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What Now Sulphur Springs?

| News | March 12, 2020

Sulphur Springs Union School District has not decided whether it will resubmit its failed bond measure in time for the November general election.

“At this time, the Board (of Trustees) has not made a determination as to if and/or when they may go out for another bond measure,” Superintendent Catherine Kawaguchi wrote in an email. “We greatly appreciate all of the parents, staff members, law enforcement, fire fighters, community members and voters that supported Measure US. We know that we have very old buildings in our district and we need to continue to work to support our facilities program.”

Measure US, which would have allowed the district to sell $78 million in general obligation bonds, failed by 58 percent to 42 percent, but it was far from the only bond measure to fail. According to Richard Michael, who runs the Big Bad Bonds website, only 35 of 120 bond measures (29 percent) put before voters last week passed. Contrast that with 2019 in which between 85 and 90 percent of the bond measures passed.

“People are just disgusted,” a gleeful Michael said. “Not all of them had opposition. Most didn’t have arguments against (included in voter-information pamphlets).”

An example, he said, was in Fullerton. The elementary and high school districts put bond measures before the voters. No one submitted arguments against either measure. The only opposition he knew about was one man putting up a couple of signs.

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Both failed, as did all nine bond attempts in Orange County. In Los Angeles County, six of 11 passed with the needed 55 percent of the vote; one that failed received 53 percent.

The Orange County Register suggested that having a state bond measure going down to defeat didn’t help. Michael said he thinks that since the failed attempt to repeal the 12-cent gas tax the Legislature passed in November 2017, people are thinking twice about voting to take on more debt.

“They’re getting pinched and pinched,” he said.

Michael also took a shot at the various consultants who tell school districts that their polling indicates a bond would pass. Sulphur Springs used Sacramento-based Deane & Company for its financial and treasury needs and named its president, Shawnda Deane, as the Yes on US committee’s treasurer, which Michael alleges is illegal.

“The consultants all have egg on their face,” Michael said. “They’re not pretending to follow the law. School districts will be more uncertain about the consultants, which I think are rigged.”

It’s also possible that voters objected to some of the issues that came to light before the election. Specifically, Bob Kellar violated city norms and procedures by signing on as a member of the city council, not a private citizen. Then Kawaguchi might have violated state law by using her district email address to the county registrar-recorder requesting Kellar’s designation change. The county might have violated state law by making the change after the December 13th deadline it set.

Regardless, Steve Petzold, principal officer of the Center for Truth in School Bond Measures and author of the argument against the measure, isn’t done with this matter. He sent three complaints to the Fair Political Practices Commission detailing the alleged wrongdoings. He said he expects nothing to come of it, but it can’t hurt to hold the district accountable for its actions.

Michael applauds Petzold’s move, saying it’s a big mistake to not go after those that break the law, even when the bond measure failed. But he also couldn’t know for sure how much Petzold had to do with Measure US failing. “Anything done had some effort,” he said. “Whether (Petzold) does, you have to interview voters, and nobody does exit polls (for school bond measures).”

Michael also said he expects Sulphur Springs to try again. Under state law, a district may reintroduce a bond measure 90 days after the last election. Contrast that to Idaho, where proponents must wait six months, he said.

Should the district re-file, Michael said, he hopes for a repeat of what happened with Lompoc Unified. Voters rejected a bond in June 2016, then again by a worse margin in November 2016, then again by an even worse margin in June 2018. The district is trying again in November.

“This is so corrupt,” he said. “(Rejecting the bonds is) somewhat refreshing.”

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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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