Cardiff school board proposes $22 million bond measure

Expenditure prompts question, “What is the academic justification?”

"Classrooms designed 60 years ago do not meet the educational needs of the kids today," said a former student.
  • "Classrooms designed 60 years ago do not meet the educational needs of the kids today," said a former student.

The Cardiff Elementary School district presented a proposed $22 million bond measure at its monthly meeting on May 12; only 19 people showed up, mostly teachers and parents. All were in support, except for members of the Cardiff Taxpayers Association.

Association leader Bob Bonde said the meeting went virtually unannounced in the community. His said his organization found out about it the week before.

School superintendent Jill Vinson presented construction scenarios to the board of trustees and the public. She said the 55–65-year-old buildings desperately needed to be replaced at the Cardiff campus. The bond measure would fix critical issues, provide new classrooms and an auditorium/community room, would improve a “safe campus” layout, and provide additional parking and increased student drop-off flow.

The track and field at Ada Harris Elementary would also be replaced; it is used by numerous community sports teams and improper drainage during wet weather usually makes a muddy mess.

“The new school should have a life expectancy of 100 years and become a zero-net-energy campus,” said Vinson.

At the meeting, Bonde referred to an 11-page report he prepared for the district in 2004 that showed the last renovations of the Cardiff campus came in $66 per square foot higher than the previous 15 new schools built in San Diego County at the time. He presented his report again to the district prior to the meeting. “What is the academic justification?” questioned Bonde.

If approved by voters, the bond will cost Cardiff taxpayers $47 million over the 30-year term, including interest.

It was Bonde’s group that defeated a 1998 bond measure. Under that bond, both of the district’s aging schools — Cardiff Elementary and Ada W. Harris Elementary — would have been completely rebuilt. After the defeat, Bonde served on the district’s facilities committee and formed a plan to revitalize and rehabilitate the Cardiff campus, thus helping to pass a smaller, $11 million bond that completely rebuilt the Ada Harris campus in 2000.

There’re still eight more years to pay off the 2000 bond, at an average cost of $192 a year (based on an assessed value of $600,000) to each Cardiff homeowner. With the new proposed bond, the average Cardiff homeowner will pay $157 annually in additional property taxes for the next 30 years. Bonde points out that most homes on the west side of Cardiff are selling for $1.5 million or more. Those purchasing west-side homes today will pay over $500 annually.

Speaking in support of the proposal, Trish d’Entremont, a teacher and active union member in the district, said her Cardiff home has appreciated 500 percent since purchased in 1987. “Because of the quality of our schools, it has helped maintain the value of our home. I owe it to the school district,” said d’Entremont.

Britta Brewer, a former Cardiff school student and 40-year resident, said, “They’ve taken care of the children, and it's time to take care of their home: kids spend one third of their life here…. Classrooms designed 60 years ago do not meet the educational needs of the kids today. Education has changed.”

Bonde suggested the board hold off its push to put the measure on California’s general election ballot in November. Rather, he said, “A facilities review committee should be appointed, made up of members of the school board, teachers’ association, Cardiff Town Council, Cardiff Main Street 101, and Cardiff taxpayers….

“By not allowing this planning process, it will not set well with the electorate,” he warned. In 2009, it was Bonde’s group that shut down the school district’s discussion of a possible $50-per-parcel tax to augment state school funding. The taxpayers’ association, seemingly overnight, had homeowners placing hundreds of yard signs around town, reading “No New School Taxes.” The tax idea quickly became a dead issue.

School-board president Mark Whitehouse said the next steps will be a facilities focus group, a parent survey, public comment, and polling the community, prior to a resolution needing to go to the county registrar of voters by August 12 to make the November election.

Whitehouse said, “I don’t like paying taxes or sending money to Sacramento or Washington. This money will go straight to our school. For my house, it works out to only $7.50 a month.”

“It looks like they want to ram it through,” Bonde said to his group after the meeting.

(corrected 5/18, 10:30 a.m.)

