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.

   
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