A look at Ramona school district finances

Editor’s Note: Ramona resident Mischa Dobrotin shared the following with Ramona school trustees at a recent meeting.

By Mischa Dobrotin

The following are my thoughts on the school board finances.

The school board is again discussing a bond issue. Five times the school board has tried to pass a bond issue, and all five have failed.

The last one, in 2012, was among these failures. Contributing to its failure was the inclusion of such things as maintenance costs, computer purchases, computer wiring, in addition to the payoff of the COP (certificate of participation, a loan) a previous board had incurred.

Although a number of items were listed, no individual line item costs were presented to the people of Ramona. Basically, the board said, “Give us $66 million and we will spend it.” Nor was any way really allowed for public monitoring of the expenditures.

The school board has a high hill to climb before it can convince the people of Ramona to fund a bond issue. And there are several hurdles along the way.

The first one stems from the COP itself. A previous board tried to have a bond issue passed for a new school, but the people of Ramona turned it down. Instead of listening to the people, the board snuck in the COP. This leads to an inherent distrust in the school board that needs to be overcome.

A second hurdle is the deferred maintenance problem. Why is there such a backlog?

A third hurdle is the exclusion of any short term items from the bond issue. The service life of computers is too short to commit the community to a bond issue including computers.

I believe I heard at the last board meeting a statement that the community has to sell the school board on a bond issue. This is putting the cart before the horse. The school board must convince the Ramona community at large that a bond issue is essential, not only those members of the community who have students in the Ramona district schools.

The bond issue needs to be very well described to the community at large and must spell out the benefits to the community. It needs to be very specific on what it will fund, and fund only long-term items.

Essentially, it should be limited to paying for the COP.

It needs to have definitive line items presented, defined and defended. It needs to have an independent community audit committee, with power to restrict expenditures to the designated line items. And the school board must sell the entire Ramona community on the bond issue. If the school board expects the community to sell the school board on the bond issue, it will again fail.

Another item that needs to be explored is why is there a decline in enrollment in Ramona schools? Is it because there is a belief that the schools are inadequate? Are people being priced out of this area?

What about the various residential construction projects being proposed? Will they help?

This decline needs to be reversed. A sales effort needs to be established to sell the Ramona schools as a great place to enroll students. My thought is the real estate community of Ramona and the Ramona Chamber of Commerce would be of great help in this effort.

Perhaps another solution to think about is selling the community on a parcel tax to pay off the COP — and maybe the repair problems.

Mischa Dobrotin, a retired engineer, is a 1951 Ramona High School graduate.

Related posts:

  1. School finances topic of community workshop
  2. Greater transparency needed at Ramona school district
  3. School district’s dilemma is community’s dilemma
  4. District declares impasse in teacher talks
  5. School district needs community support

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Posted by Maureen Robertson on Nov 8 2013. Filed under Commentary. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

8 Comments for “A look at Ramona school district finances”

  1. Guest

    You hit on some very good points. It think the bottom line is the community does not trust either the current RUSD administration nor the board to look out for our best interests. Again, there is a 21% decrease in ADA according to the Sentinel. If this is true, it suggests that we have a surplus of school sites. And yet, no serious talk about consolidating/closing one of the schools. There are options available to RUSD that, while not the total solution, will at least go a long way toward restoring trust that the district is willing to look at options other than to tax their way out of the problems they have created. To date, I have not heard of any serious consideration being put forth on these measures. In all fairness, I was unable to attend the latest board meeting, but given that we have had issues for years with no serious cost cutting discussions, I would be surprised if they suddenly started.

  2. Jane Tanaka MD

    Agree with Mischa that deferred maintenance back log is a problem, and that proactive planning years or decades ahead need to be done for the school district overall. Reactive spending only for repairs will keep OSHA away, but little else. As many agree with Mischa that deferred maintenance doesnt belong on a bond, and given the back log of problems impacting the health and safety of our students, this would suggest that an other sources of funding are needed. Several years go the State of California put a temporarily hold on giving out extra funds to districts with extreme deferred maintenance problems. This was supposed to be reinstated in July 2013 , but it was not.

  3. Jane Tanaka MD

    This leaves school districts with difficult choices regarding what to do with aging schools. Bulldozer them, sell them for land, and herd students into more crowded campuses? Or repair, recycle, rehabilitate, and hopefully attract more families to move to the district based on these improvements? IF one were to consider the latter, it would be inferred that the community would have a vested interest in such rehabiliation, while keeping a vigilant eye on the decision making of the goverance committee ( superintendent and school board) . IF one were to consider the latter, then industries offering grants would be approached, and non profit groups would step forward to lead other fundraising efforts. IF this were to be pursued, It would also require the rebuilding of trust between community and governance committee, perhaps toiling side by side on Saturdays and Sundays on school grounds to get the work done that the budget cannot cover.
    Obviously it would be far easier for trust not to be rebuilt.Simpler. Less work. Less worry.

    • Guest

      Agreed on much of what you've said, but lets not lose sight of the fact that the burden of rebuilding trust lies with RUSD and the board, not the other way around.

      • Jane Tanaka MD

        Disagree with you, Guest. Trust goes both ways. … always.
        Even in trying to volunteer/ help, I need to build trust from my side, with both the Board/Administration… and even with the rest of the public. Nobody trusts volunteers these days….

        • Guest

          For the life of me, I cannot see where the Board or RUSD, both supposedly in existence for the sole purpose of serving the community, have any reason not to trust the community. Why wouldn't they trust us? Is it because we refuse to pony up more money for them to mismanage? They have done a pathetic job managing what they've been given in the past. Why would we trust them until they show us they are looking out for our tax dollars? When faced with financial difficulties their answer seems to always be to come to the community for more money. Is that worthy if our trust?

          I'm not exactly sure why you think trust goes both ways in this case. It is nice you want to volunteer to help reroof,etc. As for me, I'd prefer RUSD and the Board do the job they were hired and elected to do. If they are unwilling or unable, then perhaps it is time the community finds people who can do the job.

  4. Jane Tanaka MD

    Thinking more about the difference in how I think of trust always being mutual , and your view of trust being more of a one sided burden, I think that the Asian understanding of trust is inherently mutual… even if one person is higher stature, or role or responsibility/obligation , and the other person is the one asking for expecting/asking/depending on the other. The Kanji or Chinese characters that make up the word TRUST is made of two kanji. One conveys the person asking "tanomu" to ask and have faith in the other, and the other character conveys the person promising and following through. One without the other, there is no true trust… at least from the Asian point of view.

  5. Guest

    That's great, but we're not in Asia. RUSD and the Board have violated the trust of their constituency. They have made the poor business decisions. They continually ask us to provide them additional funding at the expense of every property owner in the community. They have been unwilling to make the difficult decisions and continue to maintain the status quo. Take a look at the high school – there are numerous assistant principals and counselors. Do we really need them all? Why so many assistant superintendents? We have 21% LESS students in the district. Do we really need the same number of schools and administrative staff? In the private sector those issues are resolved or the company goes out of business. Tackle those difficult questions first, then we'll talk about trust. Until then, I view the administration as leeches, looking out for THEIR best interests, not ours.

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