Having been on the Acton Agua Dulce Unified School District board for a decade, including three terms as board president, Ed Porter knows the difficulty of getting a bond measure approved. Voters have defeated five of the last six bond measures that came before them.
Porter was not the least bit surprised when Measure CK went down to defeat last week. It needed 55 percent of the vote but only got 40 percent.
Not that he was disappointed with the result. In fact, he said he voted against it.
“I’m not saying I told you so,” he said. “The vote speaks for itself.”
While the vast majority of school bonds pass – the online California Local Government Finance Almanac said voters approved 89 of 112 (79.4 percent) this election cycle – Acton Agua Dulce found itself in the minority.
And Porter thinks the answer begins in 2008, when the voters narrowly approved (by .76 percent) Measure CF, which let the district sell $13 million to primarily replace portable classrooms with permanent ones.
“(In) the community out here, and I don’t necessarily disagree with them, the saying goes, ‘Look, we were reluctant about the previous bond. We knew once we passed that, you’re gonna ask for more bonds,’ so this became a kind of self-fulfilling prophecy,” Porter said.
Secondly, he said, the voters loathe paying more property taxes, and they know that, although bond funds are repaid through the state’s General Fund, property taxes go into the General Fund. Also, very few renters live in the district, he said, and renters are more likely to vote for bonds that they don’t have to pay for.
Then there are people he called “pragmatic people that actually study this and say, ‘Look, you’re not supposed to be paying for paint and grass and carpet with bonds.’ ” These are the same individuals who were skeptical that the district would be able to secure another $3.4 million in Proposition 39 matching funds if the bond passed.
“Having been one of four districts out of 1,100 districts to get the match for our high school bond, we’re unlikely to get the second match,” Porter said of Measure CF.
Porter also objected to the district sending out notices on district letterhead asking for yes votes, a violation of state law. But his objections to the bond go way back and were well documented on Facebook.
In his long post from Oct. 29, Porter said he and late board member Larry Layton preferred a $1.5 million bond that would complete the renovation of Acton School and resolve some overcrowding issues.
Porter wrote that he and Superintendent Larry King figured the additional property tax would be $2.79 per $100,000 of assessed value, meaning the average homeowner would pay an additional $12.58 per year, below the self-imposed maximum of $15.
So, what happened? “Suddenly all caution was thrown to the wind and the pragmatic approach to passing a bond that would specifically tailor it to the community’s tolerance was forgotten!” Porter wrote. “A feeding frenzy – for a lack of a better term – was initiated on the part of staff, special interest groups and our bond writers in order to first include various projects that are NOT customarily paid for by bonds, at least not by AADUSD historically.”
This included paint, grass and tennis courts, and the $1.5 million suddenly became what Porter said Layton called “a dream bond” that ballooned to $5.5 million, then $7.5 million, the number needed to qualify for Proposition 39 matching funds.
“Sadly, this is how bureaucracy and unchecked public education funding works when bonds are seen as an easy method of funding project as opposed to finding prioritized solutions and practicing responsible stewardship of public money,” Porter wrote. “I also believe that while many good intentioned folks are pushing for this bond, there are groups and individuals that are involved in its development and promotion that pose a conflict of interest, if not legally, certainly morally, in my opinion and in that of many others and the credibility of the bond suffered a great deal as a result of this.”
Layton died in May. At a school board meeting subsequent to this death, the matter of school bonds arose. Porter made a motion to place the $1.5 million bond before the voters but did not get a second.
“I felt that my fellow board members had already made up their minds due to various reasons, to include pressure from the louder voices in the community and from our own staff,” Porter wrote. “Mind you, they didn’t have to vote for the smaller bond, but I feel that they should have at least allowed my case to be presented publicly for the community’s sake. I was simply baffled at the lack of critical thinking in determining what was best suited to be included in a prioritized approach, the lack of concern for the community’s tolerance of the bond amount and the casual approach of allowing and approving various items on the long list, many of which should never be paid for by a bond.”
Another board member made a motion to place the $7.5 million measure on the ballot. Had Porter voted no, he would have prevented it from appearing on the ballot. Instead, he voted to let the voters decide.
As a result of the failure, King said, some projects at Vazquez High will be put on hold. These include improving outdoor tennis and basketball courts and lighting standards. However, he said, there is enough money from other sources to complete the work on the softball field, the track and the concession stand/restrooms near the football stadium.
“Without the bond in place, we will just have to go to those funding sources and address the most crucial needs and be prepared for the unforeseen as much as we can,” King said. By “unforeseen,” he meant leaky roofs, asphalt falling apart and unsafe fields.
Throughout the 18-minute interview, Porter never gloated and always sounded sad at the outcome. But his resolve also never wavered.
“They didn’t understand the complexities of getting a bond passed here,” he said.