Prop. R failed, so what is next?

Donna Braye-Romero, president of the Ramona Teachers Association, submitted this on behalf of Ramona’s teachers.

In the wake of November’s election, public schools and the communities they serve came out winners. That is true, to some extent, in Ramona.   Fortunately, the passage of Proposition 30 restores stable funding to schools for the next seven years. However, Proposition R, the local school bond, did not pass. Of the 15,279 votes cast, the required 55% fell short by a mere 671 “Yes” votes.

Failure to pass a school bond is generally not positive, but here in Ramona, the failure of Prop. R is devastating and brings with it serious consequences.

In the last election, 80% of the 108 school bonds proposed in California met the 55% requirement, and many exceeded 60% and 70% voter approval.  Some districts have even passed two or three bonds over the last 10 to 15 years.

Bonds are a necessary part of every school district’s finances. As schools grow older, they must be upgraded and/or rebuilt. The state will provide some matching funds, but only when the community passes a bond. Good, safe schools are essential for a thriving community. Take a look at public schools in San Diego County. What we offer our children pales in comparison.

If you do not know, a previous RUSD administration and school board took out a large loan in 2004 after voters rejected a bond. With this money, they built two beautiful new schools and improved existing facilities before years of declining enrollment. This is putting the cart before the horse. Approximately $25 million was borrowed, but with interest it amounts to $55 million. This was borrowed and spent without community support and without first securing funds to repay the loan.

Developer fees, a product of the building boom, have been used to make initial payments on the loan but will no longer exist as of 2014. Starting in 2014 the district’s general fund will be the only source available to make these loan payments.  Money allocated to your children’s education will be redirected to pay off the loan. The first year payment of $702,000 quickly jumps to over $1 million the following year, and eventually exceeds $3 million a year. By the time the loan is paid off in 2032 $44 million will have been taken from your children and their children’s education.

Don’t worry, the district administration and school board have a plan! They would force school employees to pay for the loan in the form of excessive pay cuts. This is neither economically feasible nor fair. Don’t be fooled by the school board and superintendent. If employees were forced to pay off this loan, they would suffer greatly.

The ultimate losers would be our children and community. Highly qualified educators will not want to teach or work in Ramona. Based on the academic scores in Ramona, there are quite a few highly qualified teachers. Teaching salaries are already lower in Ramona compared to the rest of San Diego County. Eighteen years of very large cuts, while other district’s teachers are getting salary increases, will lead to a mass exodus of quality educators. Over the years, the workforce that made our schools award winning (Distinguished Schools, School To Watch, Blue Ribbon, etc.) and respected in the greater San Diego community, will disappear.  RUSD will become a district to avoid for teachers seeking employment and for potential families moving to the community.  Ramona will no longer be a place parents want to bring heir children. This guarantees the death of a community.

In order to pass a school bond, we must be upfront with the Ramona electorate. Though we desperately need upgraded facilities and updated technology, a new bond should only raise enough money to pay off the loan during these difficult economic times. This will greatly reduce the size of the bond, making it much more palatable to voters. As a result the bond would stop draining needed dollars from the children’s education.

The community suggestion to have contractors help with some district facility improvements, which would have been addressed under Prop. R, would be helpful. However, contractors can’t repay the loan. Only a bond can tackle the repayment of the loan starting in 2014.

Teachers recognize times are tough and we are willing to contribute by taking a reasonable pay cut. But the district’s position is totally out of line with what is comparable in other districts in the county. We want what is best for our students.

At the last school board meeting and again during mediation, the school board stated that they may no longer be interested in passing a bond. But hopefully that perspective will change after the effects of losing Prop. R fade and reality sets in.

The school board has a fiduciary responsibility to protect the district it is entrusted to serve. Instead of trying to make employees pay for the loan, school board members should be advocating for their employees. The school board and administration need to work collaboratively with teachers if a bond is to be passed. We hope that is a lesson that has been learned. The decision to have employees shoulder the burden of the loan shows a lack of respect for the people who work for the children of Ramona.

Ramona’s teachers share a positive relationship with, you, our community. Together, we can overcome this fiscal crisis. We can pass a bond in Ramona.

Newly elected member John Rajcic Sr. will take his seat on the board soon and will hopefully bring a fresh perspective to the board, to move us forward and save our school district.  Mr. Rajcic and the board can work with district employees to collaborate and compromise and make our school district the best ever. If we can, Ramona’s children, and the Ramona community, will be the winners.

   
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