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By Marv Sherrill
I started my teaching career at San Clemente High School in 1970. I was fortunate to be one of the first teachers at Dana Hills High School in 1973. Since retiring in 2005, I continue to substitute and volunteer at Dana Hills. I enjoyed my tenure in Capistrano Unified School District, but was well aware of the slow deterioration of the buildings.
Routine maintenance patched the leaks, repaired the air conditioning and heating units, and filled in the cracks. But after 45 years at Dana Hills and more than 50 at San Clemente High, it has become obvious that total renovations and possible reconstructions are needed. Also, Aliso Niguel High School, and all the middle and elementary schools in both the Measures H and I areas, are also experiencing some of the same problems.
Throughout my years of teaching, my wastebasket was routinely used to catch water during rains. I constantly trapped rats that fell through holes in the ceiling tiles throughout the school, and watched the concrete structure slowly crumble due to weathering. For decades, students have been taught in “temporary” portable buildings—bare, sterile rooms filled with desks. And “temporary” soon became long-term. Students are told on the first day of class to avoid stepping on the “weak spots” in the floor to prevent them from falling through. These all must be replaced.
Recent studies have shown that the main building at Dana Hills and other schools do not meet current earthquake standards and cannot just be retrofitted; they must be replaced. Asbestos may still be a problem in many of the older buildings.
These expenditures simply cannot be done with existing state funds. About 85% of the district’s budget goes to salaries, as it does in the average public school district, according to the American Association of School Administrators. Measures H and I could provide more than $420 million toward these upgrades in their respective communities. Also, there will be one-time matching state funds that will only be available if Measures H and I pass.
Right now, CUSD residents pay only $7.45 per $100,000 of assessed value (not market value) of their homes for school bonds. This is by far the lowest school bond facility tax levy of any of the 29 Orange County school districts. Most of these school districts have passed two or three bonds since CUSD approved its last bond more than 20 years ago, and their tax levy is 2-10 times that of CUSD. When Measures H and I pass, our increased tax levy will still be far below what many other districts have approved (including Santa Ana, Los Alamitos, and Garden Grove Unified School Districts).
Money from Measures H and I can only be spent on facilities and technology upgrades—not on salaries—and it will be monitored by an independent citizens’ oversight committee. As a result of these new world-class schools, our home values will increase, families will be attracted to this area, and long-term economic benefits will result.
Critics of these measures mainly complain that we already pay too much in taxes—like sales tax, gas taxes, DMV taxes, etc. These are, of course, irrelevant to the crisis at hand since those monies do not go to schools. They say that we should simply pinch pennies from the current budget and use duct tape to hold up buildings (and Nero fiddled while Rome burned).
It seems a crime to me that students in the largest district in Orange County should be financially last in supporting education, resulting in our students being taught in substandard buildings without the new equipment and technology needed to excel in the competitive world of today.
Do we continue to bury our heads in the sand and ignore the problems at hand, or do we become proactive like all of the other districts in Orange County? If we do not pass these measures now, it will inevitably cost much more in the future, because the matching funds will have gone to other schools.
I am not supporting these measures because I personally will benefit in any way. I retired from teaching 15 years ago, and I have no children. I am doing this, because I love where I live, I support my community and honestly believe that, unlike the opponents, we all should put Capo kids first, not just give them lip service. So, for a little more than the price of a double latte per week, please join me and vote for H or I (depending on where you live), simply because it is the right thing to do.
Marv Sherrill, a signer for Measure I and a 40-year resident of Dana Point, taught in the Capistrano District for 35 years and at Saddleback College for 20 years. He was the first teacher in CUSD to teach AP Biology and AP Environmental Science. He also pioneered five additional science courses at San Clemente and Dana Hills High Schools. He was Science Department Chairman for 15 years, and was an Orange County Teacher of the Year in 2004-2005.