By Gunn Marie Hansen, Ph.D.
Excellent schools and modern facilities are critical to quality neighborhoods and have a direct correlation with higher property values. Voters within the Orange Unified School District (OUSD) community recognized this fact when they approved Measure S by 62.5 percent in 2016. The centerpiece of the bond is the improvement of our four aging comprehensive high school facilities with the construction of Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) labs and the investment of state-of-the-art computer technology and science equipment. The construction has already begun on the new science building at Orange High School. The new science centers at Villa Park, Canyon and El Modena High Schools will begin later this year and in early 2019.
Because OUSD is fiscally conservative, we used our top AAA credit rating and a competitive bidding process between underwriters to save $4.7 million, compared to original projections. These savings were directly passed on to our local taxpayers and will allow us to stretch our dollars to further repair and modernize our high schools.
The Measure S bond is not only overseen by OUSD’s Board of Education, but also by an appointed independent citizens' oversight committee. Committee members include small business owners, a retired banker, the president and CEO of the Orange County Taxpayers Association, current and former elected officials from our cities and county, a PTA representative and a public finance attorney. These financial professionals and community stakeholders have a deep understanding of bonds, taxes and economics. They are required by law to review annual, independent financial and performance audits of the bond program. In addition, district staff are in constant contact with legal counsel and external auditors to ensure program expenditures are in compliance with Measure S and adhering to the contract made with our community.
Set asides protect investment
In addition to modernizing our high schools’ science labs, career training facilities, libraries and computer systems, Measure S requires the school district to set aside other nonbond monies, to ensure funding will be available for ongoing maintenance of the facilities to protect the taxpayers’ investment.
None of the bond money goes toward salaries or benefits of any teachers or administrators.
On March 8, the chairperson of the citizens' oversight committee, Villa Park Councilwoman Diana Fascenelli, delivered the annual fiscal and performance audit of the operations related to the Measure S bond and reported that everything was in order. Like our Board of Education meetings, the citizens' oversight committee meetings are open to the public, the agendas and minutes are posted to our website, and all are welcome to attend.
An open book
Recent claims that certain aspects of our high school projects were not in Measure S are simply untrue. We pride ourselves on our transparency and accountability. All presentations and monthly progress reports regarding the expenditures for Measure S are posted to the district’s website at orangeusd.org/measure-s.
With the passage of Measure S, the district is now eligible for state matching funds. With the appointment of our new, highly experienced Chief Business Officer David Rivera, the district has prioritized obtaining additional funding from the state of up to $60 million to provide even more improvements to our campuses. Prior to passing Measure S, these funds were being awarded to other districts because OUSD lacked the required matching funds.
On time, on budget
As the superintendent, it is one of my top priorities to provide efficient and effective management to ensure quality facilities for our high school students. With the oversight and involvement of both the publicly elected board members and the citizens' oversight committee, we are keeping the projects on time and under budget.
Since joining the OUSD family in 2010, I have had countless conversations with current and former students, parents, and community stakeholders about our aging facilities. Our students and communities deserve school facilities that parallel any in Orange County. Measure S projects and the additional investments being made on our campuses will have long-lasting community benefits, enhance the educational environment and improve property values.
Orange Unified School District, in partnership with our taxpayers, is building a vision that addresses the needs of our students and our community for the next 50 years.
Dr. Gunn Marie Hansen is superintendent of the Orange Unified School District.Type your paragraph here.
Measure S is on time, under budget and delivering the improvements promised