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MUSD jeopardizing public trust

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POSTED February 8, 2014 1:26 a.m.

Editor, Manteca Bulletin,

At the December meeting of the Measure M School Bond Oversight Committee, the Manteca Unified bond attorney outlined his legal interpretation of a land swap deal involving Measure M funds and non-Measure M projects. What he said shocked and appalled me. He informed the oversight committee that once it was determined that the initial site purchases (Union Ranch and Tesoro properties) fell under the Measure M project list (which they did), it was no longer the responsibility or the concern of the oversight committee as to what happens to these properties.

If projects were abandoned, sold, or swapped, it was legally not under the committee’s purview. He stated that it was only out of “courtesy” (his exact words) that the board was sharing information with the committee about the land swap. This undercuts the purpose of the oversight committee, making the word “oversight” in the committee’s name sadly ironic.

The bond attorney further asserted that the actual project list known as Exhibit A was irrelevant and that, legally, MUSD didn’t have to build any of those listed projects, but could build similar ones anywhere within the district. To justify his legal opinion, he cited the text of Measure M. In Exhibit A, under glossary terms for new construction projects, he noted, (“Each new construction project included acquisition of land needed for school site. Sites of new schools and facilities, not otherwise part of an existing school site, to be determined by the Board of Trustees”). He interpreted this to mean the board legally could put the new schools anywhere in MUSD, without adhering to the project list. 

It’s strange how he used an example from the actual project list section to negate the list itself. I believe that statement pertains to specific projects such as “three new elementary schools in Lathrop,” with the board responsible for deciding where in Lathrop these schools would be built, not a carte blanche to build anywhere in the district. Of course, I’m not a lawyer.

The bond attorney also used the ballot’s generalized wording to bolster his position that voters were only authorizing MUSD to build new schools and do renovations throughout the district, not approving the proposed project list itself. This stance opens the argument that Measure M funds could also be spent on teacher salaries or operating expenses, since only funds for administrative salaries are prohibited in the actual ballot wording.

Bond language and original intent matter. The text of Measure M clearly states, “By approval of this proposition by at least 55 percent of the registered voters voting on this proposition, the Manteca Unified School District shall be authorized to issue and sell bonds up to $66,000,000 . . . to provide funding for specific school facilities listed in the Bond Project List attached hereto as Exhibit A. . . “ “The Board of Trustees shall establish an independent Citizens’ Oversight Committee . . . to ensure bond proceeds are expended only for the school facilities projects listed in Exhibit A” and “the Bond Project List, which is an integral part of this proposition, lists the specific projects the Manteca Unified School District proposes to finance with proceeds of the bonds.” How can this be ignored?

I served on the first oversight committee. We discovered that a parking lot project at Manteca Hugh, which wasn’t on the project list, incorrectly used Measure M fund. Due to our concerns, the money was returned to the bond fund. Just last year, the current oversight committee questioned funds appropriated for the Weston Ranch greenhouses, so Measure M funds were reimbursed. If such legal leeway exists with Measure M funding, why did this happen?

Previously, the district followed the original intent of the Measure M bond language and developed projects listed in Exhibit A. It is only with this land swap proposal, which trades Measure M properties for land not on the project list that the district has strayed from a strict and ethical interpretation of the bond’s purpose. The district can’t be expected to build schools that are no longer needed or on unsuitable sites.

Projects that are not necessary do not make any sense. But in exploring uncharted territory and options of what to do with Measure M financed properties that aren’t needed for schools, the district must stay within bind language parameters. Otherwise, pubic trust is jeopardized for a quick-fix, supposedly legal, land swap.

Karen Pearsall

Manteca

Jan. 30, 2014

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