BUSD to place $38 million bond on November ballot
Last updated 5/5/2018 at 4:28pm
Voters in the Bonsall Unified School District will decide whether to approve a property tax assessment which will authorize the issuance of $38 million of general obligation bonds.
A 5-0 BUSD board vote April 27 directed the measure to be placed on the Nov. 6 ballot. The exact assessment will depend on the total valuation of real property within the district, but the estimate is that property taxes will increase by $75 annually for a home valued at $200,000.
The bond if passed will fund three primary types of improvements. A new high school would be constructed including classrooms, career technical education facilities, a library, a technology laboratory, a gymnasium, play fields, physical education facilities, a fitness center for both student and community use, a cafeteria, a multi-purpose room, a reception area, and an administration area.
The proceeds from the bond would also fund security upgrades at Bonsall Elementary School, Bonsall West Elementary School, Vivian Banks Charter School and Sullivan Middle School, including upgraded fences, gates to provide a single point of entry, alarm systems meeting current or future standards, access control systems, and security cameras. Money from the bond would also fund upgraded track and field facilities at the district's existing schools as well as at the new high school.
Prior to 2001 approval by two-thirds of a district's voters was needed to pass a general obligation bond. Proposition 39, which was passed in the November 2000 election, reduced the necessary majority to 55 percent while also stipulating the creation of a citizens' oversight committee to ensure that no money from the bond is used for unauthorized purposes.
Bonsall High School is currently on the Sullivan Middle School campus. The Bonsall Unified School District owns 50 acres off of Gird Road and plans to use that land for a high school, and the environmental impact report for the proposed high school on Gird Road is currently in the review of public comment stage.
Both supporters and opponents of the Gird Road site agree that a bond would be needed regardless of whether the high school is built at the Gird Road site or elsewhere.
"We must build a high school to accommodate our children," said BUSD superintendent David Jones.
"They definitely can't build a high school without a bond," said Jeff Egkan of Citizens for Accountability in Taxation and Education (CATE). "They can't build a high school with this bond."
If the high school is not built on the Gird Road site the school district might need to obtain the property by eminent domain. Jones and Egkan disagree on whether another site would make a difference in the bond necessity.
"I'd say its equally necessary regardless of where the high school is," Jones said.
"It would make it less necessary," Egkan said.
In 2015 the Vessels family sold the 1,400-acre Vessels Ranch which is now known as Ocean Breeze Ranch. That property is adjacent to Sullivan Middle School and the current Bonsall High School campus. In December 2016 Ocean Breeze Ranch, LLC, sent a letter to the Bonsall Unified School District offering to discuss a mutually agreeable transaction in which the district might acquire land for a school.
"There's more than adequate room for them to build," Egkan said.
Egkan proposes complementing the Sullivan site with the Ocean Breeze Ranch land for a high school while turning the Bonsall Elementary School property into a combined K-8 school and moving the middle school students to that site after construction of facilities.
"You'd have a much smaller bond to build that middle school," Egkan said.
Even if Ocean Breeze Ranch, LLC, and the Bonsall district agree on a transaction eminent domain might be needed for off-site traffic improvements on West Lilac Road. The environmental review process would need to be performed from the start for any other high school site.
"The environmental testing will cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to repeat that all over," Jones said.
The acquisition costs for another site are also not yet known.
"You're going to much likely need even more money because of the uncertainty of what it would take to acquire the property," Jones said. "It would cost more money to start all over on some other piece of property. We would have to ask the voters for a bigger bond."
Jones thus doubts that an alternative site would reduce the need for a bond of the scope the district is seeking.
"I don't see how it would be any cheaper," said Jones. "It would only be more expensive."
The November 1993 statewide election included Proposition 174, which would have provided vouchers to parents of school-age students. The opposition noted that the cost to provide vouchers to students who were already in private schools was $1.5 billion and claimed that such funding was not available. Since then school districts have passed bond measures which throughout the state have exceeded that $1.5 billion figure, and the $38 million proposed bond would exceed Bonsall's share of providing vouchers to children currently at private schools.
Jones and Egkan are in agreement that vouchers to place children in private schools are not preferable to a bond to accommodate more children in public schools.
