It’s hard to argue that the Santa Barbara School Districts renovations envisioned by Measures Q and R are not needed. The replacement of half-century-old infrastructure and dated facilities will save operating expenses through energy-efficient systems and provide students with modern technology needed to be competitive in today’s world.
There’s really no other sensible choice. Even in hard times, critical repairs don’t make sense putting off. If our homes or businesses have broken plumbing and leaking roofs, they need to be fixed. Same thing here: if we don’t make the necessary improvements now, the cost will become more expensive later — and our students will be shortchanged in the meantime.
The list of bond projects that the Santa Barbara elementary and secondary districts has identified for funding at each school is conservative in scope and responsible to taxpayers: essential projects that address only the most pressing concerns without increasing the current annual tax debt.
Despite daunting financial challenges, the Santa Barbara School Districts are fiscally sound. They have addressed plummeting state revenues by making the necessary cuts and personnel reductions required to balance operating budgets — while preserving the core instructional programs — without going into the red. Unlike many districts, Santa Barbara has also kept its required reserves intact, but there is no money for needed capital projects.
What many people may not realize when it comes to school facilities, is that bond measures like Q and R are the only way of raising funds for needed capital improvements. Unlike some local government agencies, like special districts that have the ability to cover capital costs with regular assessments, there is no layaway option for public schools. Funding for repairs and renovations of local school facilities is entirely dependent upon the willingness of local voters to pass school bonds. Without community support there is no alternative means for our schools to generate the money to pay for facilities renovation and replacement.
This is because the California system of school financing is only designed to provide sufficient funding to cover operations costs, not to meet capital facilities needs. The state funding model, which dates back to 1979, doesn’t allow local control over allocation of locally paid property taxes; instead, Sacramento reallocates these funds among school districts statewide. While we have seen our local property tax base grow to the point where the Santa Barbara Elementary School District has achieved “basic-aid” status, this has not resulted in any additional funds.
For example, in the Santa Barbara Elementary School District, the total general revenue funding that is available under the state funding model is slightly under $5,000 per pupil for 2010-2011. Nearly all of this money is committed to student instruction, where every penny and more is needed. This figure doesn’t include any capital funding for construction — and only minimal maintenance funding.
In the Santa Barbara Secondary District — covering all South Coast junior and senior high schools, except in Carpinteria, which has its own district — the situation is essentially identical: the nearly $6,000 per pupil funding is slightly higher because the state model recognizes the higher cost of educating junior and high school students, and there is no money left over for capital expenditures.
Other funds that are received from the federal and state governments are restricted for designated purposes, such as special education, and cannot be used for construction. This means that the bulk of capital costs must be paid for through the issuance of public bonds. School districts rely on both state and local general obligation bonds to raise money to build and remodel school buildings. In earlier years, the Santa Barbara School Districts was able to combine local bond dollars with state matching bond funds in carrying out capital projects. However, state bond money is all but depleted and it is questionable when we will see another statewide bond measure passed.
Measures Q and R deserve our support because there is simply no other way we can address these challenges. So it is up to South Coast voters to step up and invest in our future. No one else will do it for us.