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By Shawn Raymundo

The Capistrano Unified School District’s proposed bond measure to provide funding for capital facility improvements could fail by a narrow margin in the March 2020 Primary Election, based on feedback from local voters.

Polling data collected by True North Research shows that 54 percent of those surveyed would vote in favor of a bond measure next year, falling one percent shy of passing, as bond measures must meet a 55-percent approval threshold.

True North President Tim McLarney presented the data to the Board of Trustees during a workshop meeting at CUSD headquarters on Wednesday, March 27. One of the biggest takeaways of the poll, he noted, was that it showed CUSD had made progress from its previous bond measure attempt.

In the 2016 General Election, an $889 million Measure M bond to upgrade schools in the district failed, receiving only 45 percent approval. McLarney suggested CUSD launch an aggressive outreach and education campaign if the board decides to move ahead with the 2020 bond measure.

CUSD spokesperson Ryan Burris said the data is encouraging because it shows the district has made progress in its efforts to communicate the facility needs of the school to parents and the community.

“To see 54 percent is encouraging in a way that we’re doing the right work about communicating with the city leadership, communicating with our families, communicating with our stakeholders and residents,” Burris said.

In late December, CUSD approved plans for True North to conduct the voter surveys and polls.

From Feb. 19-28, the research firm polled 671 district voters who were likely to participate in next year’s general and primary elections. Using a mixed-method approach, voters were polled over the phone, via email and also online.

During the polling, the firm conducted an “initial ballot test” to gauge the community’s support of the potential bond. A sample ballot question posed to the participants asked how they would vote on a measure to authorize “$152 million in bonds at legal rates, levying 4 cents per $100 assessed value ($9 million annually) for a period of 35 years.”

The sample ballot question used does not actually reflect what the potential bond measure could be in the next primary election.

Nearly 27 percent of the respondents said they would “probably” vote yes, and 27 percent said they would vote “definitely yes.” Close to 19 percent said they would “definitely” vote no and 15.5 percent said they would “probably” vote no. The remaining participants preferred not to answer or said they were “not sure.”

At the start of the poll, voters were first asked what issues of the community were most important to them. According to the data, 84 percent of those polled believed “improving the quality of education in our local public schools” to be either very important or extremely important.

Just over 70 percent of participants said “reducing homelessness” was important to them, and 70 percent also said “repairing and upgrading aging school facilities” was important. On the low end, 60 percent of respondents found “preventing local tax increases” to be extremely or very important, while 66 percent of them said, “protecting the environment” was important.

The poll also looked to see how much voters were willing to be taxed on their property. According to the responses, 40 percent of the voters would either vote “definitely yes,” or “probably yes” to paying $48 per $100,000 of their property value annually.

More voters responded positively to paying a lesser annual tax on their property value. When asked to pay $38 per $100,000 of their property value, “yes” responses increased to 44 percent, and when asked to only pay $28 per $100,000 on their property value, 50 percent said they’d “definitely” or “probably” vote yes.

When it came to the voters’ priorities in terms of the types of projects and improvements they’d prefer to see done, repairing or replacing leaky roofs, rusty plumbing and failing electrical systems ranked at the top of the list with 57.3 percent strongly in favor and 28.5 percent somewhat in favor.

Upgrading classrooms, science labs and technology to support math, science and engineering instruction was also ranked highly among the respondents, as such projects received a favorable 84.6 percent.

All but one of the proposed projects –they included upgrading labs and career training facilities, removing hazardous materials, replacing aging portable classrooms, and installing, repairing or replacing AC units in classrooms—received a favorable rating of at least 70 percent.

Only about 40 percent of the respondents said they favored a project to “build a 50-meter pool at San Clemente High School to support student health fitness, athletic programs.”

A second ballot test was also conducted after “positive arguments” were posed to the participants. The firm first listed several reasons why the bond measure is needed, such as noting that many of the schools are more than 50 years old and that upgrading schools with today’s technology would help kids succeed in college and find careers.

During the second ballot test, the amount of those who would vote either “definitely” or “probably” yes decreased to 53 percent, while “definitely” and “probably” no votes increased to 37 percent.

Respondents then listened to the “negative arguments” against the bond before participating in a “final ballot test.” Some of the “negative arguments” included interest on the bonds costing taxpayers about $300 million, “taking property owners more than 35 years to pay off,” and districts shouldn’t be trusted because it “will mismanage money or spend it on their own pet projects.”

According to the data from the “final ballot test,” 38 percent of respondents voted “definitely no” or “probably no,” and the “yes” votes decreased to 51 percent.

Burris said the board is likely to hold an additional workshop and presentation on the potential bond in the coming weeks so the district can come up with a plan of what the measure might look like should they decide to forge ahead.

The district, he said, doesn’t need to make a final decision on whether to introduce the measure until this December, but CUSD hopes a decision will be made sooner than that. Burris also said the district may conduct tracking polling in September or October to give CUSD a clearer picture of whether the bond has a chance of passing.

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