Beginning in the months before and continuing through the years after Dick Barrett was elected to the Lompoc Unified School District board of education in November 2016, the longtime educator and coach has been among the chief proponents pushing to get a schools improvement bond passed in Lompoc.
The latest attempt — following a failure in 2016 on the night Barrett was elected, and another setback in this June’s primary election — resulted in yet another disappointment for bond supporters when Measure E, a $79 million bond, came up short at the polls late Tuesday night.
Although the sting from this most recent election night loss was still fresh in his mind, Barrett said Friday that he is confident that he and his fellow board members and district administrators will bounce back and do what is needed for Lompoc's students.
“Sure, it hurts, but life goes on, and we have to do everything in our power to continue to support our schools in any way that we can,” Barrett said, noting that this past week’s election was more painful than the previous two, given the amount of outreach and work put in by himself and many other volunteers.
“As things progress, with the lack of resources that will be available, they will have to fill in just emergency things,” he added, referring to LUSD’s maintenance employees. “And, if people think we can raise money from other places, good luck. Who is going to raise it? How? Grants and foundations will only get us a fraction of the $100 million or so that we potentially could have used from the bond.”
Perhaps most troubling for those people involved in the “Yes for Lompoc Kids” committee, which was formed to advocate on behalf of the bond measure, was the fact that they put more effort and resources into this fall’s campaign than they had for either of the previous two.
Despite that increased outreach and awareness — which included bus tours to show the deterioration at campuses, community forums to answer questions, and letter-writing campaigns — Measure E received the lowest level of support of any of the previous bond attempts since 2016.
Measure E received support from just 49 percent of voters, with 4,946 “yes” votes and 5,118 “no” votes, according to the most recent data provided Friday by Santa Barbara County election officials. It needed 55-percent approval to pass.
Those numbers point to a negative trend for bond supporters, considering that Measure L received 58-percent approval from voters in November 2016 — it needed 67-percent due to the manner in which it was placed on the ballot — and Measure Q, which needed 55-percent approval in this June's primary, received support from 50 percent of voters.
Although that trend can’t be encouraging for bond supporters, a message was sent out from the “Yes for Lompoc Kids” campaign leaders early Wednesday morning thanking all the volunteers for their efforts.
“Thank you for thinking of the kids and taking the time to help spread the word about Measure E!” the emailed message read. “While we weren’t successful in passing the bond, we do believe we were successful in educating the public on the conditions of our schools. We will continue to provide our students the best education, even if it’s in subpar facilities, because our children deserve the best!”
What’s to blame?
Barrett pointed to three primary factors to which he attributed the bond’s failure: low voter turnout, a lack of support from many parents within the district, and negative politics from people who have personal issues with LUSD administrators.
Among those who could fit in that latter category is Bill Heath, Barrett’s colleague on the LUSD board.
Heath, who was re-elected to a two-year seat on the board in Tuesday’s election, has consistently spoken out against school bonds over the past two years and has also voted against raises for district administrators after raising concerns with the leadership, or lack thereof, within LUSD.
On Friday, Heath, speaking on his own behalf and not that of the board, attributed the Measure E failure to voters not wanting to increase their tax burden, combined with a communitywide increase in “distrust of the LUSD leadership.”
Heath, who noted that he is generally against increasing or prolonging taxes, said he will continue to support the district in ways that he deems appropriate at least through the end of his new term in 2020.
“The most valuable assets of the LUSD are the teachers, staff, and site administrators who are directly involved in the education of our children,” he said. “They have earned and deserve respect from all of our community.
“As a board member I have spoken clearly to support them,” he added. “I am grateful for and feel their support of me as a board member. I was honored to receive the endorsement of the teacher’s union for this election. Unfortunately, I have witnessed the disrespect demonstrated towards them by some top district administrators.”
While Heath didn’t specifically name anyone, Barrett said he felt like Superintendent Trevor McDonald and the members of his leadership team were moving in a positive direction.
“Nobody is perfect, but the board sees the money raised by the superintendent from grants, foundations, etc., and his support and help in things like feeding our students, the stadium improvement project, etc.,” Barrett said. “This type of leadership needs to continue, particularly with the bond not going through.
“Our board needs to concentrate on the support of the students and the teachers in this district — listen to them, go to all the campuses to show we care, go to all of their school events, etc. — instead of taking a negative view of things all the time,” he added. “This accomplishes nothing, and it is not why the majority of the community voted us into office. We need to push forward in a positive way, leaving negative politics by the wayside.”
While Barrett noted that the district would be forced to continue its current policy of providing emergency-only or temporary fixes to its structural and maintenance problems, he said that district leaders will have to be creative moving forward to keep things in the best shape possible.
LUSD’s annual budget is about $110 million. About 80 percent of that goes toward salaries and benefits. Of the roughly $30 million left over, about $20 million or more is restricted for specific programs. That leaves the district with about $5 million to $10 million of discretionary funds each year.
“So, if the district needs more funding for emergency facility repair, it has to come from somewhere within the budget,” Barrett said. “You do the math, and use your imagination with what could suffer. I don't think some teachers who didn't support the bond took this factor into consideration.”
Heath indicated that he’d like to see district leaders move away from considering bonds and re-route that same energy elsewhere.
“Moving forward, it is important that LUSD resources be redirected to accomplish the needs of the district,” he said. “The community should recognize the great effort and cost the district office and the committee to pass Measure E2018 made. If that same effort and energy can be refocused to manage financial resources a different way, things can improve.”
Although Barrett disagreed with that assessment, he said he was confident that he and his fellow board members — including Heath and the newly-elected Nancy Schuler-Jones, who voiced support for Measure E during her campaign — would be able to work with LUSD administrators to provide Lompoc students with top-notch educational opportunities.
Barrett, a former football coach at Lompoc High School, used his gridiron background to illustrate his resolve. He noted that the Braves started out 1-6 in the 1988 season, and “lots of negative stuff came our way.”
Despite the negativity, the team continued working together, he said, and went on to win 31 of its next 34 games, culminating with the school’s first CIF championship win in 1990.
“The point is, I will stay the course,” Barrett said, “and I think the district and majority of board members will, also.”
The next regular meeting of the LUSD board of education is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. Tuesday.