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Hart District Wants the Dough

| News | September 7, 2017

At some point, Dave Caldwell estimates, the William S. Hart Union High School District will receive $83 million in state funds from November’s Proposition 51.

Caldwell, the district spokesperson, has a list of needs on which to spend the money. These include new construction and modernization at Canyon, Hart and Saugus high schools, the new Castaic high school and Placerita and Sierra Vista junior high schools.

When the district will get those funds, however, is anybody’s guess.

“Now, we have to wait for the state to say what they’ll release to us and when,” Caldwell said. “We don’t have any control over that. They (the state) may say we can receive 50 percent of that in 2019 and maybe (the rest) at a later date.”

One of the problems stems from a 2016 audit by the Office of State Audits and Evaluations that documented problems with how funds are doled out.

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The report, cited in Gov. Jerry Brown’s annual budget report, found instances in which school districts inappropriately used school-facilities-bond funding to purchase vehicles, tractors, tablets, golf carts, mascot uniforms, and custodial/cleaning supplies.

“They were outlandish,” said Richard Michael, who runs the website Big Bad Bonds, which is dedicated to providing strategies to defeat local bond measures.

As a result, the governor wants the State Allocation Board and the Office of Public School Construction to revise policies and regulations to implement front-end grant agreements that define basic terms, conditions, and accountability measures for participants that request funding.

“Once these measures are in place to verify that taxpayers’ dollars are appropriately used, the Administration will support the expenditure of Proposition 51 funds,” the governor’s report concludes.

Michael says that could mean wealthier districts such as Hart could receive less.

“The larger they’re taking, the more likely they’ll be bypassed by more needy schools,” Michael said.

Proposition 51, which passed with 55 percent of the vote, authorized the state to sell
$9 billion in school construction bonds. However, the Sacramento Bee reported, the state has sold just $400 million as of mid-August.

“The last time voters passed a statewide school bond, state matching funds were available within 30 days,” the Bee editorial said. “On average, more than 90 percent of bond funds were committed within four years of the passage of previous statewide school bonds.”

The Bee estimated that $20 billion is needed over the next decade to fully repair and modernize the 70 percent of classrooms that are at least 25 years old and the 40 percent that are more than 50 years old. That would include all the schools (except Castaic) for which Caldwell said the funds would be earmarked.

As for Castaic, Caldwell said those Proposition 51 funds would not be needed to complete construction in time for the school’s scheduled fall 2019 opening.

“Measure SA provided funds for Castaic High School,” Caldwell said of the 2008 bond issue that authorized the district to borrow $300 million. “Additional funds based off of Proposition 51 we can use. We are building Castaic High School. We have the funds to build Castaic High School. It’s going to be built.”

 

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About Lee Barnathan

Lee Barnathan has been a writer and editor since 1990. His articles have been published in newspapers, magazines and online. His new book "If You Experience Death, Please Call and Other Fatal Mistakes We Make With Language," a humorous look at the ways people misuse English, is available on Amazon or at his website, www.leebarnathan.com. He is hired by people all over the country to help them refine the message or story they wish to share with their target audience or demographic.

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