8th grade students tour Carlsbad High School
Eighth grade students tour Carlsbad High School in January. Courtesy CUSD

By Marsha Sutton

If it passes, Measure HH will be Carlsbad Unified School District’s third bond in 21 years.

Proposition B which passed in 1997 and Proposition P which passed in 2006 are still costing taxpayers money each year. CUSD superintendent Benjamin Churchill said 2006’s Prop. P will not be paid off until 2035.

Now the district wants more.

In 2006 when Carlsbad Unified lobbied for Proposition P, CUSD’s then supt. John Roach wrote that the best estimate of the tax rate would be $27 per $100,000 of assessed property value, saying, “The tax is projected to be the same every year.”

Last year, the 2006 Prop. P bond cost taxpayers $49.82 per $100,000 and 1997’s Prop. B cost $11.30 — for a total of $61.12 per $100,000 in assessed property value.

The itemized tax bill for this year shows Prop. P at $48.87 per $100,000 and Prop. B at $10.44 per $100,000, for a total cost of $59.31 per $100,000 assessed value.

If HH passes, it will add another $30 per $100,000 to the school bond tax, bringing the grand total near $90 per $100,000 in assessed property value.

These charges will continue for decades.

[The costs of Prop. B and Prop. P are lumped together as one on paper tax bills. To see how each is itemized on your tax bill, go to the county tax assessor’s website.]

As an aside, the HH bond language states that it will cost taxpayers three cents for every $100 in assessed property value, giving the false impression that the tax is negligible.

But this is intentionally deceptive. Bond language usually states how much it will cost per $100,000 in assessed value, not $100 – so three cents per $100 equates to $30 per $100,000.

Furthermore, even though CUSD says HH will only charge up to $30 per $100,000 of assessed value, as a K-12 district it has the legal right to charge up to $60 per $100,000 without asking for further voter approval.

Deferred Maintenance Fund

The district says more upgrades are needed. But many of these listed projects should be covered under a Deferred Maintenance Fund, the prudent way to fund needed repairs as buildings age.

Many school districts maintain a Deferred Maintenance Fund. But not Carlsbad Unified, according to CUSD assistant superintendent Rick Grove.

Part of the 2006 Prop. P bond language stated that the money will be used to “repair or replace aging, inefficient heating, ventilation and air conditioning at school facilities.”

Measure HH and promotional mailers state that part of the money for this year’s proposed bond will be used for similar needs: upgrading classrooms; repairing and replacing deteriorating roofs, plumbing and inefficient heating, cooling, electrical and water systems; upgrading facilities; and improving security.

Instead of setting aside money annually for ongoing maintenance and anticipated repairs and replacements of aging structures and equipment, Carlsbad Unified is relying on taxpayers to pay bond principal and interest for decades for maintenance and upgrades the district should have planned for.

In a related issue, California School Bonds Clearinghouse’s Richard Michael, who tracks school bond measures, says the words “security and safety” in bond language has been encouraged by professional marketing companies to ignite fear in parents to win their support for bonds.

He said in a recent news article that “school safety has become ‘a hot-button’ issue for voters following recent, tragic school shooting incidents and believes the reason so many districts cite safety and security in their bond proposals is that it helps appeal to voters.”

Michael calls that “a predatory tactic.”

No new school

A few months ago, Carlsbad Unified awarded raises to its employees, costing more than $4.3 million annually, according to CUSD’s Grove.

This includes a raise for the district’s superintendent whose contract “establishes that compensation will be increased or reduced by the same percentage applied to all certificated management employees.”

According to CUSD Supt. Churchill, the district’s unrestricted general fund balance is nearly $22 million, per the most recent unaudited actuals.

And about 50 percent of property tax money is already allocated to local education.

When Proposition P passed by a wide margin in 2006, the sense in the community was that the district legitimately needed the bulk of the $198 million in bond funds to build a new high school.

But this time it’s different. Measure HH is requesting $265 million. There’s no new school being built, and upgrades to existing structures should be covered by an established Deferred Maintenance Fund that anticipates the inevitable deterioration of buildings and equipment.

Perhaps it’s time to ask school districts to adopt stronger fiscal policies that don’t continually rely on taxpayers when funding needs are not properly prioritized.

Marsha Sutton is a Carlsbad resident and freelance education columnist.