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Board asks voters to OK $159M school bond

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POSTED July 30, 2014 1:33 a.m.

The Manteca Unified Board of Trustees has spoken. Yes to a $159 million school bond.

Next to speak on the strength of a ballot cast in the November elections will be the eligible voters living in the school district jurisdiction that includes Manteca, Lathrop, French Camp, Stockton (Weston Ranch), and some of the unincorporated San Joaquin County areas in their vicinities. They will have the final say.

It was not a resounding unanimous vote that gave the blessing for this second bond in a period of 10 years to proceed to the final hurdle before the electorate. Trustees Nancy Teicheira and Manuel Medeiros voted against it. But board president Don Scholl, vice president Evelyn Moore, and Trustees Deborah Romero, Michael Seelye, and Sam Fant cast the vote which gave the required minimum number to qualify the school bond for a place on the November ballot.

“I’m not against fixing schools but this is not the time to be going after a bond,” said Teicheira clarifying her reason for her negative vote.

Medeiros echoed Teicheira’s sentiments saying this is not the time to vote for another bond, “not right now. Everybody wants the best (for the district), but the best is a mirage.”

The five trustees’ favorable vote for the school bond was bolstered by several speakers.

Before the bond agenda item came up for discussion, Mantecan Fred Millner was determined to speak against the money-raising proposal. And he proceeded to do just that when his time came to address the board. He questioned where the district was spending money from the California state lottery.

“Where’s the all the money going? Is someone going on vacation? Where’s all the money going? You, guys, all need a raise?” he demanded.

In the end, after Superintendent Jason Messer answered all his questions saying the Lotto money goes to educating students, Millner became a convert to the idea of a school bond before he even left the speaker’s podium to return to his seat.

“If it’s for the school, I’m for it. Anything for the schools,” he muttered before stepping off the podium.

Messer explained to Millner and everyone present that the $4 million to $4.5 million Lotto money that the district receives from the state all goes to the maintenance of schools that have had outstanding health and safety issues such as fire and smoke alarms. That Lotto share, he further pointed out, does not even come close to the more than half a billion dollars that the district currently needs today to improve the district’s aging schools.

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The fiscal nitty-gritty of passing school bond now

Manteca Educators Association president Ken Johnson came down to the fiscal nitty-gritty of a bond being  issued today in clear-cut terms.

“It makes perfect fiscal prudence to issue bonds to pay for large-scale (school) improvements, especially during these times,” he noted.

“Now is the time to take advantage of historically low interest rates. I’ll put it another way, now is the time to take advantage of going into debt. When money is cheap, you build. I remember back in the 1980s when interest rates were at 18 percent. And, as more houses are built in Manteca, the cost (of the bond) to the homeowner will decrease…. Voters would see it as an investment not only in the facilities, but also in the children. Frankly, well-educated citizens benefit everyone. You want the best trained paramedics showing up on your doorstep. I’d say Google benefits everyone. I know Lipitor benefits me.”

Pointing out that the cost of the school bond will be only $60 for every 100,000 borrowed, he drove home the basic comparable point by saying, “One less latte a month or let our schools sink into mediocrity.”

Karen Pearsall, who was a member of the 2004 Measure M school bond oversight committee, once again emphasized to school district officials the importance of maintaining accountability to the voters. Measure M suffered from the lack of that, she said, referring to the manner in which some of the money from that school bond was used.

“A bond should do what it said it should do,” stated Pearsall, who, at the same time, quickly added that “Measure M did a lot of good things.”

The superintendent agreed saying, “this (2014 school bond) process needs to be transparent” and that care will be given to make sure flexibility will be balanced with accountability when it came to utilizing the bond proceeds so that the school district administration’s integrity is always maintained.

He thanked Pearsall for all of her input in the past several years on the bond issue and told her, “We sure have been listening.”

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