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.”