Claremont Insider: CUSD to Poll Support for New Parcel Tax or Bond

Monday, February 8, 2010

CUSD to Poll Support for New Parcel Tax or Bond

The Daily Bulletin's Wes Woods II says that the Claremont Unified School District has voted 4-1 to hire a consultant to conduct a public survey to test the waters for a new parcel tax or bond. According to the Bulletin, the lone "No" vote was Steve Llanusa, who thought it wasn't the right time for such ballot measures.

CUSD has been quietly doing the PR work to push public sentiment to support a new tax of some sort. Recently, the district had a town hall-style meeting that they used to prepare the ground for the campaign they envision, and you can expect to see school district representatives pushing the idea of a tax or bond in the Op-Ed pages of the local papers.

What sort of tactics will the school board use? Well one thing they will do is talk about how our facilities are falling into disrepair. Another talking point will be that it's been 10 years since CUSD's last bond measure. Here's what the board had to tell the Bulletin:

Board president Hilary LaConte said an assessment in 2008 showed district facilities are in need of repair. She said it was important to determine if the community is willing to approve more spending for these repairs and replacements.

"I will be interested to see the community's perception," LaConte said.

We wrote about the city of Claremont's shaping of public perception yesterday. Now it's CUSD's turn.

The key to that "community perception" is TBWB Public Finance Strategies, LLC., the consulting firm the CUSD board is hiring for up to $25,000 to conduct its polling. The last time we heard from TBWB was during CUSD's 2000 Measure Y campaign. That year, you will recall, Measure Y supporters (i.e., CUSD board surrogates) raised $80,000 primarily from school building contractors for the Yes on Measure Y campaign.

Know this: in TBWB the school board is not hiring some mere polling firm. TBWB specializes in helping clients pass bond and tax measures. They are also not new to Claremont. TBWB's online CV lists Claremont's Measure Y among its successful projects.

Here's how TBWB advertises itself on its website:
If your school district, city or agency is considering a bond measure, parcel tax, sales tax increase or other funding measure, TBWB has the experience to help you. We know how to guide public agencies through the process of making tough decisions, and we know how to lead campaigns to victory in tax elections.

TBWB has the experience that wins.

Unfortunately, the narrative TBWB spins ends with the successful passing of the ballot measures it has worked on. They don't tell you what happened to all that money after the elections were over and the clients' checks were cashed.

As we've said before, Measure Y was really a partial failure. In rewarding those contractors for their generosity during the campaign, the Claremont school district misspent the money in such a way that they used up the $49 million they raised long before they complete all the projects they promised the measure would pay for. It's been 10 years, and we're still waiting for that desperately new elementary school at the La Puerta site. And, why do we need to modernize our antiquated facilities now in 2010? Wasn't Measure Y supposed to take care of that?

Here at the Insider, we'd just as soon not vote for another school district financing measure until CUSD comes clean and admits first that they didn't properly handle the finances of their last bond measure. We'd also like to see the measure's supporters (CUSD surrogates again, primarily the Claremont 400) pledge to not take any consultants' or building contractors' money to fund their new campaign.

Really, when you think about it, the situation is extremely ironic. CUSD's supporters would tend to be against the recent Supreme Court decision that opened the doors for future corporate campaign donations. Yet, in the last bond measure and in the upcoming one, all money is good money, particularly money coming from the potential district contractors who would profit from whatever measure comes of TBWB's dog-and-pony shows.

Our biggest problem supporting the CUSD board in the ballot measure TBWB will help them concoct is the board's historical lack of institutional integrity. Look for them to use every trick in the electoral playbook to get their measure passed, including guilting the public into supporting the measure. During last November's school board election, incumbent Mary Caenepeel stood up at one candidate forum and basically implied that if you don't support a school tax or bond, you hate our kids.

We'd suggest Caenepeel and the rest of the school board find some other tactics. The public's not quite as naive as in 2000, and all they have to do to educate themselves on how these public perception campaigns work is to turn on an episode of the the NBC series "Parks and Recreation":

(Really apropos of a certain city of Claremont community project coming online this spring.)