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The amount of proposed new BONDS in the State, City and County borders on incredulous.

We have BOC's (Bond Oversight Committees) trying to look out for fiscal responsibility and integrity as our Representatives - however, far too often their efforts and expertise simply ignored. We have SD Taxpayers Association Representatives attempting to also represent our best interests - in many cases, to no avail.

Far too many cases of corruption, fraud, inside dealing and misrepresentation have plagued our Bond Funds from No California to So California - and yet each new Board smiles and with a straight face asks us to trust. Those of us who pay the bills are more in line with the process of "Trust, but Verify".

While ALL students are deserving of a School Campus they can be proud to call theirs, in turn, we the taxpayers are deserving of accountability. Lobbying efforts against AB1342 was a major indicator that there continues to be 'certain entities' who choose to waste millions of dollars ear marked for quality campuses - stealing from students, does it get any lower?

*just my opinion

For those who are not aware, anniej has been posting comments in the Reader for many years. She was one of those who concluded early-on that there was massive corruption in So County schools, notably the Sweetwater Union High School District. Hers and a few others were voices in the wilderness for a long time. Again, for those who may not know of it, four of the five "trustees" of that district were convicted of crimes involving their service on the board and were removed from their seats.

There were many things in Sweetwater what were criminal, and near-criminal. But one of those was the emasclation of the bond oversight committee by the board. When the state constitution was amended to allow bond measures to pass with a mere 55% majority, the new law provided for a board of citizens, voters actually, to oversee the use of bond monies. That was described at the time as a "safeguard" against waste and fraud, and intended to reassure voters. Sweetwater pointed out that the BOC was an utterly toothless tiger if the board wanted to keep it that way. During the period of mismanagement of the district there was one bond issue, and I think it was actually two of them, that fell far short of buying the things promised. All during that time, the recommendations and cautions from the BOC were routinely ignored. It became such a scandal that there are proposals in the legislature to amend the law and give those committees some real clout.

So, does Cardiff need that much money to upgrade its two lovely little schools? Probably not. If this thing is properly considered going in, rather than after being railroaded through an election, the figure may shrink considerably.

It is a rare board and "supe" who want that sort of voter participation. They would prefer that the voters just gulp and vote "yes." So, I applaud Bob Bonde and his group for getting out in front on this proposal, asking questions, and making comments now. I wish we had more such involvement in other districts.

There have been "by invitation only" presentations of what the School District is planning so rumors are running all over the place. Talk about transparency - not. There really has to be a facilities review committee and Cardiff residents must be involved. Architectural construction supervision is an important factor. Because this service was not provided under the Architects contract, the district racked up $1,325,000 in change orders. Ada Harris was completely rebuilt in 2002 and it needs a new roof already? The last bond was $11,000,000 and this bond is $22,000,000. Surely a review committee needs to go over these facts & figures with a fine tooth comb and surely a supervisor MUST oversee the finished product so as to keep change orders to 0.

Yes, Public (this means You), wake up and look at how many bond measures are brewing out there.

It is time that we who pay taxes get to see a spreadsheet that shows what was promised by the last several bond measures, and what was delivered. AND, if whatever group is floating the bond keeps naming the same projects, yet does not deliver, shouldn't we call them on it?

At least Bond Oversight Committees exist for those bonds we vote for. But what about Mello-Roos funds? There are no committees with any oversight powers where Mello-Roos funds are concerned, as they were thought to be set up for such specific areas that such scrutiny was not needed. We see that was wrong.

Back to Sweetwater Union High School District--which apparently stays in the black by borrowing against Mello-Roos funds every month to the tune of $50-some million. Meanwhile, those projects that Mello-Roos was supposed to fund do not take place. We pay Mello-Roos for 25 years, in addition to our real estate taxes. Some of these Mello-Roos special districts are closing in on the 25th year, which is why--again--there are so many big bonds being planned.

Can we say "Enough!"--especially since the degree of honesty and truth regarding where all the money has gone and is going seems to be in very short supply?

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