In our small community in Culver City, we have long had tolerance for different voices and varying opinions. We have worked together to buildup our booster clubs, Panther Partners and CCEF all for the betterment of our schools and our children. We have had our differences but, we have continually stayed above the fray. I, for one, was involved in a recent disagreement involving the spending priorities of 13 million dollars of capital money. Some wanted the vast majority of the money to be used to build a sports complex; others wanted a more balanced distribution of the money to support the sports but, also the arts in the form of Frost improvements and, the long awaited solar project which will save the district general fund millions of dollars over time. While it took some work, we arrived at consensus and, we’ll be seeing the results of these investments this coming school year. (Additional summer construction projects include installing an elevator at the High School, work on bathrooms, work on water fountains, and a list of more than 30 projects at perhaps 8 schools – see exhibit A of item 14.3b of the CCUSD July 1 Board meeting agenda.)
Our community came together and united on Measure EE which is now moving 1.2 million dollars or nearly 200 dollars per student into our school’s general fund to be used for education purposes. We had consensus as a community, we united, we worked and, we won.
The architects of Measure EE including Scott Zeidman, Madeline and others did an incredible job clearly stating a need, creating an argument, building consensus (not just with CCUSD parents but, across our community) and, developing and running a campaign.
I have gone back in “history,” all the way back to 1996 to learn about the campaign and coalition built to win the 40 million dollar Measure T bond. For those that do not know, this bond was passed by the voters in 1996, and bonds were issued in 3 buckets, in ’96, ’98 and 2000. The district received 40 million dollars and paid for 40 million dollars’ worth of construction and renovation of a number of our schools and facilities. The total cost, including principle and interest is 97 million dollars, which is being paid by Culver City property owners over a 40-year period. We have 57 million dollars more to go, over the next 20 years. It’s on your yearly property tax bill under “unified schools.”
While it did take longer to get onto a ballot than it does today, the architects of Measure T took well over a year in creating their plan and building community consensus. Remarkably, a leader of the effort quoted in past articles was a leader in the senior community of Culver City.
If history can act as a guide, it tells us that we succeed when we are united. Unity is built through discussion, maybe comradely disagreements and, finally consensus.
We have sky’s the limit opportunity because we do have consensus that we all want to see both facilities and classroom resources improved.
We do not have consensus in our community that the current formation of the bond as imagined is the best way to finance the needed improvements to our schools. The disagreements stem from the idea that the General Obligation Bond is the only funding mechanism at our disposal for all of our needs. The GO Bond may be an appropriate funding mechanism for significant additions/renovations and upgrades which have significant life spans. But, since the cost of interest will be significantly more than the cost of the project itself, it is important to have a clear financial strategy to match projects with appropriate financial instruments. For example, paying off for 25 years for deferred maintenance projects much of which will have less than a 10-year life span does not make prudent financial sense.
Additionally, there is also not consensus that our current parcel tax which goes to pay for classroom resources should be put in jeopardy.
Those of us having this conversation are a small minority within a small minority. On a good day, parents of CCUSD students may make up 20 percent of the voting population. We, who are active, are a small minority of all CCUSD parents. We would need to convince a large majority of voters that do not have children in the schools that they should accept an additional 200-400 dollars a year on their property taxes depending on assessed value. This would be on top of the, on average, 200 dollars that they are paying now and will continue to be paying for the next 20 years due to Measure T. People will learn that the majority of their money will not go to our schools but, to pay off bond financiers, banks and bond holders.
Oh, and by the way, a large constituency of voters in off year elections (one option is to put this on the ballot in November 2013) are seniors mostly on fixed incomes. They will need to decide if they are willing to pay off this Bond while they are currently paying off the Measure T Bond.
Winning any election for additional tax money to pay for schools will be a difficult task. It will be a daunting task if there is not even consensus on our school board let alone within our small community.
One cannot force consensus; you can only force obedience. Obedience will not provide the needed unity to win for our kids and our schools.
There is a better path forward which will need to come with respect, tolerance, and openness to new ideas and, an understanding that we are all on the same side working towards the same goals.