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Update: The article was updated on Feb. 12 with two corrections, found at the end. 

With no time left to agree on an alternative, Gov. Jerry Brown made it official on Thursday: He will oppose a $9 billion school construction bond that a coalition of school districts and school developers has placed on the November election ballot.

Brown called the bond initiative “a blunderbuss effort that promotes sprawl and squanders money that would be far better spent in low-income communities,” in a statement on Thursday.

Brown previously had called for an end to state funding of bonds for school construction in line with his commitment to lower the state’s long-term debt. But at a press conference on the proposed 2016-17 state budget last month, he said he’d be willing to discuss placing a smaller bond than $9 billion on the June primary election ballot as long as it also changed the formula and process for distributing money to school districts.

Brown administration officials and representatives of the Coalition for Adequate School Housing, or CASH, sponsors of the initiative, had been negotiating on an alternative measure, but were unable to reach an agreement, Rick Simpson, deputy chief of staff for the Speaker of the Assembly Toni Atkins, said on Friday. The deadline for passing a measure to put on the June ballot is Tuesday, and there are no plans to bring a plan to a vote before then, he said.

Voters last passed a state-funded construction bond in 2006. The state has run out of money to hand out, with about $2 billion dollars worth of state-approved district projects waiting for funding. Under CASH’s initiative, about $2 billion would be dedicated to community colleges and the rest divided among K-12 districts, charter schools and technical education partnerships. It would continue the requirement for a local match, with the state paying dollar for dollar for new construction projects and 60 percent of the cost of modernization and renovation projects.

CASH’s initiative has strong support; backers include the State Building and Construction Trades Council of California, the California Chamber of Commerce, more than 100 school boards and State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson. But Brown’s strong condemnation of the plan will make it harder to pass. Voters have approved $35 billion worth of state-funded bonds since 1998, but all of those measures were placed on the ballot by the Legislature, with governors’ support.

In a statement, David Walrath, spokesman for the Coalition for Adequate School Housing, said, “California is facing at least $20 billion in projected school facilities needs over the next decade, and we have sponsored this bond to make sure school districts can continue to partner with the state to create quality learning environments for all students.”

Brown has called for reforming the formula for handing out the state’s share of construction costs, which is now done on a first-come, first served basis. That system favors wealthy districts and big districts, like Los Angeles Unified, with large facilities staff who can get the applications done quickly, according to the administration.

In his 2015 budget summary, Brown called for limiting state construction support to districts with the greatest financial need. He suggested raising the statutory limit on a how property owners can be taxed for school bonds, relative to a property’s assessment. And he proposed increasing fees that primarily housing developers pay and for making them uniform. Under state law, developers can be charged fees for school construction, based on the impact that their new homes will have on schools.

In November, the Center for Cities + Schools in the Institute of Urban and Regional Development at UC Berkeley released an analysis of the school construction program that also called for changes in the formula to provide more money for low-income, low-property-wealth districts. But the wording of CASH’s initiative prohibits the Legislature from modifying the language and the terms of its initiative.

Corrections: An earlier version of the article incorrectly stated that CASH had agreed to withdraw its initiative as a condition of a potential compromise. CASH reports this was not so. Also, while many individual district school boards have endorsed the initiative, the California School Boards Association had not taken a position. 


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  1. Manuel 6 months ago6 months ago

    Aside from what Mr. Steinberg tells us about districts with serious problems with their bond usage, who could forget John Deasy fooling the LAUSD Board into approving the beginning of his iPads-for-all program (including leasing software) funded by school construction and renovation bonds all because the lawyers gave him a fig leaf even though common sense tells us that the idea can't possibly be legal? With tales like that, how can we trust a proposition that … Read More

    Aside from what Mr. Steinberg tells us about districts with serious problems with their bond usage, who could forget John Deasy fooling the LAUSD Board into approving the beginning of his iPads-for-all program (including leasing software) funded by school construction and renovation bonds all because the lawyers gave him a fig leaf even though common sense tells us that the idea can’t possibly be legal?

    With tales like that, how can we trust a proposition that is backed by all the Usual Suspects that benefit from a big-ticket construction program?

    I don’t.

  2. Ben Steinberg 6 months ago6 months ago

    Bond-funded school construction programs are running into serious problems all over the state. There needs to be a stronger, independent external oversight or the a well-intentioned program can help to fuel fraud, waste, and abuse a school district. As just one example, the Board of Directors for the West Contra Costa Unified School District (WCCUSD) voted last month to conduct an independent forensic audit for the district's $1.6 billion bond funded school construction program. … Read More

    Bond-funded school construction programs are running into serious problems all over the state. There needs to be a stronger, independent external oversight or the a well-intentioned program can help to fuel fraud, waste, and abuse a school district.

    As just one example, the Board of Directors for the West Contra Costa Unified School District (WCCUSD) voted last month to conduct an independent forensic audit for the district’s $1.6 billion bond funded school construction program. After years of rumors about massive waste, fraud, and abuse, a whistleblower made very specific and well detailed allegations that mobilized the local community and eventually forced the District to take an independent forensic audit.

    There are other Districts in the state of California that have also experienced significant problems with waste, fraud, or abuse – including Poway, Sweetwater, Fresno, and Pasadena. Prop. 39 requirements for a Citizens’ Bond Oversight Committee have failed to establish sufficient checks due to a lack of resources and the ability of the District to pack the CBOCs with supporters.

    Before any statewide level bonds should be passed for schools, a better system to rein in excessive construction costs as well as potential waste, fraud, and abuse must be first established.

  3. John Marshall 6 months ago6 months ago

    But he will support the high-speed ” train to nowhere”….go figure!

  4. Swavaise 6 months ago6 months ago

    Is there data available that shows this assertion about the existing school facilities program is true? "Brown has called for reforming the formula for handing out the state’s share of construction costs, which is now done on a first-come, first served basis. That system favors wealthy districts and big districts, like Los Angeles Unified, with large facilities staff who can get the applications done quickly." This seems to be the common wisdom of the day for any … Read More

    Is there data available that shows this assertion about the existing school facilities program is true?

    “Brown has called for reforming the formula for handing out the state’s share of construction costs, which is now done on a first-come, first served basis. That system favors wealthy districts and big districts, like Los Angeles Unified, with large facilities staff who can get the applications done quickly.”

    This seems to be the common wisdom of the day for any program that doesn’t explicitly call out priority funding for schools with higher concentrations of low income families, but it would be nice to see the supporting information that backs it up.

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