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The case for voting against the Prop. 13 school bond measure on March 3 ballot
prop 13 pads

When it comes to bond measures on the March 3 ballot, the $260 million proposal by the Manteca Unified School District is pretty straight forward. Measure R will authorize bonds to pay for the rehab of existing facilities to extend their life and improve safety. It’s nothing more, nothing less.

Proposition 13, however, is a $15 billion Trojan horse.

On the surface it sounds like a good deal. But as usual, the devil is in the details.

It does two things that sticks it big time to areas like Manteca and elsewhere in California that are in the impact zones of major coastal urban areas that are failing miserably at providing affordable housing for families forcing them into longer commutes while at the same time creating declining enrollment in school districts in and immediately surrounding big cities such as San Francisco, San Jose, Oakland, Los Angeles, and San Diego.

If passed, wording in the measure cuts back on a local school district’s ability to collect fees on new housing to pay for classroom space it creates a demand for. In the case of Manteca Unified, the district would lose $8 million annually in fees it is currently collecting. Had the language in Proposition 13 been in effect six years ago the district today would not be embarking on nearly $30 million worth of projects at Manteca High including building a new gym and additional classrooms as well as a large share of work being done at Nile Garden School. Both are designed to accommodate enrollment growth from new homes being built primarily south of the 120 Bypass.

Passage of Proposition 13 would curb a district’s ability to charge higher growth fees if developers opt not to establish Menlo-Roos districts to pay for school facilities. It would also make it impossible to charge the highest possible fee on growth to accommodate growth until Jan. 1, 2028 even if a district has absolutely no money available to build classroom space to handle more students generated from new housing.

Based on current growth patterns in Manteca Unified this would have had devastating impacts had Proposition 13 been in effect when housing projects now going forward we’re approved. Assuming the growth rate is not increasing as it shows signs of doing, it would cost MUSD $64 million through 2028. What that would have meant is the district would not be able to fund even its cost effective solution to handle growth by simply adding classrooms to take elementary schools up to 900 plus students and high schools to 2,250 students. The district’s plan is based correctly on the fact the most expensive features of building a school campus from scratch are the support facilities such as gyms and cafeterias as well as infrastructure. New elementary campuses are now pushing $30 million and high schools for 1,200 students in excess of $120 million.

For districts like Ripon Unified that has no Mello Roos fees in place, passage of Proposition 13 would be beyond devastating. Left with just the first tier of growth fees that can now be charged, even adding portable classrooms would be difficult to do.

Then there is the double-edge sword built into the measure. Unless a local district voters approve a local school bond, they are ineligible to apply for a portion of the proceeds from the $15 billion statewide school should it pass.

This seems reasonable on the surface. The ugly truth is doling out state bond proceeds have always heavily favored the Los Angeles Basin and other urbanized California coastal centers where the bulk of the population as well as legislators are located. Unlike with the distribution of a large chunk of transportation money for construction that assures all of the state benefits to a degree, no such policy exists for school bond funds.

Take the last statewide bond for schools of $9 billion approved by voters in 2016. When combined with the $15 billion on the March 3 ballot that is $24 billion for a statewide need pegged at $100 billion for rehabbing and upgrading existing school facilities. That is not the need for new schools but to make sure existing schools don’t fall apart. The need in Los Angeles alone would swallow the entire $24 billion.

And just so you know both Ripon Unified and Manteca Unified are waiting to see if they are approved for funding for partial reimbursement from the 2016 bond measure for projects they have already done at various elementary schools that were paid or with bonds approved by local voters.

The other part of the measure allows proceeds of the $15 billion bond to go toward the purchase of portable electronic devices — read that student notebooks — with a useful life of three years or more.

This is akin to you taking out a 30-year loan to purchase an Apple i-Phone. Whether you agreed with what Manteca Unified did, the district used available money and shifted priorities to initially purchase electronic devices for all students and has budgeted funds going forward to replace large chunks every three to four years on a staggered basis.

The colossal failure of other districts to practice a degree of financial discipline to be able to do something similar is well-documented. Both the Los Angeles and San Diego unified school districts — unable to work the purchases of electronic devices into their regular source of general fund expenditures or one-time state money that is made available periodically — have used local school bonds to finance the purchase of electronic devices for students.

In other words as a Manteca Unified taxpayer your school board has made the sound financial decisions that allowed the purchase of portable electronic devices for students and put in place a program to replace them through the years using existing sources of funds.

If the statewide measure passes on March 3, Manteca taxpayers will be assuring Los Angeles Unified that bungled it’s portable electronic device rollout big time will be able to use state bond money that will take all taxpayers 30 years to repay to purchase laptops and such that have useful lives of just over three years.

For the most past money going into facilities will be for structural endeavors and such that have a rates lifetime of at least the length of a 30-year bond.

I voted for the original Proposition 13 in 1978 that brought sanity to property taxes. I did not own a home at the time but I did see the impact high property taxes were having on people struggling to stay in their homes.

I was easily in the minority as being a school board member — I was on the Western Placer Unified School District Board at the time — in 1978 that voted for Proposition 13.

The March 3 Proposition 13 will likely do more harm than good especially for areas like Manteca, Lathrop, and Ripon that are becoming the affordable housing solution for the Bay Area more and more with each passing day.

Keep in mind the provisions restricting the collecting of growth fees and such was done to get statewide home builders on board and was designed as a bone to throw toward affordable housing advocates.

It’s funny how Sacramento excludes green initiatives such as requiring new housing to have solar power systems from being considered as a factor in driving up new home costs because energy is needed to run a household but it sees the cost to provide space to educate students new housing brings to the community as a non-necessity and therefore is a drag on housing affordability.