Dear Editor – Taking a Better Path

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.

Jon Barton

www.culvercitysymphony.org

5 Comments

  1. Please note that the vote to support the Summer Construction projects was 4-1, with Mr. Silbiger voting against it.

  2. Thank you, Mr. Barton, for bringing valuable information to light. This is precisely the type of communication I need in order to weigh issues and make intelligent decisions about how our hard-earned money is spent. In fact, School Board member Karlo Silbiger’s articulate statement exemplifies the attention I expect and is well worth reading: http://www.thefrontpageonline.com/articles1-13060/TheSilbigerStatementThatUnraveledtheBondCampaign

    As I stated in my comments to the “Swan Dive” editorial in this publication a few days ago, I was one of many who, for years, blindly voted for ANYTHING with the word “schools” in it. I supported Measure T without bothering to find out the true cost. (Hmm … was paying $97 mil for a $40 mil loan REALLY a good investment?) In today’s economic climate, we cannot afford to make mistakes that will echo for decades. It is reckless to proceed without very careful attention to detail.

    I hope that those who have jumped to vilify Board members (and others) for not leaping before looking will read Mr. Silbiger’s statement, then take the time and care to gather educated, thoughtful insights about how to make the very BEST use of resources. It is fair and responsible to consider the entire community when asking them to invest large sums of money. While many of our community have serious financial struggles, even the wealthiest among us should ask if an investment is wise.

    It is difficult to educate our children if we don’t first educate ourselves.

  3. Hi Jamie,

    You know that my vote was not against the summer projects, but instead for having the work be publicly bid so that we could get the best price with no chance of corruption. Suggesting that I did not support the important projects that are being done this summer throughout our district is just misleading.

    Karlo Silbiger

  4. Hi Karlo,
    I do understand that you “support” the summer projects and I understand that you voted against the proposal because you want the entire process to be open for public bidding. Your vote makes a statement, that in my belief is poorly timed. Opening up the summer projects to bidding would start an undoubtedly weeks or months long process and there is no guarantee that any possible bidders would be better qualified or less expensive than the contractors who are already vetted and approved by the District and who are already performing work on some of the campuses. The District has been working with the contractor, Balfour, since January and they are a known quantity. At the end of the day, if we entered into a bidding process and request for proposal (RFP) and had public informational hearings the projects would not be worked on or started this summer and hopefully done in time for the students to return to campus. As far as I can tell the projects entail moving fences, resurfacing or adding asphalt and concrete where needed,fixing or replacing various roofs, replacing sinks, providing water and hydration stations, and perhaps most importantly deep cleaning and repairing bathrooms District wide. I’d really like to see our kids be able to return to school in August with safer, cleaner, more functional schools to continue their excellent education in.
    At the end of the day, you did vote against the summer projects and that is what the record shows. I know that you made your position and reasoning clear at the meeting. Nothing that I have said insinuates that you did not do so.

    Jamie Wallace

  5. Like all the rest of Karlo’s “education cabinet”, the truth isn’t important. John continually misstates the amount of interests on the measure T bond, because he doesn’t account for the bond refunding that was done years ago. Taxpayers should have noticed that reduction on their bills.
    Those summer projects that Karlo refused to vote for would not have been done until earliest summer 2014 had they been put out to to bid, and probably never if there had to be public forums on the needed work. Karlo had the perfect teacher in his father who pulled the same tactic while on the City Council for 8 years. He supported everything until time for the vote, then wanted more information and more public input!
    The progressive agenda is going to ruin our schools and our city. I am reminded of some national politicians who were against a war, but the voted for a war! They are always able to twist their words reminiscent of Bill Clinton’ defintition of “IS”. If voters want more input they can attend open meetings to get more information. Unfortunately, one elected official on the school board failed to attend any one of them, then trashed months of work in what we can all hope is a failed bid at re-election

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