Questions and Concerns
In general, better schools entail better communities, so there is nothing wrong to come up with a FMP that identifies
school facilities that need improvement. Bettering schools costs money, so there is also nothing wrong to issue a bond
measure within reason in order to raise funds. We understand our neighboring school districts have issued or are about
to issue bond measures, so we may fall behind if we don't follow suit.
However, there are different approaches to doing the same thing. Some are reasonable, while others are questionable.
A good example is the Orange
Unified School District. They put on their website a flash presentation of each FMP for each school. They had an
online survey, many community forums, with brochures sent out to the community, etc. They have engaged their community for
over a year to work out the details. That approach is very reasonable.
By contrast, the ABCUSD FMP was prepared in a hurry and without community
involvement. There even appears to be an effort to avoid any public participation and reject any public criticism. That
approach is very questionable.
Based on input we've received from the public and on our own analyses, the following are the main questions and
concerns over ABCUSD's FMP and bond measure:
1. The 1997 modernization bond
Understanding the effect of the 1997 modernization bond offers a reference point for assessing what the new
modernization bond will do. Ten years ago, the school district completed a series of modernization projects
for $135 million, part of which was the 1997 bond money. Now we know the so-called modernization is just a list of
repairs, corrections and replacements. So the question is whether we'll
get the same deal this time.
2. School facility maintenance
A mere 10 years after the completion of the $135 million modernization effort, we were told our school facilities
were in disrepair again. So what happened? We were told the school district had no money for maintenance, because the
State was always behind in funding deferred maintenance and capital improvement. If that's true, then how long would
this round of modernization last before it also falls into disrepair?
3. How to fund the rest of the FMP
According to the FMP, the projects identified there will cost taxpayers $645 million. The $195
million bond measure if approved by voters is only enough to pay 30% of that cost. How will the school district
come up with money to pay the other 70%? Will there be a second or even third bond measure for that purpose? The
school district hasn't officially said it won't happen, and the law doesn't prohibit it from doing so.
4. The "pay to play" approach
The district entered into a contract with George K. Baum & Co. before the bond measure was voted upon. Why? This
firm is a known player of the potentially illegal "pay to play" game - taking taxpayers' money from school districts
and working agressively against taxpayers to raise their taxes. Why is ABCUSD associated with such a company?
5. The "stealth election" approach
Throughout the preparation of the FMP and bond measure, there was not a single public forum. Not a single letter,
postcard, flyer/mailer or brochure was sent to anyone whose property tax will be increased by hundreds of dollars.
What is the reason the school district doesn't want the taxpayers to be part of the process?
6. The fast-track approach
A government project this size and scope takes 18-24 months to complete public comments and analyses before a vote
by an elected body can be taken. Yet the FMP was completed in just 3 months. It was first posted on the school district's
website on Friday, July 4, exactly two business days before it was put to a vote by the school board. The general public
never had a chance to study, digest and comment on it? Why was it done in such a big hurry?
7. Lack of demographic analysis
Demographic studies show the population in the ABC school district is aging, and the number of school age children is
decreasing. Over the last decade the district has lost around 2000 students, resulting in many schools operating below
capacity and some schools almost half empty. Why is this severe enrollment decline never mentioned in the FMP? Why did
the idea of consolidating existing surplus school facilities never occur to those who prepared the FMP? Why are taxpayers
expected to invest heavily on school facilities they no longer need?
8. Lack of financial analysis
School facilities may differ in age and condition. They may also differ in the rate of occupancy. There needs
to be a cost-benefit analysis to maximize the efficiency of any modernization effort. Why is there no such analysis
in the FMP? Moreover, given the fact that there is a lot of surplus school capacity due to enrollment decline, it makes
no sense to invest money on surplus school facilities. It's necessary to consolidate school facilities before making a
FMP for every existing school site. Case studies show taxpayers can
save millions of dollars with school consolidation, which will benefit students and their families as well.
9. Lack of technical analysis
When it comes to educational technologies, it's important to identify exactly what we are talking
about. Technologies come and go, each with a different lifespan. We need to specify which technologies offer the biggest
bang for the buck. General terms such as "baseline technology" or "21st century infrastructure" (Bond_Resolution_7-15-14.pptx, Slide 9) are meaningless, because it's impossible to gauge their
value and usefulness. Besides, technological innovation is a multifaceted endeavor. It's not just about
the equipment and know-how, but it's about personnel training and organizational facilitation as well, All of these have
a pricetag, but none of these are mentioned in the FMP document.
10. Transparency and accountability
Proposition 39, which is the key enabler of this new round of school modernization
bond, "mandates citizen watchdog committees of local taxpayers, homeowners, parents and business leaders to make sure the
money is not wasted." Indeed, there are provisions in the current bond measure for
a citizen oversight committee and for bond audits. However, the law says such a committee shall be appointed by the school
board. Given the fact the majority of the current school board have consistently avoided and/or rejected public input, and
given the lack of transparency and accountability with the previous school bond, taxpayers have ample reason to be
skeptical about the transparency and accountability with the use of the new school bond, should voters approve it.
Based on the 10 questions and concerns listed above, it's clear that the current FMP and bond measure are flawed.
The issue is not with what they are intended for, but with how they are prepared and how they will be implemented.
Until these questions are answered and these concerns addressed, it's difficult to support the FMP and bond measure as
they stand now.