San Luis Obispo County voters could be asked to approve a bond for Cuesta College as soon as the November election to help repair aging buildings and failing technology and pay down outstanding debt.
On Tuesday, the Board of Trustees unanimously authorized Cuesta College President Gil Stork to draft a contract to hire a consultant to poll the community on its support for a general obligation bond measure.
Trustees, who in June would have to approve the contract of up to $40,000, would use the results of that poll to decide whether they’ll place the bond on November’s ballot.
That measure would seek $100 million — a significantly smaller amount than the $310 million bond solidly rejected by voters in 2006.
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This is the first time the college has considered a bond since that measure failed.
In November, the board asked Stork to study the feasibility of preparing a bond measure for the November 2014 ballot. However, after pressure from the faculty, the college is considering moving it up.
“This is a pretty bold move, but given where we are fiscally, I think we need bold leadership,” said Alison Merzon, president of the Cuesta College Federation of Teachers.
Merzon said that a small, informal survey of faculty showed support for a focused bond that would assist with improving technology, pay down about $20 million in existing debt and rehabilitate existing facilities, but that would not support constructing new buildings.
In April, trustees cut $3 million from the college’s 2012-13 budget, eliminating 26 positions and laying off 16 people to help offset sweeping cuts in state funding, increased payments on outstanding debt for completed building projects and built-in salary increases.
“We can’t continue to reduce and reduce and still deliver the product that people expect of us,” Merzon said.
Some trustees expressed concern that now might not be the best time to pursue a bond, with the college struggling to retain its accreditation.
“It seems to be a bit of a surprise given everything else going on,” board President Pat Mullen said.
Two consultants hired by the college to determine the practicability of a bond told trustees Tuesday it would likely be easier to pass the bond in November than in 2014 because higher voter turnout is expected in the presidential election.
Trustees must decide by August whether they will put the bond before voters this year.
They must also decide if they will seek support from all voters in the college’s district, which includes about 120,000 people, or if they will target a specific area of voters by creating a special facility improvement district. The latter move would require approval by the county Board of Supervisors.
Reach AnnMarie Cornejo at 781-7939. Stay updated by following @a_cornejo on Twitter.