By Maureen Robertson
With the support of four of its five members, Ramona Unified School District Board agreed to place a $40 million bond bid on the Nov. 4 ballot.
Trustee John Rajcic voted Present, saying he believes some of the ballot language is disingenuous.
Also in the special meeting, trustees approved a $49 million spending plan for the 2014-15 budget year that started July 1 and a Local Control and Accountability Plan setting goals for students. In addition, they endorsed the San Francisco firm of Jones Hall as bond counsel and hired the investment firm of Edward Jones as bond underwriter.
"If approved by the voters this fall, the school bond would pay off a large district loan and support much-needed school repairs and renovations at every one of our 10 schools," Superintendent Robert Graeff, Ed.D., said in his written highlights of the meeting.
Attorney William Kadi with Jones Hall reviewed specifics of the resolution and the ballot language, including a list of district projects.
Cori McDonald, Ramona Teachers Association president, voiced her support for the bond, saying, "I completely understand in the past where there's hesitation for a school bond in Ramona." Teachers had not taken cuts, she said, but "I think we all recognized the need to take those cuts and have been willing to do so...I would hope that we can be united, put the unified in Ramona Unified"
so "the community understands we've taken the necessary steps, we've done all of the things we can do, and we still have a need."
Trustee Bob Stoody agreed with resident Mischa Dobrotin that the proposal needs to state that the district's loan in the form of certificates of participation (COP) will be paid. He recommended the following be added: "Prior to the final expenditure of bond proceeds from this bond measure, all of the district's outstanding lease payments on real property and related certificates shall be paid in full with bond proceeds or other sources of available funding."
According to the district, payment on the $25 million loan a previous board approved in 2004 would be about $32 million if paid today.
"I think it's pretty clear with this new language that, before you spend the last of that $40 million, these COPs would be paid off with bond proceeds or with other money," said Kadi.
Stoody and Rajcic mentioned the sale of district property and developer fees as other possible funding sources.
The trustees also agreed to eliminate "striping and restriping" from the bond project list, include the lower Barnett Elementary playground on the list, add the COP sentence, and direct Graeff to refine the 75-word ballot statement to add "committee" to "independent citizens' oversight."
Rajcic called the 75-word statement disingenuous, specifically "no money for employee salaries."
"It frees up the general fund to pay employees," he said. "That is the basic thrust of this, because 85 percent of our budget goes to salaries. So why aren't we honest and up front about this? ... Funds are fungible. The general fund will be freed up eventually by $32 million and those funds are not restricted as to use."
Board president Dawn Perfect said she believes it is important that voters understand "that the intent of this bond is not to give
everyone a raise. It is to take care of our facilities and our outstanding debt."