Cuesta College board explores idea for bond

Aging buildings, failing technology and an antiquated phone system are tribulations that Cuesta College administrators might turn to taxpayers to help improve in coming years.

The board of trustees last week authorized Cuesta President Gil Stork to study the feasibility of preparing a general obligation bond measure for the November 2014 ballot.

Trustees advised Stork not to narrow his focus solely to a bond but to also consider the possibility of other revenue ideas, such as a parcel tax, said Pat Mullen, president of the Cuesta College board of trustees.

“Given what is happening with the state budget, it is incumbent to look at any or all types of funding to continue to provide a quality education to our students,” Mullen said.

Parts of the college’s technology network are so dated that the pieces are no longer made and can’t even be found on eBay, Stork said.

“We are dealing with a campus where many of the buildings are over 40 years old,” Stork said. “There are infrastructure challenges, and many of our classrooms were not built with technology in mind.”

Stork said the college also has debt that is eating away at its dwindling cash flow that could be eased with a bond.

This is the first time Cuesta administrators have considered a bond since 2006, when voters rejected the college’s attempt to pass a $310 million bond, with 56 percent of voters against it.

Former President Marie Rosenwasser, who became a lightning rod for critics after the bond failure, submitted her resignation and retired under pressure from the board shortly after.

“It really wasn’t well defined and it was too much for our public to vote on,” Stork said. “There was a lot of dissention internally with the faculty groups not supporting it. How do you go out into the public and sell them something the campus wasn’t even supporting?”

Stork said the same mistakes would not be repeated.

He plans to survey the campus internally to see if faculty and others are interested in seeking a bond.

“If we go out, we all have to be behind it,” Stork said.

A task force of faculty, classified and management employees in addition to students will begin by creating a list of what capital improvements are needed and whether those needs, if met, can be sustained over time.The task force will also educate the staff and public on the purpose of a bond.

“Until I am convinced that I have a strong internal interest and commitment, I can’t take it one step further,” Stork said.

Mullen said that while the 2014 ballot is being considered, the college is not locked into a timeline.

“We need to explore our needs more specifically and decide if at some point in the future it makes sense,” Mullen said. “It also depends on the economy. With the way the economy is now, it doesn’t make sense to make a hard decision on a bond or dates or an amount.”

But, Mullen said, “it does make sense to start talking about what our options are and different ways to consider them.”

Mullen, who was on the board when the last bond failed, said that three key lessons were learned.

“We need to be more judicious in the amount we seek, be specific in prioritizing projects and ensure that campus and off-campus constituencies are aligned in support,” Mullen said.