Viewpoint: Why Measure G is the only way to fund CUSD facilities
by Richard Fass, Claremont RISE Committee to Support Measure G
Measure G on the November ballot is a proposal to borrow $58 million to upgrade and improve Claremont Unified School District facilities, and to repay the funds through property taxes in the district.
Some have asked how this has become the way school districts in California must raise the funds for this work. The answer is that this is the choice that has been made by state officials and California voters.
In November 2000, the voters of California approved Proposition 39 (“Smaller Classes, Safer Schools and Financial Accountability Act”) to lower the voter approval requirement for general obligation local school bond measures from two-thirds to 55 percent. The clear intent of this law was to make it easier for local school districts to pass bond measures for school facilities.
Proposition 39 was supported by a bipartisan coalition, including the Democratic governor (Gray Davis) and a Republican former governor (Pete Wilson). It is the basis for current policy, which puts the responsibility for and the control of school improvements in the hands of local communities.
There can be little doubt that aging school facilities need a continuing infusion of capital to maintain quality, integrity, comfort and safety. CUSD facilities total about 580,000 square feet of space and, using a reasonable replacement cost at $370 per square foot and at a typical institutional renewal rate of 2.5 percent of replacement cost, CUSD should be spending approximately $11.5 million annually on its facilities. CUSD currently spends $2 to $3 million on its facilities from annual operating revenues of $70 million. It is unreasonable to suggest it they could do more. Mechanisms other than bonds for funding this gap are neither practical nor sufficient. They include:
• Should Proposition 51 on the November 2016 ballot pass, it will provide limited matching funds to local districts, but the grants are generally small and require local funds to match the grants.
• Claremont has been fortunate to receive significant resources from the sale of two surplus properties over the last decade, and one more property (La Puerta) has the potential to realize more, but these are “one-time” windfalls.
• Developer fees, which typically range from $70,000 to $300,000 annually, are paid to the district by developers of new housing in the community, but we all know that Claremont is now mostly “built out” and will not see significant additional development of this kind for a long time, if ever.
The only viable way to maintain our schools is for us to pass general obligation bonds that are repaid through property taxes. Since passage of Prop 39, 862 bond elections for school facilities were held and 82 percent of them were passed. Sixteen districts near Claremont are included in the total, and 88 percent of those bonds passed for a total of almost $1.2 billion. Pomona Unified School District passed two bonds for a total of $300 million during this period. CUSD did not pass any.
This November, there are 21 bond measures from 18 school districts on the ballot in Los Angeles County. The average bond (excluding Beverly Hills, which is an outlier on the high side) is about $11,000 per student; Claremont’s bond, Measure G, is about $8,200 per student, below the average and the median of the other LA County districts.
Local general obligation bonds are the mechanism that the state provides for financing school facilities improvements. The $58 million bond proposed by Measure G on the November ballot is a prudent, reasonable and appropriate investment for Claremont to make in an excellent school system that is the pride and joy of its residents.