Measure E is a farce.

– – – – – – – Update: 05.31.12 – – – – – – –

Just attended the discussion on Measure E hosted by the Brea Senior Center.

Representing “No on E”, Connie Lanzisera and Glenn Vodhanel laid out a rational, common sense justification for their position and posed well researched questions to the opposition.

Representing “Yes on E” was Dr. “Skip” Roland, BOUSD Superintendent, who admitted right up front that it wouldn’t be legal for him to endorse or support the measure but he could answer questions. No one for the “Yes on E” political action committee took the time to attend to present their side of the issue.

Then, in a less than forthcoming way, using a lot of bureaucratic and finance industry terminology well over the heads of many in attendance, Dr. Roland proceeded to explain the important things that might be done if Measure E passed.

There was an obviously adversarial mood in the room. Hovering around the periphery were a council member, a current member and ex-member of the school board, plus the usual array of political activists and gadflys, myself included.

Finally, in the Q&A period, all questions were directed towards Dr. Roland, none for the “No on E” folks. It was quickly obvious that Connie and Glenn had apparently succeeded in sharing a credible message, easily understood by all in the room.

In my estimation, which mirrors comments from those I spoke with following the meeting, Dr. Roland’s responses fell far short of answering the questions asked but more served as opportunities for continued pro “E” political speak.

Seeing Dr. Roland in trouble, or at least assuming he was unable to adequately support their position, the final unscheduled speaker turned out to be none other than Teresa Hampson, BOUSD School Board member since 1994, who made what I would characterize as an impassioned plea for millions of dollars without adequately explaining how one single dime would be spent or why.

In the end, I detected a clear and distinct aroma of deception in the room and it seemed that no one at my table, nor those around me, had any interest in supporting Measure E in any way.

With such a low threshold now for approval, a mere 55%, it’s anyone’s guess what we’ll see when the election results hit the streets.

In closing… Vote NO on Measure E.

– – – – – – – Original Post: 05.25.12 – – – – – – – 

A “Brea Matters” reader, requesting anonymity, sent me the following message and it got me thinking. First, the message.

“I am opposed to Measure E. Not because my property taxes are going to increase but because I’m fairly convinced that the School District is unable to manage the technology they currently have. Having many years experience in the IT industry, I offer this statement, confident in it’s accuracy.

BOUSD hosts three different web sites for parents to track their children’s progress. None of them has complete information. The original teacher portal is stale and outdated, many links don’t work and virtually none of the teachers are keeping their student assignments up to date there.

The high school website, with teacher links too, is utilized by few, if any teachers, on a regular basis.

Finally, there’s “Aries”, the official assignment/grading secure website. It provides no consistent or reliable means for parents to track their children’s progress or for students to access assignments throughout the school year because most teachers batch upload assignments and grades at the end of each period. Useless.

Last year, the district’s mail server suffered a catastrophic failure. All email and contacts for teachers were permanently lost. The service was down for days. Teachers were asking parents to re-send them email addresses. Apparently the district made no provision for adequate back-up and/or recovery, common practice throughout the IT industry.

Parents never received a clear explanation about what happened or what the district planned to do to ensure this didn’t happen again. They just swept it under the rug.

Now BOUSD is asking us to add to our already burdensome property taxes, some of which is still paying off the funding they received in 1999, so they can preform routine facilities maintenance which should have been accomplished long ago. Design, construct, install, reconfigure, replace, enhance, expand… this is the language describing how they intend to spend another $54,000,000 dollars. And not a word about classroom technology or IT infrastructure.

It’s politically incorrect to oppose school bonds. To do so invites ridicule and allegations of not caring about our children’s futures.

My friends and I still have kids in Brea schools but we’re voting no on Measure E. The BOUSD has failed to prove they’ve wisely spent what we gave them in 1999. We’re not about to give them twice as much in 2012.”

Higher Property Taxes Aren’t The Issue.

Silly me, I thought the resistance to Measure E would come from the ultraconservative, no more taxes crowd. Much to my chagrin, it seems that a growing number of folks are simply sick and tired of watching BOUSD spend millions of dollars with only the most limited accountability.

In 1999, with the supposed help of a “Public Oversight Committee,” the BOUSD placed a $27 million dollar obligation bond measure on the June ballot. We won’t have it paid off until 2029. In March of 1999, a series of letters from the district, through each school, went out to parents clarifying what the funds would be doing for their school.

