More bonding with PUSD

More bonding with PUSD

Pasadena school board votes to put $350 million bond measure on November ballot

By Andre Coleman 07/03/2008

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Pasadena, Altadena and Sierra Madre property owners will again be asked to help fund public schools.
The Pasadena Unified School District Board of Education voted 5-1 Tuesday to place a $350 million bond measure on the Nov. 4 General Election ballot to help offset an estimated $4 billion in cuts to education proposed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in his efforts to bridge a roughly $14 billion gap in the state’s operating budget.

If the bond measure passes — and it needs 55 percent of the vote to do so — the money would allow the district to sell bonds to complete facility upgrades, some of which started under the last bond measure passed by voters to help repair schools.

Measure Y, which passed with nearly 73 percent of the vote in 1997, gave PUSD $240 million to make repairs, all to be repaid in 30 years. The county Registrar-Recorder’s Office must approve this bond measure for the ballot by Aug. 8.

The decision for the board was really not one of imposing a tax, but rather choosing which type of tax to best help repair local schools.

A phone survey conducted recently found that about 60 percent of the 500 people polled were favorable to a parcel tax. Support for a bond totaled 53 percent, with another 5 percent leaning toward approval.

The bond approved by the board would attach a $50 assessment to every $100,000 of a property’s value.

The text of the board’s resolution estimates that, despite the proceeds of the previous bond, about $375 million worth of projects remain to be completed around the district. The money from this bond would only be used for construction, rehabilitation or replacement of school facilities — just like the last one — or the acquisition or lease of real property for school facilities. None of the money can be used to cover district operating expenses or the salaries of teachers and administrators. Those funds, however, can be used to pay or reimburse district staff performing work regarding bond projects.

Measure Y aimed to modernize the district’s 33 schools by upgrading electrical systems, replacing plumbing and sewers, improving heating and ventilation systems, renovating restrooms, replacing roofs and installing infrastructure for new technologies, among a host of planned improvements.

But today — more than a decade later — the district has closed two schools that received funds from that bond measure, among four that were closed two years ago due to declining enrollment.

“Mistakes were made last time, and I do want the public to know there are ways to provide adequate accountability over a bond implementation,” PUSD Superintendent Edwin Diaz said Tuesday night during the board’s discussion of the bond.

The district, Diaz said, will provide accurate reporting of expenditures and projects, and he pledged to make that information available online. A citizens’ oversight committee appointed by the board — much like the one set up in 1997 to oversee Measure Y spending — will also meet quarterly to discuss expenditures and the progress of projects. 

“When I came here 18 months ago, if someone had told me I would be supporting a bond measure, I would not have believed them,” Diaz said. “But after I visited the school sites and saw the conditions, it jumped out as one of the most compelling issues.”

Board member Esteban Lizardo was the lone vote against the resolution to set the county election machinery in motion. Board member Renatta Cooper did not attend Tuesday’s meeting due to a family emergency.

Citing rising gas prices and homeowner struggles in making mortgage payments, Lizardo said he agreed that the district has many needs, but now is not the time to ask the public for more financial assistance.

“It’s a difficult time to ask people to get behind us,” Lizardo said.

Voting for the bond were Board members Ed Honowitz, Mike Babcock, Bob Harrison, Tom Selinske and Scott Phelps, who did not attend the meeting and phoned in his vote of approval to reach the necessary two-thirds majority for passage.

Campaigning will begin immediately to get the measure passed in November, when voter turnout could hit an all-time high thanks to interest in the presidential election. 


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