The Manteca Unified School District Board of Trustees needs to place a $260 million bond measure on the Nov. 3 ballot.
To not do so would be a major disservice to taxpayers.
No, I did not hit my head after tripping over one of the City of Manteca’s every expanding stretches of sidewalks uplifted by tree roots or damaged by for-profit firms installing fiber optic lines.
It may seem counterintuitive for a taxpayer to consider approving a bond measure at this point in time or the school board moving forward with another ballot measure just three months after falling short of the required 55 percent needed for passage.
But there are a number of factors that make Nov. 3 an ideal time for taxpayers to either pass or reject the bond via a second election.
The primary reason is in the long run it can save taxpayers money.
Interest rates for tax-free bonds issued by top rated government agencies such as Manteca Unified have dropped 50 percent since the March election. It has a lot to do with the COVID-19 pandemic fallout.
That means the cost of borrowing money for 30 years has been halved.
If you are not inclined to support any tax hike at all such a move is insane given you just dodged the bullet three months ago.
But here is the hideous truth. Sooner or later a school bond will pass to address facility modernization issues. It may not be later this year or in 2022 but sooner or later it will happen. The entire Manteca Unified district is a magnet for those raising families that are being pushed out of the Bay Area. People with children in school are typically the biggest block of positive voters for shock bonds.
Bond rates were at near historically lows in March. They are now at record lows. Two years from now — the next time a general election is conducted in California where a bond measure can be placed on the ballot — rates are likely to be back up to at least what they were in March. The odds are by 2024, if not sooner, rates will be a lot higher given the last four years or so has been viewed by financial experts as a major abnormality.
At today’s rate the $260 million bond measure would require a home assessed at $240,000 to pay closer to $124 a year as opposed to $144 a year in taxes. Saving $20 a year may not seem like a big deal especially when you are forking out $124 annually but it is certainly better than spending $155 or more a year based on historic rates when a bond is eventually passed two or four years down the road.
Granted, those who have bought newer homes in recent years will have a higher assessed valuation, but for most people who have stayed put — read that are retired or are nearing it — a $240,000 assessment is in the ballpark for determining their share of the bond burden. For the most part buyers of new homes with market values north of $400,000 that becomes the base for assessed value will see increases in their income.
Then there is also the issue of need.
The people we elected to serve on the school board do not dispute the existence of the need to make $427 million in upgrades to the district’s 32 campuses. Much of the need is basic infrastructure work needed to make sure the facilities in place will be functional and safe for another 50 plus years.
As campuses age, the list of needs will grow.
Some — especially former school administrators who should know better — will argue if the district had spent more money on major maintenance over the years such as almost $10,000 a pop to replace hundreds of air conditioning units, replaced failing asphalt and concrete, removed asbestos, replaced roofs on 1,400 classrooms (of which a third are portables) as well as support facilities like gyms and cafeteria, and invested $80,000 to replace a pre-World War II transformer still in use at Manteca High among other things that the bonds would not be needed.
They conveniently forget issues such as voter demanded class size reduction that drained general funds. Yes, there was a state mandated set aside for maintenance to address some of the long-term issues. But not only did the state stop funding that during the Great Recession but they also slashed classroom funding to the point they told districts that the state had starved financially they could dip into money set aside for deferred maintenance simply to keep the doors open. If you think the $54 billion hole that Sacramento blew into the state budget in how it responded to the COVID-19 pandemic won’t be even harder on local school districts than the Great Recession I have 25 shares of Washington Mutual Bank stock I’d like to sell you.
Then there is the question of construction taking a hit. While it won’t be like the Great Recession, there likely will be a slight hiccup meaning prices won’t either escalate for a while, stay steady, or retreat slightly as the economy recovers.
In 2008 the well positioned and well managed South San Joaquin Irrigation District took advantage of the economic situation to do nearly 10 years of major capital improvement construction projects in three years at a savings in excess of 20 percent.
Manteca Unified could easily get $260 million worth of work done for less leaving funds to chip away at $167 million in other identified basic facility needs or not worry about construction inflation nibbling away at their ability to deliver the complete project list.
The school board needs to give taxpayers a choice that would essentially save them money by not opting to take cover under the pandemic fallout.
That choice needs to be what was presented in March and not a pumped up bond to use lower interest rates to squeeze out more money from taxpayers.
And this time around there needs to be an effort to explain the bond to people in group or one-on-one settings instead of just by mail or websites.
Those backing the bonds talk about the importance of education and making students give 100 percent.
They should act like they believe what they say and not turn the bond election campaign over to a paid consultant and opt to use the Internet to replace good old-fashioned “grunt” work.
If educating simply involves a static website, a couple of yard signs, and a few mailers then why not save everyone a whole lot of money and educate 24,000 students the same way and sell off most of the school campuses for new housing tracts?
The bottom line is if there was a need in March there is a need now. And if the school board believes that is still true and wants to provide the taxpayers with a unique opportunity to save money while addressing school facility needs, they need to place the $260 million bond measure on the Nov. 3 ballot.