Residents of the Cold Spring School District will soon be voting on a proposed $7.8 million bond measure. I am writing to share with the community why I have decided to VOTE NO on Measure L2020.

Karen Davidson

Karen Davidson

I have been a resident of the Cold Spring School District since 1981. Our children attended Cold Spring School and my husband and I happily donated our time and money to enhance their experience.

I have worked as an educator for 24 years and care deeply about the school and what it provides to our community.

I recently served on the district’s Governing Board. My priorities then and now are fiscal responsibility, transparency and accountability, and representing the 87 percent of the electorate who do not have children currently enrolled in the school — voices that have long been absent from the district’s decision-making processes.

I resigned my position after 2½ years because I could not, in good conscience, support and defend board majority decisions that I believed were detrimental to the bistrict’s fiscal health, in conflict with board policies, and damaging to the morale of the teachers and the staff.

Here are the specific reasons I believe taxpayers should VOTE NO on L2020:

Once again, the district has failed to engage all of its residents.

There have been no community forums and no solicitation of community input. We taxpayers are being asked to hand over $7.8 million to pay for buildings and projects that we had no part in determining the need for. This is the opposite of transparency and inclusion.

The district doesn’t want the residents involved in planning and decision-making. They only want us to donate money or vote to tax ourselves.

I’m not confident that the bond money will be spent appropriately or responsibly.

The district has been deficit spending for many years, relying on fundraising and grants to make up the difference. How is it that this well-funded (through taxes) district with only 177 students hasn’t figured out how to live within its means?

A board member recently stated that “they have compiled a list of projects that need to be completed, however, seeing as how the bond is yet to pass, there currently are not plans, bids, or proposals.” How in the world did the fistrict come up with the $7.8 million figure?

A teacher on staff who teaches, at most, 12 hours per week (compared to about 24 hours per week for a regular classroom teacher) is paid a full-time salary plus overtime and benefits (for a total of more than $136,000 in 2018).

The two top administrators are paid about 9 percent of the budget of $4.3 million (about $400,000 altogether), and the entire administrative team costs about 17 percent of the budget. The national average for administrative costs is 4.5 percent of the budget.

The previous business manager was paid a base salary of $88,000 per year for a 100 percent position. The current CBO/general counsel is paid a base salary of $144,000 for a 60 percent position.

Assuming two-thirds of his time is for CBO duties means that the district is paying $95,040 per year for a 40 percent CBO position (or $237,000 per year if it were full-time). Let’s also talk about the conflict of interest inherent in having any individual serve as both the CBO and general counsel.

The district has long exhibited a lack of transparency and accountability.

This is nothing new and has become engrained in the district’s culture.

My experience on the board was that thoughtful discussions and public consensus-building during board meetings are virtually nonexistent. Decisions about issues are being made outside of the public’s view and unanimous votes during board meetings are expected. Asking questions is not only considered “disrespectful,” but actively discouraged and shut down.

For these reasons, I have no confidence in the success of a bond measure oversight committee.

Taxpayers and students deserve responsible school spending.

There is no doubt in my mind that poor planning, questionable financial decisions and lack of attention on the part of previous Governing Boards and administrations have allowed the facilities and the finances to reach their present state.

Existing bonds that were meant to address many of the projects on the current bond measure list will not be paid off until 2039. The proposed bond won’t be paid off until at least 2052.

It is astounding to me that a district with so much wealth and privilege is asking for even more — in the middle of a pandemic and economic catastrophe, no less.

Yes, of course I want the students and staff of Cold Spring School to have clean, safe and modern facilities in which to work and learn. I just do not trust the current Cold Spring School leadership with $7.8 million.

That’s why I will VOTE NO on L2020 and I recommend that the other residents of the district VOTE NO on L2020, too.

Click here for more information about the opposition to the Cold Spring School bond measure.

— Montecito resident Katherine Davidson has lived in the Cold Spring School District for nearly 40 years and is a former district parent and school board member. The opinions expressed are her own.