Future OUSD high schoolers implore the board of trustees to issue a bond. From left, Noelle Jenkin, Annika Jenkin, Elijah Alonzo,Carter Smith, Emme Smith, Olivia Collins, Samantha Collins, Bethany Corbin, Garrett Hartfelder, Blake Hartfelder and Cole Corbin. Their message, articulated by Blake Hartfelder, was delivered before a packed room of supporters whose mantra, heading into November, seems to be any bond on the ballot is better than no bond on the ballot.

(Photo courtesy Eileen Hartfelder)

By Tina Richards 

The  Orange  Unified  School Board voted 7-0 to place a $288 million  general  obligation  bond measure on the November ballot to  fund  repairs  and  retrofits  for aging facilities, modernize infrastructure and update classrooms with technology resources at the district’s four high schools.

The  unanimous  decision,  recorded at the July 21 board meeting, followed a 6-1 vote on the same subject, with Trustee John Ortega opposing.  Trustee Kathy Moffat  asked  the  board  to  “reconsider” the first vote to allow Ortega to say “yes” and make the board’s decision unanimous.

The  original  6-1  vote  on  the general obligation bond followed two board majority (Rick Ledesma, Tim Surridge, John Ortega, Mark Wayland)  resolutions  to split  OUSD  into  two Separate Facilities Improvement Districts (SFIDs). Voters in each separate district  would  be  asked  to  approve  a  bond  that  would  cover the two high schools in their area.  The original rationale for two districts  resulted  from  ballots  cast on  the  failed  Measure  K  bond in 2014. While that bond failed overall, voters in the Orange and El Modena High School areas approved it.  Voters in the Canyon and Villa Park High School areas voted “no” with enough strength to override the positive outcome recorded  by  Orange/El  Modena voters.

Not so sure

Orange/El  Modena  approval seemed like a sure thing, until a poll  taken  in  June  showed  otherwise.  Those poll results were presented to the board during a public meeting July 14.  Timothy McLarney of True North Research  reported  that  three  separate surveys had been conducted.  One  each  for  the  two  proposed separate districts, and an OUSD-wide poll to test the mettle of a single general obligation bond.  The poll results indicated that Orange and El Modena support for an SFID had gone down from an  initial  65.5  percent  (December) to 60.7 percent.  Villa Park and Canyon registered 63.4 percent, down from 70.4 percent.  Districtwide  support  came  in  at  63.8 percent,  compared  to  70.4  percent in a previous poll.  A bond needs a 55 percent majority vote to pass. The poll’s margin of error  is  4.5  percent  districtwide, and 5.3 percent for SFIDs.  “The latest survey results,” McLarney said, “do not provide a compelling  argument  for  choosing  the SFID  route  over  a  districtwide approach.  What you thought was a sure thing, isn’t.”

It appeared to those attending the July 14 meeting that the board would drop the SFID scenario and approve a districtwide bond at its scheduled meeting the next week. The audience at the July 21 meeting, composed largely of general obligation  bond  advocates,  was stunned when the board majority voted to create SFID 1 for Orange and  El  Modena  High  School.  There was no board discussion, save  for  Kathy  Moffat,  Alexia Deligianni-Brydges  and  Andrea Yamasaki offering statements opposing separate districts.

Because bond supporters in attendance assumed that the SFID concept was off the table, there had  been  minimal  public  comments  on  the  issue. Kris Murray,  an  Anaheim  City  Council member, came forward to assure the board that she would get her city’s support for a general obligation bond.

Keep us whole

Most  of  the  public,  however, had weighed in at two previous meetings. The  overwhelming reference of those who spoke was for a general obligation bond.  Voters from each high school area promised the board that they would “walk precincts, make phone  calls,  hand  out  flyers,” whatever they could do to make sure the bond passed.  “I sat out Measure K,” one Anaheim Hills resident said, “but I’m going to work my butt off for this one.”

Before the shock of the board’s 4-3 vote to create SFID 1 sank in, President Rick Ledesma introduced the resolution to create SFID 2.  John Ortega motioned for a vote.

“Wait  a  minute,”  Moffat  interrupted.  “We’ve had no discussion. I think the people here would like to know why you're creating SFID’s after the consultant said there was no compelling reason to do so.”

“Go  back  a  week,”  Ledesma advised.  “The poll results for a general obligation bond were 63 percent with ‘light pressure.’ With "heavy pressure," which we can expect, they went down to 54, 55 percent.” He also reported that in the week since the poll results were presented, he had heard from many Orange High voters who wanted a separate bond.

In polling lingo, “light pressure”  means  little  opposition, and a non-intimidating ballot.  “Heavy pressure” is when voters are aware of opposing arguments and face a ballot with many issues to decide.  The consultant had advised the board to prepare for heavy pressure in November.

Winning is everything

Mark Wayland, out of state and participating by telephone, said he was voting for SFID’s because he wanted to win.  “I don’t want another loss,” he said.  “We’ll be zero for four.  People say one thing, but then it fails.  There’s no correct answer.  We’ll be chastised either way.”

John Ortega advised that he was not making a vote of passion, but of reality.  “We need something to win,” he said, adding that ears that SFIDs would divide the community are unfounded because, based on the Measure K vote, “the community is already divided.” Tim Surridge pointed out that Orange High School voters alone would have approved a bond.  His hope is that the district will win both bonds, which would equate to a single general obligation bond, but that Orange High, at least, was a “sure thing.”

It took a simple majority (4-3) to pass resolutions to create SFID’s, but placing bond measures on the ballot requires a supermajority of five.  With Moffat, Yamasaki and Deligianni-Brydges firmly opposed to splitting the district in half, the board majority fell short of the five votes needed to ballotize those bonds.

Back to first base

That left the general obligation bond.  The polling had indicated that bond support increased as the tax rate went down. Sixty-two percent agreed to $25 per $100,000 of assessed property value. Only 52 percent supported a tax rate of $39 per $100,000. OUSD staff penciled in a medium tax rate of $29 per $100,000, but the board could have opted for a higher or lower rate.  It didn’t.

Another  round  of  public speakers exhorted the board to approve the general obligation bond.  Chris Erickson spoke for many. “You asked us to bring in the  community,”  she  declared. “You’ve got it.  Seven hundred people have signed up so far.  We’re here.”

“I don’t want to leave this room without a bond measure,” Tim Surridge admitted.  “I’m going to vote ‘yes’ on the general obligation bond. But you still need one more vote.”

As  expected,  Moffat,  Yamasaki and Deligianni-Brydges voted “yes.”  Surridge’s nod was vote number four. Listening to the proceedings by phone, Mark Wayland  wanted  confirmation that it took five votes to pass.  Hearing ‘yes,’ he fell silent. Seconds passed. 

“Well, okay,” he conceded, “yes.”

“Unified” OUSD school board OKs 

districtwide bond measure