Craig Alexander

By Craig Alexander

For the March 3, 2020 ballot, Capistrano Unified School District is pushing two bond tax measures on the voters: Measure H for San Clemente (except Talega) and Capistrano Beach property owners and Measure I on the rest of Dana Point, all of Laguna Niguel and Aliso Viejo owners. If passed, both measures would obligate voters to pay (with interest) an additional $724 million ($519 million for Measure I plus $205 million for Measure H)—on top of all of the other taxes and bond taxes we already pay. 

My knowledge of this subject comes from when I ran for the CUSD Board of Trustees in 2014 against current Trustee Martha McNicholas, being part of a group that opposed CUSD’s Measure M in 2016 and the research I and others have done regarding past and present bond tax attempts. I wish to make three points. 

The first is taxes. Or I should say taxes, taxes and more taxes. California residents are already among the highest-taxed in the nation. 

In 2012, voters passed new “temporary taxes” (Proposition 30) promoted by the teacher unions with a promise these taxes would provide billions of dollars for the school system

Then in 2016, the same unions were successful in passing Proposition 55, resulting in most of the Prop. 30 “temporary taxes” being extended for 12 years

Again, voters were promised this was for public education. These higher income taxes have given California the dubious distinction of having the highest state income tax rates in the nation. This is in addition to gasoline taxes (second-highest in the nation then; as of July 1, 2020, the highest), higher sales and utility taxes, higher DMV fees, etc., with most of these taxes’ deductibility being limited by Federal tax law. It is reported that the state expects a $22 billion operating surplus and to have $20.59 billion in reserves this year. Voters have every right to ask: Where are those tax dollars we have already paid? 

CUSD Mismanages its Funds

There is one bond tax voters shouldn’t forget about. CUSD’s Measure A bond tax passed in 1999. It’s on your current property tax bill, and we are still paying for this bond tax (millions are still owed). Importantly, as part of the 1999 Measure A pitch to the voters, the District listed as reasons for that bond tax the need for asbestos removal/roof repairs/renovating science laboratories. Yet for Measures H and I, CUSD is still listing these same items as needing repair. So what did CUSD do with the bond tax money from Measure A? 

Why are we being asked to pay twice for the same repairs? 

CUSD constantly states it has no money of its own and it is slated via this bond tax to put zero of its own funds into these projects. Where are our tax dollars going that CUSD currently receives?  Over 86% of the District’s funds are spent on salaries and benefits of adult employees of the District. Thus, over the years, it does not manage our tax money wisely to plan for building upkeep and maintenance.

In 2018, Superintendent Kirsten Vital received more than $425,000 in salary and other pay and benefits. Deputy Superintendent Clark Hampton was paid more than $300,000. For context, Governor Jerry Brown Jr. received a total of slightly more than $285,000 in salary and benefits.

Thus, the Superintendent and Deputy Superintendent each is paid more than the Governor of the State of California.

CUSD Is a Declining Enrollment District

CUSD’s own documents confirm the district itself knows this. Yet it wants to use these new bond taxes to pour hundreds of millions of dollars into school building projects. The district, at pages B-3 (Measure H) and B-3 & B-4 (Measure I) list all of the existing schools, implying all are slated for new construction from bond taxes.

So this raises the question: Why is the district asking the taxpayers to pay for improvements to school sites it will likely need to close over the next few years? Or is the district not planning to spend the bond tax funds on some of these schools it will be forced to close due to declining enrollment? If this is the case, what is it really planning to do with these taxpayer funds?

Voters deserve straightforward answers on what CUSD intends to do with their bond taxes before they vote to place additional 30-year tax liens on their properties. Either the district is not planning properly or it is not being forthright with its constituents. 

Residents and taxpayers deserve better stewardship of their tax dollars. They deserve transparency from their local government school trustees and education bureaucrats. I urge you to vote No on Measures H and I.

For more information, go to nocusdbonds.com, capokidsfirst.com and on Facebook at Capo Kids First.

Learn more by attending the combined Chamber of Commerce Forum on this subject on Wednesday, Jan. 29 at 7 p.m. at the City of Laguna Niguel’s Community Room, 30111 Crown Valley Pkwy, Laguna Niguel, CA 92677.

Craig Alexander is a Dana Point resident, property owner and an attorney. He thanks the Dana Point Times and the San Clemente Times for allowing him to publish this guest column. 

