Election 2014: Discussing pros, cons of Measure U | SierraSun.com

Election 2014: Discussing pros, cons of Measure U

Margaret Moran
mmoran@sierrasun.com

TRUCKEE, Calif. — Tax rate, allocation of funds and need for facility upgrades in the Tahoe Truckee Unified School District were among topics discussed at a Measure U debate Thursday at Town Hall.

Measure U is a $114 million general obligation bond to finance school campus and building improvements in the Truckee area that will be on the Nov. 4 ballot.

TTUSD estimates the maximum tax rate for the bond is $48.25 per $100,000 of assessed property value. Taxpayers would pay off the bond over 33 years.

To pass, the measure needs 55 percent support in the general election from registered voters within TTUSD.

A similar measure (Measure E) is proposed to finance improvements for the district's lakeside schools, but Truckee voters will not vote on that measure.

Below is a sampling of comments from TTUSD board president Kim Szczurek, proponent of Measure U, and CEO of Charter Schools Development Center Eric Premack, opponent, presented in random order:

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On guaranteeing the $48.25 per $100,000 rate will not change …

Premack: The $48 estimate is an estimate, and in order to make that estimate, whoever did it has to make a bunch of assumptions about when are the bonds sold, what's the interest rate in the market at that time, and a number of other factors that if anyone else could project those, we'd be on Wall Street making a lot of money. So the answer is nobody knows. It could be higher, it could be lower. I fear it could get higher and significantly higher.

Szczurek: The answer is no. We can't guarantee it, but what we can do is do everything we can up-front, and I feel like we have to be as conservative as possible, to try to give the maximum amount that we feel the taxpayers can pay … One example, we used twice the interest rate that we would expect to pay at least initially. We used half of the average assessed evaluation growth, including the recessionary period that we just gone through. Mr. Premack is absolutely correct, not a guarantee, but we feel that we've taken as many possible steps as we could to make that be the high end estimate.

On bond funds going to pay teachers' salaries …

Szczurek: If you read section 3a of the resolution, it says, "Proceeds of the sale of the bond shall only be used for the purposes set forth in the ballot measure and not for any other purpose, including teacher and administrator salaries and other district operating expenses." Now, Mr. Premack may rightly point out that later on it does talk about that if district folks work directly on the capital projects, their pay maybe capitalized within those projects — that's a very common practice, but it's going to go to bricks and mortar, technology, etc.

Premack: … What gives me great concern is that the language, the short piece you actually see when you go into booth to vote, says "no funds for administrator salaries," but she just acknowledged that some funds can go for administrator salaries and you only find that out if you read deeply into the measure. I feel like they haven't been entirely straight with the district voters, particularly in the key verbiage the voters look at when they go into the ballot booth.

On building safety and next steps should the bond not pass …

Premack: I don't know enough to know exactly how the district would respond if it doesn't pass. I would suspect they would have to significantly increase their general fund spending on facilities maintenance. I think it's important to understand that while Truckee High was built in the '50s and parts of it are very well aged, and I do not dispute there are many maintenance needs in this district, there were additions to that facility in 1958, '63, '72, '74, '86. It was renovated in '92, again in 2004. There were classrooms added in '85 and '92. They added a cafeteria in 2005. Two science classrooms in 2005 and a 12,000-square-foot gym in 2006, so it's not like we haven't been investing in these facilities. …

Szczurek: The short answer is no. We would never put the children in a facility that we didn't feel was safe. … Have we already addressed through general fund expenditures safety? Yes. We just spent well over $1 million of general fund funds to upgrade and completely redo the communication system along the Donner Pass Road corridor. So are they safe? Yes.

On the importance of upgrading schools for equipping students for the 21st century …

Premack: I think it's extremely important, and I don't think that's the issue here. I think the issue here is how do we pay for it. Do we take a district that's already fantastically well funded, way above what a typical school district gets and has plenty of money to do all of that and more, or do we go to the taxpayers and go to the well again to get more money — that's the issue here.

Szczurek: Without engaging in hyperbole, I think it's very important. We are talking about preparing our kids for 21st century work and life, and technology is obviously a key part of that. … That's part of this plan. Every school will receive technology infrastructure as part of this plan.

EDITOR’S NOTE:

To learn more about Measure U (and Measure E, a similar bond measure that will be voted on by TTUSD residents living in Placer and El Dorado counties), visit Placer County Elections at placerelections.com/current-elections.aspx — once there, scroll down to “Measures on Ballot.”