Claremont Insider: Get on the Bus! Fare: $95 million

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Get on the Bus! Fare: $95 million


Yesterday, just ahead of the 72-hour legal requirement, the Claremont Unified School District Board of Education posted an agenda for their meeting 6:30pm this Thursday, July 22, at the Richard S. Kirkendall Education Center at 170 W. San Jose Ave.

As we predicted, the agenda includes a resolution to go forward with a $95 million bond to be financed over 30 years. The bond will (note the inevitability) go to the voters in November. This current CUSD bond effort is almost twice the amount of the $48.9 million Measure Y bond approved in 2000. As we've pointed out many times before, CUSD squandered that earlier bond money without completing all the projects the district promised.

CUSD is using the current fiscal crisis to do exactly what California has done for the past 30 years. The district is trying to finance its operational costs through long-term bonds. CUSD stills owes $30 million on the Measure Y funding, and we are only 10 years into that 30-year bond. The district's proposal says that part of this bond's $95 million will go to pay off that earlier bond. So what we are really being asked to do is approve a 40-year, $113.9 million bond - $95 million, less $30 million for the old bond, plus the original $48.9 million from 2000. All CUSD has done is to break down the vote into two elections 10 years apart.

This money will never get paid back in its entirety. You heard it here first. Our school district will be back in another 10 or 15 years asking for a bond to pay off the 2010 bond and upgrade facilities again. All this to let them move money around to items not expressly listed in their 2010 bond literature. Speaking of which....


As with the previous bond election, CUSD Superintendent Terry Nichols and the CUSD Board of Education cannot legally campaign for the issue. But that has never stopped CUSD. The district sent out a district-wide, four-page, four-color bulk mailer that offered a "Spotlight on Claremont Students." The slick mailer, which almost certainly had to have been produced by CUSD bond consultant, was timed to hit mailboxes yesterday, the same day they knew news of the bond would break.

This mailer represents something CUSD they cannot legally do. School districts are not allowed to finance political campaigns, even if is for an education bond. So they send out a mailer with an implicit message saying we need money, we need this bond. The document is a de facto election piece offering up the rationale for voting "Yes" on the bond. The mailer was been planned well in advance and would have been designed by CUSD's consultant (in effect, a campaign consultant), to lay out the first talking points justifying the bond.

The mailer would have cost $4000 to $5,000 to create, print, and mail. That, of course, does not include the consultant's time. The mailer and the district's expenditure was approved without any public discussion well in advance of the district going public with the bond proposal.

Clearly all of this is - the district's town hall meetings, the polling CUSD commissioned, the mailer, the CUSD board's predetermined passage of their bond resolution Thursday night - are part of a design, a campaign. The CUSD mailing alone is a masterpiece of political manipulation, and we'll take a shot at parsing it.

Here's the mailer:

Click Images to Enlarge


The district's mailer starts with a photo a cute, enthusiastic girl raising her hand. She sports a broad smile because thanks to Claremont schools she can answer any question with confidence. The girl is literally spotlighted. She is in full color and sharp focus, while the other children in the background are out of focus and screened with gray to contrast our shining CUSD student. You're a kid hater if you vote down a bond to help this sweet child.

Underneath this girl's image is a small banner that says "Community Update from Claremont Schools." Ah! See, California Fair Political Practices Commission, it's a newsletter, not a campaign piece, full of information about the goings on in our district. Let's take a look at what's inside:
  1. When we open the mailer, we see a highlighted paragraph explaining that CUSD "continues to be known for providing our local students with an exceptional education."

    Nothing better than repetition to establish our starting point: Our schools are outstanding and are an asset to our community (i.e., you, Mr. and Ms. Voter).

  2. The first bullet point bears the heading "Academic Acheivement."

    More message repetition -good schools, good teachers, good kids, good community.

  3. Next comes: "High-Quality Classroom Instruction Despite State Cuts."

    Our district and its teachers are hard at work desperately trying to hold the quality education line against the state's crushing budget crisis. The underlying message is that this great asset, CUSD, is threatened by a fiscal crisis not of its own doing - look, we're doing our best, but we're at the edge of a cliff here. Whatever will we do?

    (Cue up the Snidely Whiplash laugh and Nell about to be cast into the abyss.)

  4. "Potential Bond Measure to Update Schools, Offset State Cuts."

    More fear. With CUSD offering up the solution: Thanks goodness! CUSD, the same people behind Measure Y, has a fiscal plan to save us. They'll even hire the same consultants! All you have to do is support our bond measure in November.

    (Cue up the Dudley Do-Right theme.)

    There's no mention of any specific work that will be done, just a list of things like:

    • The removal of hazardous materials like lead and asbestos.

      Hey, if CUSD is so competent, why our they exposing our dear front-page student to poisons?

    • Retrofitting our schools with energy efficient improvements.

      Got to appeal to the green voters - people concerned with the environment, not voters turning green from being spun by consultants.

    • Fixing leaky roofs, updating technology, improving student safety.

      ee the first bullet above.

    • Replacing old wiring:

      Good God! Our kids are going to get electrocuted if we don't pass this bond!

      Here the district's consultant has not-so-subtly inserted the obligatory photo of frayed wiring - the district and bond proponents did this sort of thing with Measure Y, BTW.

      In this instance, they've also juxtaposed the perilous wiring photo with a picture of a classroom with a teacher instructing kids who are sitting in front of flat-screen monitors - look out 21st Century, here comes CUSD!

  5. "Fiscal Accountability."

    Rest assured, voter. We're looking out for your money. We'll appoint a citizen's oversight committee (handpicked by us) "to ensure funds are spent appropriately." We'll also conduct yearly audits - conducted by an auditing consultant (also of our own choosing).

    You can trust CUSD. After all, we had citizen oversight with Measure Y.

As always, the district's literature fails to show how that $95 million will save a single teacher's job. We'll have shiny new equipment, all the bells and whistles, but fewer teachers.

And, speaking of fiscal accountability, never forget that in the 2000 Measure Y campaign, proponents spent about $80,000, most of which was raised by district contractors - exactly the people and entities who would have benefited from the bond money. They undoubtedly looked at that $80,000 in campaign donations as an investment that offered substantial returns in the form of CUSD contracts.

We'll see more of the same this time, and, like the little girl on the cover of CUSD's mailer, the school board possesses absolute confidence in the bond measure's passage. Get enough fear into people, and they'll vote for anything.

Once the bond resolution is approved Thursday, the campaign effort will be seamlessly handed off to an election committee led by people the Claremont 400 have slated to be future school board members. The last time around, current board member Jeff Stark figured prominently in the campaign.

Remember, voters, always follow the pea.