As the state economy struggled to regain its footing after the Great Recession, school districts throughout California — including Atascadero Unified School District — faced historic challenges. One of the biggest was managing its voter-approved school improvement bond programs, which came under enormous stress largely because of an unprecedented drop in assessed real estate valuations.
In response, well over 200 districts around the state rushed into the bond market and issued costly capital appreciation bonds to close the funding gap, borrowing as much as possible and kicking repayment down the road for future generations to bear.
These high-octane borrowings — entered into without taxpayer knowledge or approval — have had devastating results. In many cases, taxpayers will end up paying off bonds over the next 40 years, with interest payments totaling more than 10 times the amount of bonds sold.
But not Atascadero. We held firm and maintained our prudent approach to taxpayer dollars. As districtwide assessed valuations continued to fall — losing over $250 million by 2013 — the district’s Board of Trustees took fiscally conservative action and hit the brakes.
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They rejected the wasteful idea embraced by too many other California school districts and refused to issue capital appreciation bonds that would have forced future generations to pay extra for today’s spending.
Even though parents and community members sought funding for school remodeling projects, the board slowed the funding of these projects until it was clear they could be paid for.
And then they did something truly courageous — something for which they should be praised, not criticized — they decided to ask voters for their opinion by placing Measure B-14 on the Nov. 4 ballot.
Let’s be clear. Measure B-14 creates no new debt. Voters already overwhelmingly passed Measure I-10 in November 2010. Why, then, is it in voters’ interest to approve Measure B-14, which simply reauthorizes and replaces a portion of the bonds that voters approved in 2010? It is because passage will allow the district to issue those bonds on schedule without having to resort to costly capital appreciation bonds or wait years for property values to fully recover.
The board could have bypassed voters and issued costly capital appreciation bonds, which don’t require voter approval, but if you know these board members, you know that’s not how they operate. Now we need your help — your approval of Measure B-14 — to maintain the fiscally responsible course.
If we don’t act now and approve B-14, many projects will need to remain on hold, which could end up costing taxpayers more in higher construction costs, higher interest rates and more costly repairs following additional years of deterioration.
Approval will mean that school improvement projects can continue as planned. About half the bonds approved in 2010 have already been allocated for voter-approved projects. The remaining half will either be spent now without creating any new debt and while keeping costs low — if voters approve B-14 — or it will be spent many years in the future, when the bonds will have lower purchasing power.
Join me and my fellow Atascadero Unified School District Board members by making the fiscally responsible decision — vote yes on Measure B-14.