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comments (10)

  • Good Lord… People who don’t know what they’re talking about need to be taken with a grain of salt, and this guy is no exception.

    Asbestos removal was on the 1999 bond measure because there was asbestos that needed to be removed. People who know ANYTHING about asbestos know that it is not dangerous unless exposed or disturbed. The 1999 bond was not intended to address all the asbestos in the district, and there was no need for it to do so. Since that time, now 20 years ago, more asbestos containing structures need asbestos abatement. This is not unusual or controversial, it’s a very basic reality that people with any experience with the subject will understand. This alone derails most of Craig’s specious argument.

    The author’s complaints about taxes are fun, but senseless on this subject. School funding is not relative to his or anyone’s personal income taxes, it’s set by a formula that the legislature put in place. That funding allocates no money to building upgrades. In California, upgrades and new buildings can come from Mello Roos in new developments and in older communities from bonds. There are a couple other options, such as using funds from the sale of real estate, but that’s not sustainable. That’s about it.

    Voting no on a school bond because your income taxes are high is like starving your kids because your brother is fat. Use your heads, please. Kids are depending on it.

    In most parts of the country, schools are funded by property taxes. That’s barely the case here, the district depends on residents for upgrades and new buildings, and they do that with facilities bonds.

    Craig’s understanding of the bonds is clearly very limited. They pay for major overhauls at only the areas 3 high schools, which will certainly NOT close. Only high priority repairs and upgrades will be done as the areas middle and elementary schools, where declining enrollment might have an effect.

    I’m a San Clemente resident, and I’ve heard from students who have watched ceiling tiles fall on their classmates. The school is literally falling down around our kids, and Craig wants to whine about his taxes going up just a hair. I’m more than happy to pay my share of this badly needed bond.

    I’ll bet I can scrounge together Craig’s, too. He has no skin in the game, and is happy to screw over the kids of his friends and neighbors to save around $125 a year. I can’t imagine it’s about the money, so it must be ideological…

    If he’s informed, (TLDR, it doesn’t look that way) he knows that the leadership in the district has changed since Measure M. He should know that a Facilities and Finance Advisory Committee, composed of residents from all over the district, including both supporters and opposers of Measure M, have been involved in it’s creation and are proud to put have put it forward in partnership with the district they advise. He should know that the repairs and upgrades needed are detailed in the Kitchell report, the independent assessment of the facility needs of the district by a respected construction firm.

    He should know that the law prohibits facilities bonds money from being used to pay teachers and administration staff. He should know that the details he claims are missing are available.

    He should also know that there will be a citizens oversight committee, and he if he thinks he can get his knowledge to match his passion, he should consider joining it.

  • I will not deal with all of Mr. Bill K’s nonfactual arguments or insults. If you wish to go to the links in this article or at OC Political with more links to backup articles and documents to prove my points, I believe you will find them helpful. As for the asbestos issue – Bill’s argument is dodging the point. The District in Measure A promised to abate asbestos. Now they want more of our tax dollars to pay for the same thing. Taxpayers have a right to ask why we are being asked to pay for the same thing twice. The District needs to be fiscally responsible not ask voters to pay for their fiscal and budgeting failures.

    • Craig, you need to read the comment. I already explained how you’re completely wrong on the asbestos subject. It’s not the same thing. Ask people who know stuff about asbestos abatement. My offer to talk with you in person is on the table. I can’t make the event tomorrow evening, as I have another commitment, but I hope you’ll avoid embarrassment by steering clear of the asbestos issue. I think most people know a little more about it, or at least can be quickly informed.

  • If people can’t afford to live here, pay their taxes, and support the local schools, they should move to somewhere more affordable. Or, well, that’s what I hear people say all the time regarding others who struggle to keep up with the costs of living in San Clemente.

  • Vote NO on Measure H and Measure I and Prop 13. Here’s why:

    1. We ALREADY taxed ourselves before to fix our schools. Instead, CUSD spent $5mil on a new office building.
    2. If we tax ourselves here locally, Sacramento will just use that as an excuse to give us less money. So, we pay more taxes and end up with nothing.

  • It is obvious that there are differences of opinion about Measure H and I. they are a tax equal to 0.031 percent of your assessed property value. If you just bought a $1 million house, that is $310 per year. But for the average homeowner, the tax is less than half that amount because tax-assessed values are limited by the original Prop 13.

