After more than nine months of consideration, the Lompoc Unified School District Board of Education on Tuesday formally voted down the prospect of placing a schools improvement bond on the November ballot.
In order to have the proposed $65 million bond go before voters during this year’s election, at least four members of the five-person board needed to vote in favor of moving forward. When the vote was taken at Tuesday’s meeting, however, only three members voted yes, while Carmela Kessler and Bill Heath each voted against proceeding with the bond measure.
“I realize that there’s millions and millions of dollars that are needed to get our schools in the shape that they should be… but are there other ways that we can do this besides asking the voters to pay more?” Kessler said prior to the vote. “There comes a point where it’s just a bit much.”
The bond, which would have been used primarily for improving infrastructure, had been under consideration by the board since August 2015. It was then that the board approved contracting Isom Advisors to poll Lompoc voters in an effort to gauge how a potential bond would be received by the public.
In November 2015, a representative of Isom Advisors shared the results of that phone survey, which included 400 voters. Based on the survey, the firm concluded that the local community was generally supportive of a bond to improve school facilities.
Greg Isom, of Isom Advisors, was at Tuesday’s meeting to reinforce those findings and answer questions from members of the board.
Isom said Tuesday that between 60 and 70 percent of the people polled in the fall 2015 survey were homeowners, rather than renters. That is significant because the bond would have been repaid through property taxes.
That distinction was raised by Kessler, who suggested that homeowners in Lompoc were already facing enough taxes with three other local bonds still being repaid, including Measure N, a $38 million school bond that was approved by voters in 2002.
Board member Bill Christen suggested that the viewpoint of renters should be taken into account because some of them will likely become homeowners and vice versa.
Another issue raised was the fact that the state will have a $9 billion bond measure on the November ballot.
Kessler suggested that money from that bond, if it succeeds, could help offset some of the costs facing LUSD.
Isom pointed out, however, that state bond money requires local matching funds, so having both a local bond and the state bond succeed would ultimately prove the most beneficial for LUSD. In that scenario, local bond money could be used as matching funds to go along with state bond money and could thus, potentially, stretch further.
“It is a good opportunity for school districts,” he said, noting that Lompoc taxpayers could have their state tax funds go toward schools in Santa Maria or Santa Barbara, for example, if the local school district lacks matching funds.
A handful of local residents, including representatives from Healthy Lompoc Coalition and a local chiropractor, addressed the board to advocate for putting the bond measure on the ballot.
They cited potential projects like adding all-weather tracks at the local high schools or renovating Huyck Stadium or building a football stadium at Cabrillo High School as upgrades that would benefit the community at-large.
Ashley Costa, the executive director of the Lompoc Valley Community Healthcare Organization, shared a quote that read “invest in people who invest in you.”
“The school district did invest in me (for) my entire childhood, so now it’s my time to invest in schools,” she said. “I’d like you to allow me that opportunity by placing this bond on the ballot in November.”
The only costs LUSD incurred in exploring the bond measure was funding of up to $7,500 that was paid to Isom Advisors for the survey. Because Isom Advisors worked on a contingency basis, and because the bond measure failed to reach the ballot, LUSD was not liable for any other charges.
Willis Jacobson covers the city of Lompoc for Lee Central Coast Newspapers. Follow him on Twitter @WJacobsonLR.
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