Ben Franklin once said after fretting about the sustainability of our Constitution, "In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes." With apologies to the guy on the hundred-dollar bill, he should have added school bonds, which the voters are forced to consider with regularity every few years, notwithstanding the abjectly poor performance of our schools.
This election will be no different, with the Santa Barbara School District Board of Trustees asking the voters to approve Measures I and J, totaling close to $200 million of bond funds to spend on a smorgasbord of school building improvements.
For many voters in the district, this will be the eighth school bond on their property tax statement, tallying hundreds if not thousands of dollars of additional property taxes they will have to fork over to our ravenous public officials. If you haven't already done so, you might want to take a look at this alphabet soup of school bond measures on your property tax statement. At last glance, for those with domiciles in the Santa Barbara elementary and secondary school districts, their statements will display a buffet of bond measures from I to V and an assortment of letters in between.
It's all well and good to lavishly spend our taxpayer dollars to build the finest schools money can buy, except for the mere fact that we live in one of the least-affordable markets for single- and multi-family homes and rentals in the country. Our school board members may have not noticed, but the cost to buy a home or to rent an apartment in our community may be the most prohibitively expensive in the country. Asking young families, or anyone with incomes not keeping pace with the exploding housing/rental costs in our community, to pay more to build fancy new school edifices may be a tad counterproductive if these same people can't afford to live here to take advantage of the splendid school infrastructure.
Ah, but surely the supporters of these school bonds will forcefully argue the $200 million is a mere pittance or drop in the bucket to ameliorate the poor condition of our schools.
As they point out in their ballot measure arguments, the funds will be spent on everything from removing lead paint and asbestos to ensuring safe drinking water to modernizing libraries and upgrading technology to acquiring the National Armory. Somehow paying $20 million to the state for the armory after donating it to them many years ago for $1 is a good deal for local taxpayers. Go figure! They also claim the MAD and engineering academies were funded by prior school bonds.
What can be wrong with this impressive list of projects? How about the fact that almost none of it is true, including the funding of the academies.
The school board painstakingly debated and approved by a series of votes a list of capital improvements (e.g., stadium meeting rooms and window restorations) over the course of months, which they refer to as the priorities facilities list. Almost none of the noble endeavors heretofore mentioned were included in this list. In fact, no one ever mentioned in all the school board meetings anything about lead paint or unsafe drinking water. The simple reason is because it has never been a problem.
So how is it possible to include a list of projects on the ballot for voters to peruse when the board never considered them? If school bond undertakings are like making sausages, it's easy to see why board members would prefer voters never see what goes on behind the scenes. That is because a consortium of self-serving bond underwriters, building contractors, bond lawyers, polling firms and consultants are pulling the strings by creating the bonds and preparing the ballots, as well as financing the campaign to cajole the voters to approve the measures.
What these people know from extensive polling is that the most effective way to persuade voters is to scare them into thinking that schools will be dangerous places unless the bonds are approved. They will also attempt to persuade you that successful schools are not possible without spending a great deal of money on school buildings, despite the fact that every study ever done has attributed school success to effective teachers, curriculum and leadership.
If voters think the end justifies the means, and our public officials should be allowed to play games with the truth, then vote for these bonds. Just do me one favor: Don't complain about the cost of housing or your next rent increase if you voted to make it worse.
The author lives in Santa Barbara.
Produced for Lou Segal 2020 - All Rights Reserved.