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School bonds fail to total up

School bonds fail to total up

School bonds passed by Tulare County voters in the November 2012 election, including Lindsay’s Measure L, may not have been adequately described to property owners who will pay for them.

In its Final Report for 2012-13, the Tulare County Grand Jury found that “voters do not receive adequate information to make informed decisions when voting on school bonds.” The report states information published in the November 2012 Voters Election Ballot Pamphlet only provided the face value of the bonds and did not include interest, fees or others costs that will be incurred over the 30- to 50-year life of the bonds. Prior to the November 2012 election, County school districts had accumulated a total-value bond indebtedness of $633 million, including all additional fees, taxes and associated costs of the original bonds.

“Future generations of homeowners or property owners will be required to pay these bonds and all associated costs derived from their issuance and sale,” states the report.

Since 1998, there have been 91 school bonds passed by voters the last of which will not mature until approximately 2048. School bond measures passed in the November election were:

• Measure E – A $60.1 million Visalia Unified School District bond to build a new middle school to relieve overcrowding, repair/replace roofs at existing schools, make schools handicap accessible and update science labs, etc.

• Measure H – A $3.6 million Earlimart School District bond to modernize, construct and improve classrooms with computers and technology and to enhance student safety.

• Measure J – A $90 million Porterville Unified School District bond to replace portables with permanent classrooms, make school sites more energy efficient, increase student technology, build a pool at Strathmore High School.

• Measure K – A $40 million Kings Canyon Unified School District bond to repair school facitlies and community joint-use facilities including bathrooms, roofs, fire safety, libraries, technology, energy efficiency, handicap accessibility and vocational education opportunites.

• Measure L – A $16 million Lindsay Unified School District bond to modernize classroom technology, upgrade energy efficiency and repair its aging school sites.

The report does not include any specific measures and doesn’t even require responses from any of the aforementioned school districts. Instead, the Grand Jury states the Tulare County Board of Education and the Tulare County Auditor-Controller are responsible for providing voters with more accurate information about the additional costs associated with the face value of the bonds.

“Failure to provide complete monetary information to the electorate of Tulare County prior to any bond election may demonstrate a lack of good financial stewardship,” the report states.

The report recommends the Tulare County Board of Education provide an estimate of the potential costs of the proposed bonds to the Auditor-Controller prior to the publication of voter pamphlets. The report also recommends the Auditor-Controller publish the estimates of bond indebtedness in the Voter Information Pamphlets and in the local media prior to any election.

The report notes there are no laws requiring disclosure of the total bond indebtedness of school districts but not including them “may be potentially harmful monetarily to future generations of property owners.”

For more information on the 2012-2103 Final Report, contact the Tulare County Grand Jury at 559-624-7295.

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