The Boonville Schools & Their $15+ Million

by Mark Scaramella, June 25, 2010

Proposition 39 was approved by California's voters in 2000. It was called the "School Facilities. 55% Local Vote. Bonds, Taxes, Accountability Requirements." It passed statewide 53% to 47% but failed in Mendocino County, 51.5% to 48.5%.

Proposition 39's fine print says that a school district which intends to propose a school facilities bond measure "must ensure before they vote (my emphasis), that voters will be given a list of specific projects their bond money will be used for…"

According to the June 8, 2010 sample ballot tardily arriving in Anderson Valley mailboxes, our school facilities bond, Measure A, proposes:

"To acquire, construct, and improve classrooms and facilities, including repairing, upgrading, and modernizing Anderson Valley Elementary, improving student access to modern technology at Anderson Valley Junior Senior High, improving energy efficiency, installing solar panels to reduce energy costs, and qualifying the District for $1.5 million in State aid, shall the Anderson Valley Unified School District be authorized to issue $15,250,000 in bonds at legal interest rates with annual audits, a citizens' oversight committee, and no money for administrator salaries or overhead."

Does that sound like a "list of specific projects" to you?

A large majority of Anderson Valley voters don't seem to mind paying millions for such non-specific vagaries as "improvements," "upgrades," and "modernization."

Measure A has apparently passed by about 62% to 38%, although we await the formal declaration from the County Clerk after the remaining several hundred Anderson Valley votes are counted.

The preliminary vote total so far is 340 Yes, and 206 No.

Some 45% of the votes remaining uncounted, so we can expect maybe 250 more votes to be cast with the Yes and No votes holding more or less true to the Yes and No percentages already tabulated.

Which means that about 500 Valley people will have committed all property owners in the Valley to millions of dollars of school facility expenditures for who knows how many years.

I have been appointed to the Measure A "oversight committee" called for in Proposition 39 although I voted against Measure A. I voted No not because I disagreed with some necessary facilities upgrades, but because: 1. The Measure was poorly defined and open-ended -- voters did not know much abuot what they were voting for, and 2. I object to paying twice the cost for any tax-paid project, then giving half of the money to the Savings Bank so Charley Mannon can take that big whack for himself simply for doling out the money to Boonville so Boonville can upgrade its school facilities.

But that's the way we do these things these days, and here we are -- albeit without anything remotely resembling the legally required "specific list of projects" that the $15,250,000 will pay for.

$15,250,000. The last census said there were about 3,000 people living in the Anderson Valley, about half of them – 1,500 – being property-owning taxpayers. They'll be paying an average of about $10,000 each over the next two or three decades, although some will pay much more and many will pay much less.

1. "To acquire, construct, and improve classrooms and facilities…"

What is a "facility"? Classrooms? Admin offices? Sports complexes? Playgrounds?

Which facilities will be "acquired"? This implies modular classrooms, a huge ripoff over the years in wildly inflated lease agreements with distant corporations for cancer-causing structures. Are these things part of the plan?

Which facilities will be "constructed?" New ones? Or replacements for existing facilities?

And which existing facilities will be "improved" rather than "acquired" or "constructed"?

2. "including repairing, upgrading, and modernizing Anderson Valley Elementary…"

Including, my dears? Including what? The whole district including the Elementary School?

3. "…improving student access to modern technology at Anderson Valley Junior Senior High…"

One new computer? Or a replication of the Microsoft complex in Redmond, Washington? How will it be maintained? Certainly not with bond funds. These computer releated "improvements" will commit the district to an endless and growing computer software and hardware upgrade budget. Where will that money come from?

4. "improving energy efficiency…"

Where? The elementary school or the entire District building complex? And, again, what is an "improvement"? New ceiling tiles and dual-pane windows? Or…?

5. "installing solar panels to reduce energy costs, and qualifying the District for $1.5 million in State aid…"

Let's go ahead with solar panels to any reasonable extent within the $1.5 million State aid budget.

But the voters have authorized "Anderson Valley Unified School District … to issue $15,250,000 in bonds at legal interest rates with annual audits, a citizens' oversight committee, and no money for administrator salaries or overhead."

How did they come up with the $15,250,000 figure?

When the AVA talked to Superintendent J.R. Collins about the bond issue in April, Collins said that long neglected “major renovations on both campuses” can no longer be postponed — "structures at both sites are more than 50 years old. Proposed work on the facilities," Collins says, "includes re-roofing and electrical work and heating and plumbing — the basics." Collins pointed to "the north wing of the Elementary School; it will probably have to be re-built from the ground up." Collins said he also "hoped to solarize both schools."

$15,250,000 for that?

What if Measure A can be accomplished for $10,749,358? Do we still tax the Valley's property owners to the tune of $15,250,000, and spend the rest on other "improvements" until the money's gone?

There's lots more, particularly the role of the Oversight Committee vis-a-vis the School Board. We'll get into those questions in upcoming weeks.

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