Lompoc Unified School District classroom.
Rusty walls can be found in classrooms in the Lompoc Unified School District. A consultant told the school board this week that a bond feasibility study found voter support for putting a measure on the November 2024 ballot. (Janene Scully / Noozhawk file photo)

Voters in the Lompoc Unified School District would support a new bond measure for modernization projects, according to consultants who suggested continuing to move toward placing the item on the November 2024 ballot.

The bond feasibility survey results were provided Tuesday night during the board meeting and were based on interviews of 543 voters, according to consultant Timothy McLarney from True North Research

He said the voters who participated in the survey provided a clear indication that they recognized the schools need improvements. 

If the board chooses to put the bond measure on the ballot, McLarney said, “it has a better than reasonable chance of success.”

Inflation, the economy and even the COVID-19 pandemic could lead to a different outcome, but the district should consider a ballot measure that can deal with minor adversities, McLarney said.

He recommended that the board look at the November 2024 presidential election instead of the March presidential primary next year.

“I think there’s a variety of reasons that would make March more challenging,” he said. 

Once exposed to positive and negative arguments, 59% of those surveyed favored a bond measure with 31% against it, according to the study.

A bond measure for the school district would need 55% voter approval to pass. 

The district narrowly missed the 55% approval number in the November 2022 election. Measure A received 54.46% voting yes with 45.54% voting no. It was the fourth failed attempt since 2016.

“The biggest difference here has to do with the electorate that we’re dealing with now versus then,” he said. “You were in a smaller turnout environment and, as you shrink the number of voters, you will tend to get a more conservative, older, more tax-adverse electorate.”

The consultant also queried likely voters to see which bond measure would gain the best support, asking about $50, $40 and $30 per $100,000 of assessed property valuation. That means property valued at $300,000 would see $150 added to the annual taxes.

Not surprisingly, a lower tax rate garnered higher support, according to McLarney.

Recognizing the confusion that standard ballot language creates, McLarney said they also asked if voters would support a bond measure that would cost a typical homeowner an additional $138 per year and saw a higher level of support.

A question asking about a tax rate of $50 for $100,000 of a property’s assessed valuation garnered 51% support. 

However, an inquiry saying the tax would add $138 a year attracted 61% support, McLarney said. 

“What that tells us very clearly is when your voters understand what the true cost of this measure would be for a typical homeowner, they’re comfortable with the tax rates we’re considering for this proposal,” McLarney said. 

Other questions centered on how the district would spend the bond funds, with the proposed modernization projects proving popular with voters, McLarney added. 

He said the board didn’t have to decide the tax rate yet, but should plan to keep it affordable. 

As the election draws closer, the district also should work to educate voters about the need for a bond measure, starting as soon as this fall, the consultants said. 

“If we use that time wisely, continue to tell your story, build awareness, communicate that key information to voters, I feel like we’ll be in a very strong position moving into the election next year,” said Charles Heath, Team CivX co-founder and a strategy and communications consultant.

The board would have to take action to adopt a resolution with the ballot language and project use by next summer to formally place the bond measure on the November 2024 ballot.