Aside from an embarrassing amount of redundancy, there was nothing to brag about in any letter. It was all pretty much routine maintenance stuff, simple repairs and everyone was getting new communication systems, including bells, public address and telephones.

What… no whistles?

When I made a public records request at the district, asking for documentation of what was proposed and what was done, I received a 27 page compilation of numerous documents with the collective goal to convey nothing but rainbows and unicorns.

I tried to find members of the Oversight Board and found only one. He indicated there had been little or nothing done for over a decade and that at least half of the members no longer even lived in Brea. So, makes me wonder who’s watching the store?

Now They Want Twice As Much.

Now, just 13 years later… enough time to get many of the first graders graduated from high school and their parents distracted by jobless teens, college tuitions through the roof and their need to provide for their own future reaching critical mass… here comes the BOUSD wanting $54 million dollars.

In a 1999 press release, the district said, “If major capital improvements are not made now, the schools will only continue to deteriorate, which will be more costly to fix in the long run.” Welcome to 2012, or as I like to call it, the long run.

And back to the original complaints about the condition of BOUSD’s IT infrastructure, the litany of projects on the “Yes on E” website sponsored by the PAC “Committee for Brea Olinda Schools — Yes on Measure E” (FPPC ID# 1346996) make no mention of updating the antiquated and underutilized IT system or upgrading classroom technology.

Have these folks inundated your mailbox with giant postcards filled with familiar faces and hollow promises?

Have you seen the slick ad campaign?

Did you get a prerecorded message from your local school principal asking for your support (like that’s even in their job description)? Are you seeing the same red flags popping up that I’m seeing?

Just Say No.

Okay, I may be branded a heretic, but I don’t care.

I love our kids and grandkids, I believe wholeheartedly that a solid education is the underpinning of successful productive lives but I also believe that throwing another $54 million dollars at routine maintenance projects that should have been done a generation ago is not the way to raise educational standards and performance in Brea. Please, do the right thing for the kids… Vote No on E.

38 thoughts on “Measure E is a farce.

  1. Yikes. Well, it’s good to hear all sides of a story. That being said, I am still voting YES. While I agree with the parent that mentioned the problems with the parent portals, I also believe that NOT funding the schools won’t provide a solution to our myriad of problems either. I would rather my property tax dollars go towards the schools instead of any other program in this town at current. #JustSayin

    • Stacey… Like I said, I believe that throwing another $54 million dollars at routine maintenance projects would be a catastrophic mistake. Property tax dollars do little around this town, it’s sales tax that drives the city budget (a whole other issue).

      What are a couple of the “myriad” other problems? They can be solved by throwing money at them?

      Putting some fresh faces onto the school board, people understanding the importance of fiscal responsibility and willing to be held accountable… that makes sense. That solves problems.

      Deny them the $54 million. What’s one more year? Maybe we’ll have board members we can trust next time around. Vote No on E.

  2. Rick, thanks for taking on this lipsticked pig!

    Immediately upon reading the proposition I found so many flaws. For example; the interest on the bonds is a partial analysis of the last three years which has been a poor return period for bonds. If you look at the overall ten year bond rate it ranges from .09 to 7.45% with an average yield of 4.49%.

    Another example is the measure does not state where the current building fund will be used; 54 million for building, take the present budget and plug up other issues such as salaries, benefits, etc.

    The last issue I have is the enormous windfall the district will obtain in 2019. Back story: BOUSD owns 50% of Marketplace (Target center across from Civic Center) and Corporate Place (multi-story office buildings on west side of St. College). They receive $1 million per year in ground lease payments and $1 million per year in a convoluted arrangement where they provide Brea’s RDA with a passthru credit for the tax increment. Odd, as school districts are unable to receive tax increment on their properties, so how are they able to pass them along?

    Anyway, somewhere between 2019, the current year they’re facing disposal of the property, to 2026, should the district play any creative refinancing schemes, the district will be sitting on an endowment in the neighborhood of $30 million. I believe discussions are just starting to ramp up regarding what to do with it. Put it in a reserve, invest it and generate additional annual revenue? Identify longstanding “wish list” projects, like finish the high tech classroom project at the high school that has languished for nearly a decade, and buy stuff?

    Here’s a suggestion. Pay off this or any other bond with those proceeds and become debt free. I’ll bet this idea has never occurred to them.

    Thanks again for bringing this to light!

