Measure H is a parcel tax that will provide approximately $5 million per year for 10years (from 2013 to 2023) at a total cost of $50 million. The revenues from the parcel tax will be used to maintain school facilities.
Measure I authorizes the District to issue $210million in school construction bonds that will be used to construct classrooms and renovate district facilities over the next ten years. However, the cost to repay the bonds (principal and interest) will be $611 million over 50 years through 2060.
Berkeley’s investment in school facilities
Building and maintaining school facilities constitutes a “big ticket” item for any school district. We all want to support public education and mission-critical educational facilities. School districts create trust with the community when school construction bonds and school parcel taxes are used efficiently and effectively, and when there is oversight, transparency and accountability. Many school districts with growing student enrollments often struggle to build enough facilities to accommodate demand. However, BUSD has stable enrollment. BUS enrollment is currently at 9,000, a slight decline from 9,600 ten years ago. Ten years from now, the District anticipates 9,400 students.
Compared with California public school districts with comparable enrollments (from7,000 to 11,000 students), Berkeley voters have already generously approved more school construction bonds than any other school district by passing both Measure A in1992 and Measure AA in 2000. Measure A and Measure AA bond measures have provided BUSD $274.5 million. Including matching state and other construction funds, the total invested in BUS facilities since 1992 is $340 million.
Yes on Measure H: school maintenance parcel tax—cost $50 million
Berkeley residents have made a remarkable investment in school facilities, and we need to maintain those facilities. Measure H is a renewal of Measure BB passed in 2000.
Measure H is an extension of an existing parcel tax and provides approximately $5million per year for ten years to the district’s annual operating budget to maintain the school facilities that Berkeley residents have already invested in. Property owners will pay approximately $50 million over the ten-year life of the parcel tax. Maintenance expenses come out of our district’s annual operating budget. Other districts have cut maintenance due to decreased state funding. By providing separate maintenance funding through local parcel taxes, the BUSD does not have to either neglect maintenance or cut into classroom funding to maintain district facilities.
Moreover, BUSD has created a citizens oversight committee for Measure BB and such oversight will continue under Measure H. Measure BB funds have been subject to annual financial audits by an independent CPA firm, an important measure of accountability. In tough economic times, we should support Measure H because those parcel tax resources go directly to the district’s operating budget and help to maintain the facilities that Berkeley taxpayers have so generously supported.
Track record of school bond Measure AA of 2000
When the Berkeley High “B building” burned to the ground in April 2000 and 26classrooms were destroyed, the District brought forth the $116.5 million Measure AA in November of 2000 to provide funding to replace the destroyed classroom building. The text of the ballot measure read, “To repair, upgrade and add new classrooms to address overcrowding and facilitate reduced class sizes at Berkeley High School…”
Berkeley voters were told that Berkeley High classroom building was at the head of the line of projects to be funded by Measure AA, and $19 million of Measure AA was earmarked for that purpose. (Source: Bond Measure AA Financial Summary,www.busduse.org/aabb/)
The ballot language of Measure AA provided a great deal of discretion to the School Board in implementing a building program. In 2007 at least $40 million of voter approved bond funds remained available.
At the September 5, 2007 board meeting, the Berkeley School Board voted to revise the allocation of Measure AA funding. The classroom building at Berkeley High did not make the list of district top priorities even though the Berkeley High population constitutes over a third of the students (3,300) enrolled in the district.
According to the minutes, the school board voted to use the remaining Measure AA funds to fund a transportation complex on Gilman ($12.5million), the relocation of the Central Office (administrative offices) to West Campus ($18.2 million), and a new football bleacher structure at Berkeley High ($10.4 million).None of these board-approved construction projects were mentioned in voter information for Measure AA. The cost of these three projects—$40 million, over a third of total Measure AA proceeds—could have easily covered a new classroom building on the Berkeley High campus.
In August 2009 according to the oversight committee known as the Construction Advisory Committee (CAC), “The funds of the 2000 bond are fully committed though not fully spent. But the building campaign is short by at least one mission-critical facility—the Berkeley High south-of-Bancroft classroom building. After the 2000 bond the CAC and district staff regarded this building the head of the line of projects funded by the second bond. In the succeeding years that building was delayed and at last went tithe end of the line of projects…This building’s construction now stands unfunded.”
Voters were promised annual financial audits of Measure AA funds by an independent firm. This has not happened. District officials have maintained that a “special audit” was completed in 2009. In fact, it was an “attest report,” which does not have the authority of an audit.
Although the funds of the previous bond measures have been spent, Berkeley property owners are still obligated today to pay $300 million in principal and interest via property taxes through 2032.The classroom building at Berkeley High is once again at the top of the Measure I bond project list.
Measure I is too costly--$611 million is too much
Bond measures are loans that must be repaid from property taxes. The $210 million bond measure alone will require property owners to pay $611 million in principal and interest—three times the amount of the actual construction costs. Supporters say that tax rates will not be set higher than past levels. However, the ballot tax rate statement says,” Approval of the ballot measure authorizes the issuance of bonds under certain conditions, and is not approval of a specific tax rate or a specific bond issuance plan.
The rate estimates in this statement reflect the District’s current projection of future assessed values and of future debt service payments, which are based on assumptions.” The bonds will be issued and spent over the next ten years, but Berkeley property owners will be repaying the debt over 50 years through 2060.
If Measure I passes, Berkeley voters will have provided BUSD with almost half a billion in facilities financing ($485 million). If Measure I passes, property owners will be obligated to pay almost a billion dollars—$911 million—in total payments (principal and interest) over the next 50 years through 2060.
Measure I is a vague and poorly written school construction bond measure and allows the school board total discretion in terms of how the funds are actually spent. No construction project is guaranteed completion. The text of the ballot measure states, “Inclusion of a project on the Bond Project List is not a guarantee that the project will be funded or completed. Listed projects will be completed as needed at a particular school site according to Board-established priorities, and the order in which such projects appear on the Bond Project list is not an indication of priority for funding completion.” There is still no guarantee that Berkeley High students will have enough classroom space in the future.
Measure I also allows the District to “enter into agreements with the City of Berkeley or other public agencies or nonprofit organizations for joint use of school facilities financed with proceeds of the bonds…” Voters are left in the dark as to what the funds will ultimately be used for.
Measure I is not based on a BUSD master facilities plan covering the time frame during which bond proceeds will be spent. There is no master facilities plan, timeline, prioritization of projects or needs assessment. This is not prudent management of construction funds. We should be planning what we build and build what we plan.
We need a smaller targeted bond measure, not Measure I
School construction bond money can go only into building and renovating school facilities and does not go into the district’s annual operating budget that pays for teachers and textbooks. If Measure I does not pass, the District should come back with a smaller more targeted bond measure. We need a bond measure that provides for better transparency, accountability and oversight. A better written and structured bond measure would be more fiscally responsible. The classroom building at Berkeley High remains an urgent need, but a smaller bond measure that is supported by a master facilities plan would be more appropriate given the current economic conditions.
[Note: The District did not make the estimate of the total cost (principal and interest) of the proposed $210 million bond measure publicly available until 9/15/2010, after ballot arguments and endorsements and had been filed. For cost of bond measures see the BUSD website; click on Measure I Information (Blue Book). “BUSD Cumulative Effect of Measure I and Previous School Bond Measures,” page 58]
Priscilla Myrick is a former CPA and chief financial officer and a candidate for Berkeley School Board