within budget. That is however, with the exception of the new . With the first students expected on campus in the fall of 2013, the District’s Citizens Bond Oversight Committee was recently informed that due to the state of California’s own fiscal morass, a portion of the expected $35 million dollars will not be allocated to CUSD, leaving the Sage Creek project approximately $5 million dollars short of needed funds. Another bond measure or bridge loan are two ideas being discussed by the CUSD Board as methods of filling this $5 million dollar gap.
This news come on the heels of reports last month that CUSD is also mulling ballot measures to float one and possibly two additional bonds for voter approval this November. A $116 million dollar bond would raise money to pay for “new classroom technology” and would raise property taxes by yet another $30 per assessed $100,000 home valuation over the next 25 years. The Board is also kicking around the idea of a $50 million dollar general obligation bond for “construction,” or a $128 million dollar general obligation bond for “technology.” The latter two would be paid for using district revenues, not property taxes. Details are sketchy as of this writing, but one must wonder why CUSD is in need of additional monies when Prop P as written stated, “Prop P’s Master Plan involves modernizing , the creation of a second high school at College and Cannon (later to be named Sage Creek), the modernization of four elementary and two middle schools, and upgrading District-wide technology.” Why wasn’t the original dollar amount of Prop P greater than $198 million? Surely someone must have foreseen these up-coming and now current construction and technology requirements?
With the local and state economy still sputtering in neutral (at best) four years running now, and Governor Jerry Brown and Sacramento legislators planning tax-increase measures for the November ballot as yet another short-sighted means of plugging their chronically unbalanced budget problems, would any local bond measure for CUSD gain approval?
Or will the School Board elect instead borrow the money and pay it back later, with the expectation that a competitive interest rate could be obtained and state funding begins to rise in the coming years as the economy improves and/or Sacramento gets its desired tax hikes?
In either scenario, the Carlsbad Unified School District Board faces some hard decisions soon.