    PR

    • Paul… It is just that isn’t it Paul, they’ve put lipstick on a pig. There’s little I can say except thanks for adding a couple more facets to the gem BOUSD is trying to foist on an unsuspecting public.

  3. The 27 million dollar bond isn’t the whole picture. They actually spent 60 MILLION DOLLARS. How did they do that? Well, matching state funds plus developer fees increased the money they received and spent in only 12 years. Are you kidding me? I want to see paid invoices to prove where the money was spent. And now they are asking for another 54 Million Dollars!

    The school district needs to live within their means. The ADA per child should more than enough pay for ALL expenses. The only reason more is necessary is because of the huge pensions that teachers get after they retire. If it is for the kids, stop looking after yourself first.

    • Connie… Great point. I couldn’t find the total after inclusion of developer’s “fees” from Chevron/La Floresta, Blackstone and Central Park Brea on the old hospital site. Conceivably, the total could exceed $100 million by your formula. Not sure how the city, negotiating development agreements, gets to siphon off fees to the district as well.

      The Oversight Committee, as I understand it, was supposed to have the sort of documentation you mention. So far I’ve seen proof of nothing.

      Living within one’s means. what a novel concept.

    • Update: The “Oversight Committee” is a product of Proposition 38 (I believe that’s the number), passed after 1999. The old Advisory Board, asked to help identify projects and needs, was disbanded in 2005 and never had any financial oversight responsibilities.

  4. Don’t get me started on Propositions that are ill-conceived with good intent. I think parents and citizens of the area must step up to be more vocal with their representatives to insure that their needs and issues are truly heard and facilitated. Thanks Rick for taking this on.

    • Marla… over the years there have been a handful of local advocates, or activists, who were quite vocal. They were browbeaten and summarily dismissed by staff and elected officials to the extent they no longer wished to subject themselves to that sort of ridicule. A couple of council members and city staffers routinely speak about me in language I won’t repeat here. The walls have ears in city hall. Good thing I follow my Gramma’s advice, considering the source and ignoring the remarks.

  5. You are so right that it is politically incorrect to oppose a school budget. As an election worker, it was always fascinating for me to see that the actual votes in our town did not correspond to the “overwhelming” support for the budget that we were led to believe existed. In private conversations, some of the most vocal budget proponents would admit to planning to vote against it. School budgets have failed every year for the last several years.

    Recently in New Jersey, they moved school board and budget elections to November. The thought was that there would be more participation by people who only come out for the presidential and congressional elections. Many communities (and voters) have welcomed the chance to move school board elections to November because it is one less election to remember, and because it also eliminates the cost of holding the election in April, which usually has an embarassingly low turnout.

    However, under new legislation signed by Gov. Chris Christie in January, voters in all but a few dozen districts have been stripped of their right to cast ballots on local school budgets. Only districts proposing budgets that exceed a mandatory property tax cap are still required to put their budgets up for a vote. So, school boards looking to boost spending on programs that people always vote against will no longer need taxpayers’ blessing to do so. This consequence was not foreseen by those like myself who voted in favor of eliminating the election.

    This would be galling enough if my kids had gone to public schools. But it particularly frosts my cookies when I educated both my children from K-12 for a little more than it would have cost the school district to educate both of them for one year.

    I concede that the perception of “good schools” increases my property value, and frankly, our school district is one of the least wasteful in all of New Jersey. But school taxes eat a full 70% of my entire property tax bill – my school tax bill was more this year than my entire tax bill was when I moved here 16 years ago. Seems like I ought to have a voice in how that money is spent.

    • Susan… I’m hoping that this measure is denied by the voters as well. Having it in June, with our primaries, suggests we may have a greater than average voter turnout. If the independents are paying close attention, their typically more fiscally conservative point-of-view might make the difference.

      I hope you’re able to reverse the election faux pas, reinstating your right to vote on your taxes. Didn’t we kvetch to King George about this very sort of thing?

  6. Wow, Rick, I got a little sick reading your post. Not your fault, but looking at all that money being spent and not having the technology and systems that teachers, students, and parents need to even communicate? Yup, nauseating. Hope you can get your message heard!

    • Sally… if people around here would have the same visceral reaction, maybe we could see things change for the better. I’m please with the response I’m getting behind the scenes. Though folks are hesitant to post comments in opposition to measures such as this, they’ve been quick to let me know how they really feel. Thanks for sharing your thoughts with us!

