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Active Claremont offers pro-and-con forum on Measure G bond

Measure G was hotly debated on the floor of the Hughes Center’s Padua Room, as proponents and detractors weighed in on the local school bond.

The forum, held Thursday, October 20 during an Active Claremont meeting, featured Richard Fass, a newly-retired Pomona College administrator and chair of the Measure G advocacy group RISE (Renew Infrastructure and Sustain Excellence) in favor of the $58 million, 30-year general obligation bond. Jay Pocock, owner of Superior Trailer Works, offered arguments against the measure.

Both men are longtime Claremont residents with children attending CUSD schools.

The crux of Mr. Fass’ argument is that the schools are in disrepair, the state offers no funding for construction and maintenance of facilities and Measure G represents the district’s only hope of tackling much-needed deferred maintenance. While Mr. Pocock agreed Claremont schools are in bad shape, he believes CUSD needs not a bond measure but a significant change in its policies.

He centered his argument on the amount of interdistrict transfer students (IDTs) that he said place strain on the district. Mr. Pocock said IDTs crowd the schools, causing the district to rely on stop-gap measures like portable classrooms.

At one point, he said Condit Elementary looked “like a FEMA center,” due to the amount of trailers at the school. Mr. Pocock feels CUSD is operating like a “profit center,” as opposed to an educational organization.

“Now I’m not saying they don’t need education or can’t get an education here, but why are we continually growing? We’ve grown 50 percent in six years,” Mr. Pocock said. “This is a big issue, at least to me and many other voters.”

Mr. Fass said he wasn’t prepared to talk about IDTs, but said the students are brought to the district in part to fill in the blanks at schools with dwindling enrollment. Claremont has been able to avoid furloughs and teacher layoffs, Mr. Fass said, through a system of “flexible capacity” by bringing in IDTs to fill open spaces in classrooms.

“And the reason was that when enrollments were dropping everywhere, we had the flexibility to bring in inter-district transfers and retain our enrollment to keep our programs going,” Mr. Fass said. “We avoided the disruption and the pain that was felt in other communities.”

Mr. Fass noted the money brought in from IDTs is channeled into programs like performing arts and the International Baccalaureate program. The flexibility also allows Claremont families to enter into the elementary school of their choice.

“It doesn’t drain the program,” Mr. Fass added. “It enriches the program.”

In his closing statement, Mr. Fass said that IDTs were only responsible for 16 percent of disciplinary actions by students last year and had a slightly higher attendance record and GPA than resident students. If IDTs were taken from the system, he asserted, only about 26 portables would be taken down, or about half of the current number.

“The ballot argument against Measure G for example used the term ‘diluting our kids’ education’ as a ballot argument that Mr. Pocock signed,” he said. “And when I hear something like that, diluting our kids education, I don’t quite know what that means, but it is disturbing to me.”

Mr. Pocock countered that most of the IDTs are at what he called “peripheral schools”—schools like Vista del Valle and Mountain View that are away from the center of town—and questioned why resident parents move their children to schools like Sycamore and Condit.

“If you want to have IDTs, I am all for it. I don’t wait to pay for it, but they should be equally dispersed at all schools no matter what,” he said.

Mr. Fass told the audience that the bond was originally set at $111 million and whittled down to $58 million through a series of public meetings and an electronic ThoughtExchange survey.

Mr. Fass said the $48 per $100,000 in assessed valuation would amount to around $130 annually for the average Claremont family. He compared the bond to similar measures in LA County, noting that the 21 school bonds passed since 2001 averaged about $90 million apiece, or $14,000 per student. Measure G’s $58 million bond, by comparison, averages $8,200 per student, he said.

“In the scheme of things, it’s a very modest request,” he said.

Written questions were then submitted from the audience and were asked by Claremont councilmember and debate moderator Corey Calaycay. Questions ranged from the option of a parcel tax as opposed to a GO bond to the impact on seniors with a fixed income.

Mr. Pocock lauded the parcel tax as an acceptable alternative, calling it a “pay as you go” system.

“You pretty much get 11,000 households, I think, you get $200 a household, that’s $2.5 million a year, times 12 years,” he said. “You can do a heck of a lot of work on that money on a long-term plan.”

Mr. Fass cautioned against the use of a parcel tax, calling it “regressive”—the amount would be the same fixed rate for a smaller parcel as it would be for a larger business or home on another parcel. Additionally, Mr. Fass noted that in spite of the dollar amount inflating over time, Claremonters would be better off paying on a bond for 30 years as opposed to paying it up front.

“That’s because when you pay it over time, even though the nominal amount is large, 30 years from now, the amount you’re paying is worth a lot less,” Mr. Fass said.

While answering a question regarding seniors with a fixed income, Mr. Fass called the tax “not an enormous change” to existing property taxes and emphasized that better schools would add to rising property values in Claremont.

“It may not help their pocketbook grow tomorrow, but it doesn’t mean there isn’t wealth being created, and the schools are part of it,” he said.

Mr. Pocock said the extra charge could be difficult for those on a fixed income, and brought up additional debt charges by the district.

“The school district is still paying on that air conditioning loan for another 12 years, eight years, somewhere around there for a loan that was around the same time,” he said. “So it’s continually building more debt.”

One question covered one potential outcome of the bond—its possible failure at the polls. What would happen if Claremonters vote it down?

“Nothing,” Mr. Pocock said. “Come back in one year with a good plan, a reduction and an actually reasonable amount of assets and put it on a parcel [tax]. I will be 100 percent for it.”

Mr. Fass painted a dire picture of a cash-strapped district if G is voted down, noting that a lot of the projects on the measure’s list would not be funded.

“I think what will happen is the school board would have to sit down and say we have no money, we can’t do these things—or maybe a couple of minor things that seem absolutely urgent,” he said. “And we will limp along with a school district, whose facilities are well below the standard of the programs.”

Claremonters will go to the polls to vote on Measure G on November 8.

—Matthew Bramlett

news@claremont-courier.com

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