Jessica Cejnar / Friday, March 13, 2020 @ 5:50 p.m. / Community, Education, Local Government
Survey Shows Marginal Support for School Bond; Teacher Backing Needed For Measure to Pass, Consultant Says
The school district needs its teachers if it wants a facilities bond to have more than a marginal chance of passing, a consultant told the Board of Trustees on Thursday.
There’s just one problem — the Del Norte Teachers Association and Del Norte Unified School District have been butting heads over salaries and benefits for more than a year.
“How could we entertain this with what we’ve gone through for the last year?” DNTA President Marshall Jones asked the Board on Thursday.
The union that represents certificated staff were on day 378 without a settled 2019-2020 contract, Jones told trustees. He also brought up the $25 million bond Del Norte voters approved in 2008 that helped build the gym at Smith River School. Jones said he remembers going door to door to convince voters to approve that measure.
“We got the 61 percent we needed” he said. “We got to repair some damage here. I wouldn’t go for it.”
Jon Isom, of Isom Advisors, an education financial advisory firm based in Orange, advised DNUSD trustees to “take the next six months” and see if key stakeholders, including business, leaders, elected officials, parents, staff and teachers, would support a $36.5 million bond to address the roughly $280 million in repairs needed at local schools.
Presenting the findings of a community survey gauging voters’ willingness to approve a property tax assessment to facilitate those repairs, Isom said about 50 percent of those surveyed said they would support a ballot measure after they were educated on what it was for. About 43 percent said they would vote against even if it would benefit local schools, according to Isom’s presentation.
At least 55 percent of those voting need to approve a general obligation bond measure for it to pass, Isom said.
“I wouldn’t say don’t go at this point,” Isom said, adding that for a bond measure to make the Nov. 3 general election it has to be submitted to the county registrar of voters office by Aug. 7. “I would say take the next six months, let’s see if you get support from those key stakeholder groups to overcome what I would say is a marginal survey.”
Out of 15,000 registered voters in Del Norte County Unified School District, Isom Advisors surveyed about 260 households between March 5 and March 10.
About 69 percent of those surveyed said DNUSD provided a fair, good or excellent education to local students. Twenty-four percent said the district provided a poor to very poor education while seven percent didn’t know.
Of the 260 households surveyed, about 46 percent said they never had children attending DNUSD schools, with the remaining roughly 54 percent either have kids currently in school or who attended in the past.
According to Isom, when asked the question if they would approve a bond measure “today” without detailed information, roughly 49 percent either said yes or would lean yes. Nearly 44 percent indicated they would vote no or were leaning toward no. A little more than 3 percent didn’t know how they would vote while just under 4 percent said they were undecided, according to Isom’s presentation.
The survey also mentioned several projects, including repairing leaky roofs, constructing science labs and career technical education facilities, replacing plumbing and sewer systems, taking steps to increase energy efficiency and updating inadequate electrical systems. Sixty-five percent of those surveyed supported these projects, according to Isom’s presentation.
More than 60 percent of those surveyed also supported installing heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems where none currently exist and building new or renovating existing auditoriums, libraries, cafeterias and other facilities, according to the presentation.
When it came to how large a tax voters would tolerate, Isom said 51 percent of those surveyed supported a property tax assessment of $60 per year for a school bond. This support increased as the tax assessment decreased.
At $42 per year support increased to 55 percent, according to Isom’s presentation. Fifty-eight percent supported an annual property tax assessment of $36 a year, he said.
“Does that mean I should go for just $36 or $42 — what’s the right amount?” Isom asked rhetorically. “The answer is you don’t have to have a hard-fast rule if you didn’t get above 55 percent, but it is an important guideline.”
In many cases, school districts convince voters to support their bond measures by showing the projects they completed with their tax dollars, Isom said. In Del Norte County, there’s good support for projects DNUSD needs to complete, he said, but the question is whether or not a tax measure can pass.
If DNUSD isn’t ready to place a bond measure on the Nov. 3, 2020 ballot, it can wait until the June 2022 gubernatorial primary, Isom said. However those dollars wouldn’t be available for another three to four years if the measure is successful, he said.
Isom also brought up Proposition 13, The Public Preschool, K-12, And College Health and Safety Bond Act of 2020. This bond measure promised $15 billion for the upgrade of public school facilities for earthquakes and other disasters, according to ballotpedia.com. But it failed, Isom said, “in some places, spectacularly.”
This was due to voter confusion with the “old Prop 13,” which was approved in 1978, Isom said. As a result, many school bonds failed on March 3, which was an anomaly, he noted.
“Eighty-five percent of all school bonds that have ever been attempted in the last 10 years passed,” he said. “In March 2020, it was less than 30.”
Isom said if the Board of Trustees is going to move forward with trying to place a bond measure on the November 2020 ballot, it shouldn’t ignore the poor performances of school bonds statewide in March. For a measure to pass, he said, the district needs a “broad coalition of support.”
“I just want to be explicitly clear that it doesn’t pass unless you can check the box and say we’ve got support from these individuals,” Isom said.
During public comment, Miriam Wilson, a teacher at Del Norte High School, asked officials how local schools wound up in such a state of disrepair.
“It just seems like there’s a history in this district of financial misuse,” she said. “I’m not saying it’s this current administration’s fault. I think that’s where a lot of distrust comes from; a lot of waste.”
Del Norte County District 3 Supervisor Chris Howard brought up the county and city’s decision to determine if the community would support a sales tax increase to improve public safety. This is the first time the Crescent City Council and Board of Supervisors have considered a special tax in the memory of anyone on both boards, Howard said.
The Crescent City Council and Crescent Fire and Rescue District hired Godbe Research in November to determine if residents would support a special sales tax or property assessment for a fire department that incorporates paid staff and volunteers.
In January, the Del Norte County Board of Supervisors approved a professional services contract with Godbe Research to gauge the determine how residents feel about public safety, including local law enforcement.
On Thursday, Howard said the county and city expect the results of that survey next month.
“I’d hate to see education and public safety pitted against each other on a November ballot,” he said. “It is likely that if there were two taxed-based initiatives, odds are both would likely lose. We are a very conservative county and the odds are both won’t pass.”