  7. This is akin to measure C that we passed in Redondo some years ago. High visibility projects were the result, as opposed to fixing infrastructure. Although, we do have infinite campus up and running, and the only drawback is my kids’ teachers don’t enter the grades in a timely manner….

    • Matches… High visibility projects seem more designed to add to the apparent legacy of board members than to actually provide a better education. As has been pointed out, we have three “systems,” none of which has ever been fully implemented, utilized or benefited parents and students as was promised.

  8. We say in Italy “tutto il mondo è paese!” (The world is a small village!)

    In my country we pay outrageously high taxes in general, most schools are public and struggling. We lack even the most basic IT infrastructure in most of them.

    Some politicians say we should follow the way American schools are financed. From what you and most others here are writing, it seems to me that the problem is as much the politicians as the rules. It is obvious that changes are overdue.

    Grazie preoccuparsi così tanto il tuo villaggio.

    • Fabrizio… Yes, changes are overdue, in both areas. First we need to deny the funds, at least for now — at least until the request makes sense. And we should bring in a new broom that sweeps clean, creating a new school board that understands living within it’s means, that is open to audit and being held accountable and that is less interested in the politics than in providing a better education for our kids.

      Anche in questo caso, grazie per i vostri commenti.

    • Caro Fabrizio,
      The problem is the politicians! The politicians do not respect the citizens so therefore do not care abott the consequences of their actions. It is our job to vote these selfish, arrogant, narcissistic, blood suckers out of office. Because the only thing we will have left is our blood.

  9. Rick, our grassroots patriots had our “No on Measure E” table at the Brea Farmer’s Market tonight and we received so much support from our Brea residents. We had people begging for signs to place in their yards. It was so encouraging. This fight isn’t over. We will be speaking at the Brea Senior Center on Thursday. Both sides will be presenting their side of the story. We have the momentum. Let’s keep it up.

    • Believe it or not Connie, I received a couple of calls last night from folks telling me it looked like I was finally getting my message through. I had to remind them that there are other savvy “activists” who are pursuing similar agendas and that your farmer’s market booth had nothing to do with me. I am overjoyed to hear you were so well received.

      I hope to attend the “debate” at the Senior Center. I have no clue why Skip Roland is speaking for “the other side” since, as senior administrator of the district, he is enjoined from commenting pro or con on matters such as this. It would be like Tim O’Donnell endorsing Don Schweitzer.

      Where are the members of the PAC putting out all the brochures, ads, emails, postcards, automated phone calls? What about one of those “faces” from their postcard, Bev Perry, Don McBride, Doug Green, Dennis Jimenez, Pat Fox or Brea’s favorite father-to-be Brett Murdock (who loves to debate, remember)? Why aren’t they coming instead?

      The threshold is low, only 55% to pass this measure. This will be hard work but worth every minute. Thanks to you and your team!

  10. I must admit I don’t follow politics too much and if I do its here in Canada… its sad to see, in every country, that money is wasted and our greatest natural resource… Our Children and Grandchildren will have to pay the price! I like your posts. I am learning lots. 🙂

    • Anita… I couldn’t agree more. It saddens me to think of the legacy of debt we’re leaving future generations, especially as we’re failing to educate them so they might be prepared to fix what we’ve screwed up.

  11. Great watchdog stuff, Rick. It’s not just Brea that’s unaccountable for our hard earned money, the state and federal governments do the same. We need to vote good stewards into office who spend the money available as if it was theirs!

    • Greta… living within their means. Do you suppose they’ve even heard the phrase? One would doubt it given their behavior.

      • hahaha Living within their means. What a concept! I don’t think they know what the definition of “within” is. Or “means.”

    • Sally… June 5, the primaries. More and more people are starting to contact me saying they voted no or will be. I’m encouraged, but the threshold for approval is now only 55%. A low hurdle.

  12. Another day of encouragement for “NO on Measure E”. The seniors didn’t buy what Dr. Roland was dishing out. The parents of Brea students who do not live in the district, of course, do not pay Brea property taxes therefore receive a Brea education without the costs. When I mentioned this fact today, I saw heads shaking and heard an audible gasp. Of course Dr. Roland had to acknowledge this was true. This was a good day!

    • Connie… You and Glenn did a good job today and I am confident that little else could have been done. I hope the senior community voting against Measure E will be the straw that breaks the mosquito’s back. Thanks to you and Glenn.

