Honesty, Not Greek Finance

I do not mind supporting a well-run organization that is open and honest about its activities. I do object to being mislead by people wanting my money and thinking I am too dumb to ask “what for?” 

I recently received a brochure advising a “yes” vote on Measure C, a bond issue for the Mark West Union School District. Incredibly, and perhaps suspiciously, the brochure contains no information about what we would be voting for: 

n      There is not even mention that it is a bond issue, much less one requiring taxpayer payments stretching out 25 years or so.

n      There is no mention of its $14 million cost, much more than the District annual budget and over $10,000 per student.

n      There is no mention of any real need for the money, and why an expensive bond issue was chosen over a direct parcel tax.

n      Even the subsequently provided project detail is only a list of 21 very general areas where funds would be used.

Absence of the most basic financial details, no justification of need, and a slush fund approach to accountability are the bad practices behind the crashes and bankruptcies  we have read about in the press. For $14 million for a small District I need more than a slogan “good for children”, so I must vote “no” until I see an honest explanation with facts and logic.

 

Proponents seem to be counting on political subversion and voter carelessness to push this through. How does this subversion work? Special interest groups seduce uninformed voters with “feel good” advertising that avoids discussing the real-world  consequences, like higher taxes. The financial pain is further hidden by pushing it far into the future. Current problems are not addressed, so they get worse. However, as the Greeks and citizens of California are learning, this subversion cannot be sustained.

 

The same scheme worked just a few years ago. $11 million in bonds were authorized in 2002, the last portion issued in 2005. But, where did the money go? Why do we need more so soon? Is this something we will see every 5-7 years? Are we borrowing what should really be in the current budget, and why when enrollment has dropped 13% in the past five years? These basic questions should be addressed before blindly authorizing another $14 million.

 

Further suspicious is that of the 2003/2005 bonds issued for $11 million, as of June 30, 2009 the District still owes $11,605,000. How can this be? It is an example of using interest only bonds for 10 years to hide the financial costs by shoving them out to future years. Does it sound like the popular mortgage products behind the national financial crash and Greek bond overload?

 Actual District data from State audit reports for the five-year period 2004-2009 show questionable financial need:

  Instruction Expense                                                   up    5.4%

  Site Administration                                                   up  42.5%

  General Administration                                             up  39.5%

  Plant Services                                                       down  16.8%

  Interest                                                                      up 177.7%

  Total Expense                                                            up    6.8%

 

  Enrollment                                                                down 13%

 

It appears that things like maintenance have been starved to pay growing administration and the bond interest, causing a need for recurring bond issues to supplement the annual budget – poor fiscal management and unfair to future generations.

 

Bond issues should be limited to quantified projects with useful lives similar to those of the bonds. Ongoing current expenditures should be paid with current revenues. Such prudent financial practice will result in understandable accountability and more sustainable costs to taxpayers.

 

Voters should say “no” to Measure C and ask the District to be specific about bond issue needs and to clarify future budget needs in view of declining enrollment. If identified budget needs support higher revenues, then let’s be honest and go for a parcel tax instead of an expensive bond issue.

 

Robert G. Williamson,  SCTA Member

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