By Patricia Holloway, member of the Capistrano Unified School District Board, representing Trustee Area 3 (San Clemente)
When I was elected to the school board in 2016, I saw firsthand from my years as a parent volunteer and substitute teacher that our students were receiving an outstanding education in San Clemente schools.
What I didn’t understand was why our children were being taught in such inferior facilities, with leaky roofs, no air conditioning, inadequate bathrooms, and jerry-rigged technology.
Our schools in San Clemente are old—really old. Las Palmas Elementary, where my daughter attended, was built by Ole Hanson more than 90 years ago. Concordia Elementary is 65, Shorecliffs Middle School is 43, and our beloved San Clemente High School, built in the 1960s, is a weary 55 years old.
Why then, when we live in affluent South Orange County with high property values and a well-educated population, are so many of our schools dilapidated and run down? And why is it that less affluent communities in Orange County and California have modern school campuses with the latest technology?
The short answer: Communities with modern facilities have passed school bonds.
In California, all school districts have two important, but separate pots of funding:
- Classroom Instruction – School districts receive state funding for classroom instruction (i.e., teachers, books, computers) based on the number and demographics of students enrolled. The Capistrano Unified School District receives $8,900 per student, the very low end of funding, because we have fewer low-income students and fewer children learning English.
- Facilities Improvements – School districts get no state funding to modernize existing older schools unless two things happen:
- Voters in the district pass a local school bond, and
- Voters in the state pass a statewide school bond.
The reality is that once ourschool district passes a localized bond measure, we’ll become eligible for state matching funds to help upgrade older schools. But we must make that local investment first.
In the past decade, 84% of California school districts have passed bonds. Closer to home, Tustin, Orange, Irvine and San Diego Unified School Districts have successfully passed bonds. Construction is underway in these communities, benefiting not only their schools but their local economies.
It’s a fact that out of 29 school districts in Orange County, CUSD has the lowest tax bond levy at under $8 per $100,000 of assessed property value, compared to $83/$100,000 at the high end, and an average assessment of $38/$100,000.
To remain competitive and to show students that we care about their physical environment, we must approve a school bond. To support our chance for approval, Capistrano Unified is learning from the past.
This includes following advice of the independent Facilities and Finance Committee, which includes members who opposed Measure M, the unsuccessful 2016 school bond. The Facilities Committee recommended these key improvements, which our school board recently adopted:
- Instead of a districtwide bond, propose a small regional bond measure only for San Clemente and Capistrano Beach. This means that funds raised here will be used to fix our neighborhood schools, not schools in Mission Viejo or San Juan Capistrano.
- Instead of a general list of improvements, conduct an engineering survey of every school to document and prioritize specific needs.
- Exclude Talega’s Mello-Roos District because residents there are still paying off school district bonds used to build Vista Del Mar, San Clemente’s newest elementary and middle schools.
- Appoint a local Citizen’s Oversight Committee to scrutinize all expenditures if the bond passes.
With these changes, it’s my sincere hope that San Clemente and Capo Beach residents will support a bond in March 2020. A positive vote is the only way to modernize San Clemente High and our neighborhood schools.
Patricia Holloway is a 30-year resident of San Clemente. She’s a member of the Capistrano Unified School District Board of Trustees, representing Trustee Area 3 (San Clemente). The views she expresses in this opinion are her own.