Claremont Insider: Nothing New Under the Sun

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Nothing New Under the Sun


It's been a while since we took a trip in the Insider Institute's time travel capsule (our liability insurer raised some concerns after our last trip). But the Claremont Unified School District's consideration of a bond resolution caused us to cast our temporal gaze back to 2000 and the district's last bond.

In preparation of our time-tripping, we did a little research in our archival vault (pictured, right). We located a number of relevant documents from CUSD's Measure Y campaign. Now, 10 years later, we can see that the district and the Claremonsters have not only recycled old slogans for the 2010 bond, but they also misled the public when it came to the uses of the Measure Y bond money. In that instance, as in the present one, some of the erroneous claims the bond proponents made may have been misstatements, but others were blatantly manipulative.

Before we go any further, here's the text from the mailer CUSD sent out this past week. We'll need this to refer to later:

(Click Images to Enlarge)


Back at the end of May 2000, right before the June Measure Y election, the Claremont Courier ran an opinion piece from CUSD's then-superintendent Douglas Keeler. The essay enumerated the reasons Keeler felt the bond was needed, and he touched on all of the talking points ginned up by the Claremont 400 and district's election consultant. Keeler's piece included a committee's recommendations regarding a possible bond.

Here are Keeler's comments. They appeared on 5/27/00, just before the June election:

Keeler listed the suggestions from district's Facility Advisory Committee, chaired by Jeanne Hamilton. Hamilton would later be elected to the school board in 2001. Hamilton and her committee recommended a number of things. Two things that the committee determined were that the district should:
  • Modernize Claremont schools (roofs, electrical, plumbing, etc.)
  • Convert the La Puerta Adult Education Site to an elementary site
If the Measure Y bond was supposed to modernize our schools roofs, electrical, and plumbing, why do we need to do the same repairs again only 10 years later? This week's CUSD flyer for the 2010 bond says that "The bond would improve Claremont schools by: ....Repairing and replacing old leaky roofs and plumbing....Improving student and school safety by updating fire alarms and wiring."

And the district's original resolution for the Measure Y bond included a bullet list for each Claremont school stating that the district would be replacing deteriorating roofs, replacing aging doors and windows, modernizing the district's technological and communication infrastructure systems at every school facility, and a host of other things.

Either Measure Y's $48.9 million was misspent, or the district isn't being truthful now when it claims that some of the same things need to be done 10 years later. Roofs, doors, electrical and communication wiring should last longer than 10 years.

And as for La Puerta, the district concluded they didn't need another elementary school after all. What happened to the $4.5 million from the bond that was budgeted for converting the adult school?

Let's also not forget that CUSD initially said they would use a chunk of the money to build a football stadium next to the Claremont High School. However, when residents in the neighboring Towne Ranch area became upset, imperiling the bond vote, CUSD turned around and said they had no plans at all to put the football stadium on the CHS campus. District officials said they were looking to build somewhere else. Bond opponents warned the Towne Ranch residents that the district was not being honest about its plans. But enough of them were mollified that the bond measure passed.

Drive by CHS now and take a gander at the football field, bleachers, and field lights. Sorry, Towne Ranch neighbors, you took the hit on that one.

Oh, and one last point about that electrical wiring. In 2000, the Yes on Y campaign sent out a district-wide mailer that had a photo of an electrical wiring junction box. The box had no cover, so the wires were exposed for kids to electrocute themselves.

Sound familiar?

As we noted yesterday, CUSD's mailer this week had a photo of bare wires. The wires were presumably supposed sound alarms with parents about safety in our schools and, to underscore the point, the photo appeared adjacent to a bullet point about using the proposed bond money for school safety and for updating wiring.

Here's a comparison of the two photos:
LEFT: 2000 CUSD election flier photo
"30-year-old wiring at Eleanor Condit Elem. School."

RIGHT: 2010 CUSD flier photo
CAPTION: "Old outdated wiring like that pictured here from Eleanor Daly Condit Elementary School must be updated to improve student safety and support classroom technology."

Hmmm, same school, same kind of photos taken 10 years apart. And the photo on the right isn't even electrical wiring! If you enlarge it, you can clearly see those are telephone wires with a telephone jack right below. Not exactly a safety hazard.

The wiring photos reminded us of the scandal-within-the-scandal involving British Petroleum and their oil spill. BP, to show how hard they have been working on the cleanup, posted on their website a photo of their crisis command center and another of a helicopter crew flying towards the flaming well. The problem was that they were both photoshopped. Some of the monitor images in the crisis center were added in, and the helicopter in the photo was actually on the ground, not flying over the Gulf of Mexico.

As we in Claremont have learned the hard way, reality in the hands of a master PR person or an election consultant is infinitely malleable.


It turns out that current school board member Jeff Stark, along with the aforementioned Jeanne Hamilton, were co-chairs of the Yes on Y committee. Stark is a financial advisor, so he presumably had the education and experience needed to lead the bond campaign. Stark's experience would certainly probably him to review the currently bond proposal as well.

(On the other hand, let's hope Jeff didn't inherit his financial acumen from his mother Jil Stark. Jil was a board member of the now-defunct PFF Bancorp. You'll recall that Jil made a small fortune off PFF stock shortly before it crashed.)

Jeff was the public face of the Measure Y campaign. The Yes on Y people sent out a district-wide mailer that featured the Stark family. That was the mailer with the electrical wiring. It was supposed to demonstrate the continuity of the community's (or the 400's?) vision. Here is the flyer:

Notice the slogan: "It's hard to believe it's been 35 years..." The argument in 2000 was Claremont's schools were aging - 35 years old or older. The mailer, written as a letter from Jeff Stark to the community, said Claremont's schools desperately needed upgrading and maintenance.

This time around, the mantra is, "it's been 10 years; it's time to have another bond because Claremont schools desperately need upgrading and maintenance." At the present rate of accelerated wear, down from 35 years to 10 years, we'll need another bond in three years at twice the price. And another one year after that.

Folks, $95 million is an awful lot of money for a small school district like Claremont, especially when the district hasn't identified any specific projects requiring the money. The last time around, they at least did that much, even if they didn't complete them. The absence of such a project list may be quite intention. If they don't have concrete goals set, the district and its board cannot be held accountable. That is simply not prudent given CUSD's track record.

There are plenty of other measures that can be taken to address the district's budget problems. There are other, reasonable alternatives. The powers-that-be in Claremont, however, refuse to listen to reason, refuse to acknowledge other, less costly ways of getting through this bad patch.

The $95 million bond train left the station quite a while ago, but if you're interested in watching a slow-rolling wreck, you should consider going to watch tonight's CUSD board meeting. It all starts 6:30pm in the boardroom at the district's Richard S. Kirkendall Education Center at 170 W. San Jose Ave.