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LETTER TO THE EDITOR: Vote no on Measure J Nov. 8

Son of “J” (Measure J)

by Jim Young

Ah the Fall, the Ginkgos turning golden yellow, the Harvest Moon, the bright scarlet red apples on the, ”For the Children”, school bond, Yes on “J” posters placed strategically at off-ramps and intersections around town, supporting as they do, the rehabilitation of schools promised but yet undone. Fall in West County, it’s a beautiful thing, sortta.

But first, a multiple choice test. Pick the quotation below that is true.
A) “Those who do not know history are condemned to repeat it”, George Santayana.
B) “The only thing we learn from history is that we learn nothing from history”, Oscar Wilde.
Answer listed below.

It is time yet again, to consider whether another almost doubling of the promised $500MM in school renovation costs to $900MM is what it will finally take to renovate all of WeCCUSD’s schools. In the last episode of this calculus we were told that an additional $300MM added to the $200MM previously approved but unspent to rehab the schools, would do the job.

When all this started in the late ‘90s some of us curmudgeon who thought the school board was being disingenuous about the cost of rehabilitation, in order to get you to vote “Yes”, said we thought school district wide rehab would cost $1.0B. “Oh no!”, said Glen Price and Charles Ramsey. We are going to have Citizen Review Boards to protect the tax payers and hire highly competent consultants (not bureaucratic school district employees) to make sure the bond money is well spent, the projects stay in budget and are completed in a timely manner. Hmmm, funny thing isn’t it?

So why do we now need another $400MM? This question was considered at the Richmond Council of Industries September 28th. Well, it’s because we really aren’t rehabbing our existing schools, we are completely demolishing the old schools and building brand new ones in their place. And, we are not rebuilding like kind public schools, we are going upscale, high quality, better than state standards new schools. As one of the many students in the Measure J promo video said, “Mi escuala nueva esta muy bonita”. While this is nice, it is expensive, so expensive that it exceeds the State’s reimbursement guidelines. If you are still expecting 50% +/- of the school rehab costs to be reimbursed, as promised by the school board, forget it.

But things could be worse. According to Bill Savage, Program Engineer, speaking to the Council of Industries, there’s currently enough money in the $100MM+ of unsold Measure M bonds to complete all the projects that have been started, most notably ECHS and Helms MS at $150MM. While that’s a good thing if it is true, it may not be true. I wouldn’t suggest that Savage is disingenuous; he is one of the highly competent, non-bureaucratic consultants hired by the school board. Unfortunately, the Program has not filled its June 30, 2004 audited financial statement. Yes, that is 2004, meaning that there has not been CPA confirmation of accurate revenues and expenditures since June 2003. This news was made more dramatic by a local contractor attending the Council of Industries meeting who confronted Savage and the rest of the school district reps with the fact that he had not been paid in two years. The two events together suggest that the school district may not know whether current revenues are sufficient to finish projects under construction. That fact was underscored when representatives from Chevron said they were opposing Measure J and would not return a representative to the Citizens Review Board specifically because they could not get accurate or timely information about project budgets, change orders and cost overruns. After a discussion of the many site projects that have been 150%+ over budget, one Chevron rep said, “In industry a capital project 110%+ over budget is called a CLM, career limiting move.”

The one really good thing you can say about the WCCUSD capital expenditure program is that it has been borrowing money in an era of the lowest interest rates in the memory of living men. Unfortunately, the tide has turned and interest rates are now going up. They are going to continue to go up based on Greenspan’s oft stated concern about inflation, and competition for public money to rebuild New Orleans and the Gulf Coast, not to mention financing the growing Federal deficit.

So it’s a good time to vote “NO” on Measure J. The projects started will get finished. The program can file its 2004 and maybe even its 2005 CPA audited financial statements so everyone can find out if its revenues and expenditure are balanced, and, the public can decide if they want to put an interest rate cap on new bond sales, in order to limit future tax costs. Interest rate limits on the bonds have never been talked about in the existing program because of the falling rate environment. If caps are not placed on new bonds the school district could be selling Measure J bonds five years from now when their borrowing rate might be 10.00%. Interest costs have not been discussed much by the district because, well, its,”…for the children”, and they will double or triple the actual amount of money paid by tax payers.

A final comment from this “NO on J” curmudgeon. Based on the district’s current real program of demolition and new school construction (not school rehab), including major cost run-ups in energy, steel and cement, and the use of union scale wages under project labor agreements (PLAs), the WeCCUSD school renovation/”new schools” program will cost local tax payers $2.0 Billion. For those of you who do not know history, that is double the original construction cost for the entire BART system.

Vote NO on Measure J. Vote “NO” now because you know that the school board will put it on the ballot again in six to 12 months as another sequel, how about “J-aliens”? And, you can vote “YES” then if they adequately address these issues.

Answers = Both A and B are true.

Run dates: 2005-10-23 - 2005-11-08

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