  13. Rick.. Would you agree to be on the oversight committtee, if E passes?

    • Terri… I would certainly apply, and would serve faithfully if selected, but do you really believe the BOUSD Board of Directors would appoint me? I’m trying to imagine Teresa Hampson, Bill Hall and Joe Rollino casting a vote in my favor, especially without some sort of a nod of approval from Ms. Sokol.

  14. If I had my choice, I would personally (and gladly) write a check to BOUSD for the proportional amount needed. I have three kids in school and believe that if improvements are needed, that cost should be allocated to those receiving the benefit. I must say it does bother me a bit that I have three kids in school and my neighbor has one yet they will be burdened with the same costs.

    So now what?

    If Measure E passes: We need a School Board that will ensure ‘redirecting’ of funds does not occur – I hate to say it but I don’t have a high degree of confidence that is the case at present. We need a board that will focus the funds, and existing funds/revenue, on infrastructure. We need to make sure representation is at both the board level and the oversight committee level.

    If Measure E does not pass: It does not remove the needs. So how do we address them? Lets get the community involved. There is a group with extensive technological background, the Brea Education Foundation, why not have them or other outside District entity form a Technological Committee that does the work needed? How about a Construction Committee to build driveways, etc.?

    I would encourage all to really look at those running for School Board this year and vote for those who think outside the box and are not afraid if they lack the support of the status quo but are willing to reasonably work with all to bring about change.

    Either way… it’s really is time to roll up our sleeves and get to work.

  15. The “No on Measure E” grassroots group doesn’t have thousands of dollars for full page ads in the Register so what I propose is to make a couple of mosquito flyers and tape them to your car’s passenger side windows. This is free roving advertising. I taped the flyers to my windows yesterday and have been driving around Brea advertising the NO vote. I encourage our supporters to do the same. There is more than one way to get our message out.

    • Connie… any port in a storm.

      The opposition, unafraid of spending money hand over fist for advertising that will do little to help their flagging cause, is the same handful of people who will ultimately decide where the $75 million windfall will be spent should the measure pass. The same handful of people who will nominate and select members of the Oversight Board. The same handful of people who have skillfully created the majority control of the school board.

      What’s wrong with this picture? Well… pretty much everything.

      • Hi Rick,
        For those who don’t know, including myself, can you explain how an oversight committee would be chosen and what power that committee might have. Thanks.

      • Rick… I asked Dr. Roland the same question and he sent me a copy of EC 15282 which, he indicates, clarifies how the BOUSD School Board will appoint Oversight Committee members. Here is the code:

        15282. (a) The citizens’ oversight committee shall consist of at least seven members to serve for a term of two years without compensation and for no more than two consecutive terms. While consisting of a minimum of at least seven members, the citizens’ oversight committee shall be comprised, as follows:

        (1) One member shall be active in a business organization representing the business community located within the district.

        (2) One member shall be active in a senior citizens’ organization.

        (3) One member shall be active in a bona fide taxpayers’ organization.

        (4) For a school district, one member shall be the parent or guardian of a child enrolled in the district. For a community college district, one member shall be a student who is both currently enrolled in the district and active in a community college group, such as student government. The community college student member may, at the discretion of the board, serve up to six months after his or her graduation.

        (5) For a school district, one member shall be both a parent or guardian of a child enrolled in the district and active in a parent-teacher organization, such as the Parent Teacher Association or schoolsite council. For a community college district, one member shall be active in the support and organization of a community college or the community colleges of the district, such as a member of an advisory council or foundation.

        (b) No employee or official of the district shall be appointed to the citizens’ oversight committee. No vendor, contractor, or consultant of the district shall be appointed to the citizens’ oversight committee. Members of the citizens’ oversight committee shall, pursuant to Sections 35233 and 72533, abide by the prohibitions contained in Article 4 (commencing with Section 1090) and Article 4.7 (commencing with Section 1125) of Division 4 of Title 1 of the Government Code.

        I also suggest you get copies of EC 15278 which defines the responsibilities of the committee and EC 15280 which defines the district’s responsibilities to the committee. Remember, the School Board and this committee, as public agencies, are subject to the Freedom of Information Act and the Brown Act.

        In the unfortunate event that Measure E slips through, I encourage you and other’s meeting the above criteria to submit your applications to the district the moment they’re made available. Otherwise we’ll end up with the fox guarding the hen house.

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