"I don't think so," Egkan, whose children attended public schools in the Carlsbad Unified School District, said of vouchers being the better alternative.
Egkan noted that in the Carlsbad district schools expanded in response to rather than in anticipation of student growth, which allowed developer impact fees to fund the new Carlsbad schools.
Reducing demand on public schools by funding the attendance of children in private schools would also require support by parents to send their children to those private schools.
"I would not think that a large amount of numbers of students and families would want to take advantage of that," Jones said. "I don't see that as a reasonable and viable option."
Sullivan Middle School was built with certificates of participation rather than a general obligation bond, but neither Egkan nor BUSD assistant superintendent for business and administrative services Bill Pickering consider certificates of participation preferable to a bond for the new high school.
"Technically yes but feasibly no," Pickering said of the possibility of using certificates of participation.
"Certificates of participation are a really poor way to fund construction," Egkan said, citing the high interest rates.
Egkan noted that certificates of participation are sold to buyers who expect repayment of the principal amount along with the interest. "You need to show that you can make those payments," he said.
Bonsall High School currently uses a two-story building on the Sullivan campus which will accommodate the increased student growth at the middle school after the high school and middle school have separate sites. In May 2015 the school board authorized up to $6.8 million of certificates of participation to finance the two-story building.
"That's on the books already, and it will be for a while," Egkan said.
"COPs are paid for by the revenues of the district out of the district's general fund or developer fees," Pickering said. "Our general fund right now does not have the ability to pay for more debt service."
Voters may look at an agency's attempts to reduce spending when considering whether to support additional tax revenue. The Bonsall Unified School District and the Palomar Community College District have a dual credit agreement in which students can obtain credit both for high school graduation requirements and for college units.
"Any district can do that," Egkan said. "That's available to every district."
In some cases the agreement calls for Palomar College instructors to teach classes at Bonsall High School; the district waives its registration fee for the high school students while the school district is responsible for the cost of texts and other materials.
"I don't think they're saving money," Egkan said. "I don't see any savings at all from the collaboration with Palomar. It may be their goal to save students money."
Palomar College's Fallbrook facility is scheduled to open this fall, so high school students who desire to take classes at Palomar College will be able to choose from the San Marcos campus or the Fallbrook campus.
"They have the ability to travel to the college and they can use their facilities," Pickering said.
Voters may also consider the merits of relative tax increases if multiple tax increase measures are on the same ballot. Much of the Bonsall Unified School District is also within the North County Fire Protection District, which is considering a revenue measure.
"It would probably reduce the chance, I would think, if there are two measures taxpayers are going to have to look at," Egkan said.
"In the event that it's on there it certainly could have an impact," Jones said. "It could be a difficulty for us."
Egkan noted that the district surveyed 400 likely voters by telephone to determine support for a bond. That survey asked voters of their likely support or opposition for a bond at three different levels: a $30 million bond which would increase property taxes by $60 annually for a $200,000 home, a $40 million bond with an annual increase of $80 per $200,000 of home value, and a $50 million bond which would cost homeowners an additional $100 for each $200,000 of assessment.
"The support level from a 30 million dollar bond to a 50 million dollar bond dropped 11 points," Egkan said.
The district's resolution approving the election states that a majority of the bond proceeds will be used to construct and equip a new high school for approximately 500 students. The environmental studies anticipate an eventual growth to 1,500 students.
"We are being as reasonable and conservative as we can be in constructing the high school," said Jones. "We're not asking for all three phases."
"This is not going to be just a 37 million dollar bond," said Egkan. "This is just a down payment on the high school. "To build out for 1,200 students they need probably 80 million dollars."
In 2016 the Bonsall district asked voters to approve a $58 million bond. Measure DD received approval of 50.63 percent of the voters, which was not a sufficient majority for passage. Egkan noted that other bond measures have previously failed (those elections occurred when the vote was among the entire Fallbrook Union High School District rather than just the Bonsall district and when two-thirds of the electorate needed to support the measure for it to pass).
"I think the question is how many times do the voters in this community need to say no before they move on," Egkan said.
"We're asking for 20 million less than the 2016 bond," Jones said. "My hope would be that people would understand that and support that we're being reasonable and conservative with what we're asking."