    We can be reasonably certain that the school district will not misuse Measure H and I money. Because the geographic areas of Measure H and I are so small, the number of eligible schools is small. Through a series of public meetings and workshops, the school district has formulated a plan to focus the spending on the biggest facility of them all within the authorized area — the high schools. and one middle school. Lesser amounts will be spent at the other local urgent renovation and modernization.

    The law prevents CUSD from spending these funds for any purpose other than facilities. The district already spends about $40 million each year on regular maintenance, but this money does stretch far enough to fix facilities that have worn out.

    For anyone who doubts that the school district will build anything, please examine the new structure that features 24 new modern classrooms. And if you still doubt it, drive out to Tesoro High School and look at their similar 22 classroom structure completed just last year. And the $5 million renovations at Ambuehl Elementary School in San Juan Capistrano, completed last summer. These projects were also supported by people living in Mello Roos areas, as well as by developer fees.

    If you doubt the district’s commitment to fiscal restraint, I would invite you to carefully examine its management of Mello Roos districts since 2014. That year, the school board slashed Mello-Roos fees to the bare minimum necessary to repay debt, and further reduced property assessments by aggressively refinancing remaining debt at lower interest rates. Millions of dollars in interest have been saved, resulting in still lower annual Mello Roos fees. In taking these actions, the only benefit to the school district has been to its reputation. The district received no financial benefit.

    For people who cry that the district should borrow money, it should be noted that CUSD borrows money in the municipal bond marketplace, and we pay interest rates below 2 percent. In fact, the interest rate paid by the district is less than the annual cost-of-living index for this area, so adjusted for inflation, this borrowing is essentially free.

    People opposed to Measure H and I argue that CUSD should be spending its “own” money. This is laughable. As a public agency, CUSD has no money of its own. Every penny we spend is raised in the form of taxes from the public. CUSD is “public education”. The service is free to anyone. We spend our tax receipts on the students we serve. To do this, we hire about 4100 people each year to teach, supervise, serve food, transport, and protect students. CUSD is the largest employer in this region, we operate the largest bus fleet, and we operate the largest industrial kitchen. We open 56 schools each morning and welcome over 48,000 students who pay nothing.

    Yet we operate free schools like that are competitive with local private schools that feature tuition at or near $30,000 annually.

    The opponents of Measure H and I would ask that CUSD “set money aside” from its current income, that CUSD should “save up” for renovation and modernization. To do so would be irresponsible and unfair. It is irresponsible for the school district to diminish the education of current students in favor of future modernization. It is also unfair that communities that are paying for new schools (Talega, Ladera, Las Flores, Whispering Hills, Pacific San Juan, Rancho Madrina, Sendero, Escencia) through Mello Roos and developer fees see their child’s education diminished to support renovation and modernization in the older areas of the district. These commumities wouldn’t tolerate it.

    Voters have a choice with Measure H and I. These measures are on the ballot as a question. Shall taxpayers contribute to modernizing local schools? Will local schools remain competitive, safe, and attractive to new families?

    To me, the answer to that question is obvious, and it is merely a matter of how the community finances the need. Measures H and I are CUSD’s response. A proposal to solve local problems locally.

  • Craig blocked me from his No on Bonds propaganda and un-informed nonsense Facebook page. Rookie move, Craig. Now I’ll be have to share screenshots of the page and share it, which won’t give him a notification. He won’t have an opportunity to rebut the facts. Need to look a step ahead, Craig.

  • Bill (Mr. Insult) – you need to get your facts straight. The site you refer to is a Facebook page run by the No on Measure M folks regarding a Saddleback Valley USD bond tax measure. I do not have admin rights on that site. But I will say those folks have good taste if they blocked you Mr. Troll.

  • Thank goodness for a voice of reason!

  • Final vote count from the ROV’s office: No on Measure H: 12,318 (55.84%) Yes 9,741. No on Measure I: 24,888 (54.23%) Yes 21,005. Yes votes needed for the bond tax measures to pass: 55%. Result – Measure H & I defeated by about the same margin as in 2016 regarding Measure M. Message to Board of Trustees and Senior Staff at CUSD: we are taxed enough already! Change your budget priorities.

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