Guest View: With Measure A, evaluate the need
Measure A, an improvement bond proposed to repair and upgrade the facilities and schools of the Lake Tahoe Unified School District, will appear on the ballot Tuesday. For those still uncertain in which direction to cast their vote, they should start by evaluating the need.
At its essence, a bond measure claims there is need. The voter who concludes a bond issue is important to them (or their community) must decide if they believe the need is real. If the issue is deemed worthy and the need genuine, the focus then shifts to the actual structure of the bond: Will it adequately provide for the needs? Will the revenues (taxes) be generated fairly, without undue burden? Will there be proper oversight, reasonably ensuring that the objectives of the bond are carried out as contemplated? Finally, for the dollars invested by each taxpayer (and everyone can go through this exercise), does the bond offer “good value”? Will the improvements to the schools and benefits to the community provide a satisfactory return on the taxpayer’s investment?
When considering the issue, the repair and modernization of local schools, Measure A clearly falls into a category that most voters are predisposed to support. That category, the basic essentials of all functional communities, includes issues relating to fire, life, safety, health and education. Measure A, on its surface, is a bond that most of us would want to support.
What of the needs that Measure A speaks to? The bond states a need to extensively renovate and improve the LTUSD schools and facilities, i.e., health, safety and traffic upgrades, student security systems, electrical and fire alarm upgrades (required by law), implement energy and environmental cost efficiencies and conservation, lake water-quality improvements, replace portables with permanent classrooms, upgrade classrooms, technology and physical education facilities such as career technical education programs, library/media centers and student activity spaces.
So, are these needs real? In a word, yes. While the facilities staff does their collective best to repair and maintain our schools, the buildings are old and outdated (ranging in age from 35 to 59 years) and in need of significant repairs and improvements. But don’t take just anyone’s word for this. Each voter, undecided or not, should take the time (about an hour) to evaluate the needs for themselves. Drop in on any of the four elementary schools, the middle school or the high school. Ask for a look around. Decide for yourself how significant the needs are, as this should be fundamental to your decision-making process.
Finally, what does a review of the bond’s structure reveal? The impartial counsel for El Dorado County, in summary, states, “If approved, LTUSD would be authorized to sell up to $87 million in bonds, to be used only for the construction, reconstruction and/or rehabilitation of school facilities” (then goes on to detail the improvement projects outlined above). The bond further states, “the school district will conduct an annual, independent performance audit (to ensure bond proceeds are spent accordingly), will conduct an annual, independent financial audit and will establish an independent citizens’ oversight committee.”
The cost to the taxpayers is $38.70 per $100,000 of assessed (not appraised) value of taxable property within the district. The median assessed value this year is $188,770. This amounts to a median tax of $73.05 per year ($38.70 multiplied by 1.8877), or the cost of a modestly priced dinner on the town for two.
So, there’s an objective view of Measure A. Now, for a few personal comments:
As of this June, my wife and I will no longer have children in the school district and therefore would derive no direct personal benefit from the passing of Measure A. In 2004, I adamantly opposed Measure L (good issue, real needs, bad parcel tax). I believe Measure A gets it right. The measure addresses real, essential needs with a fair tax formula and significant public oversight. It will stimulate our economy and attract families with kids to our town (a good thing). Most urgently, there is $15 million available in matching state funds, which if we don’t grab (yes, grab) now, with this election, will be gone forever. In light of the current state budget crisis, does anyone really believe matching school improvement dollars, of this magnitude, will be available again any time soon? I don’t.
Of note, very few of those who oppose Measure A (singular in voice and largely comprising the usual naysayers) have contested the issue or the need (none of them effectively). Most bothersome, for a school district with such grave needs, these opponents have offered no alternatives or vision for its future.
So, does Measure A provide “good value”? In my opinion, absolutely. For all the foreseeable benefits, I’ll gladly forego each year my “modestly priced dinner on the town for two.”
– Peter Grant is a 28-year resident of South Lake Tahoe and co-founder of STAT (Support Tahoe Athletic Teams).