Proposition 51 seeks to perpetuate a nearly two-decade-old school bond program that is unfair, adds significantly to the state’s debt and should be reformed.
Gov. Jerry Brown repeatedly has called the $9 billion school bond measure on the November ballot “a blunderbuss effort that promotes sprawl and squanders money.”
We agree. Proponents — primarily real estate developers, interests tied to the bond and construction industry, and large, affluent school districts — should have heeded the governor’s and legislative analyst’s pleas to reform the mechanism that doles out state bond money to build new schools and upgrade existing ones.
Instead, they launched an end-run around legitimate concerns. With $7 million raised mostly from the construction industry, petitions were circulated and signatures gathered to put Prop. 51 on the November ballot.
Proponents ignored pleas for a more fiscally responsible and fairer way to help the state’s school districts fund improvements.
Voters should say no to Prop. 51, which Gov. Brown calls “the developers’ $9 billion bond.”
Building industry and school district representatives should return to the negotiating table to work out a more equitable formula that will benefit both large and small districts, and reduce the state’s financial responsibility for building local schools.
The present system traces back to 1998, when voters passed the first in a series of statewide bond measures that now totals $40 billion to fund K-12 and community college construction. These bonds will not be paid off until 2044. They cost the state about $2.7 billion a year in principal and interest, which is about 2 percent of the state’s general fund.
A lot has changed since 2006, the last time a statewide school bond appeared on the ballot. The threshold for passing a local school construction bond has dropped from a required two-thirds vote to now just 55 percent.
When the system was devised two decades ago, California schools were experiencing skyrocketing enrollment. Today, enrollment is flat, or slightly declining in many districts.
Clearly new school construction is lucrative business for the building industry. And the way the present system is structured, districts have more incentive to build new schools than to refurbish existing ones. Basically, state bond funds are used to match local school district funds. The percentage match is 50-50 for new construction; and 40-60, with local districts kicking in 60 percent, for “modernizing” existing buildings. For that reason and others, Gov. Brown contends the existing program, which is perpetuated by Prop. 51, encourages sprawl and new school construction.
The existing system also “protects” developers from paying a higher share of the cost to build the new schools to serve their projects. As long as there is money in the state school construction bond kitty, local districts are limited in raising developer fees.
The kitty is nearly empty and developers throughout the state face escalating school fees. The California Building Industry Association recently lost the lawsuit it filed to block developer fee increases. Prop. 51 is the industry’s next best strategy for heading them off.The way bond money is allocated on a first come, first served formula also is disputed. Large school districts that have facilities planning staffs can have applications ready to quickly snatch bond money. That is why the state’s largest districts last year received 25 percent of the new-construction money and 36 percent of the modernization money from state school bonds. The largest share went to the massive Los Angeles Unified School District.
Gov. Brown rightly believes that the state’s involvement in new school construction and modernization should be reduced, and that poor school districts should receive a larger share of the money.In November, Californians should agree with the governor by voting no on Prop. 51.