Newspaper editorial writers don’t like being told we are wrong about something — unless we are wrong.
We refer to a late-August editorial about local school bonds which focused on an Allan Hancock College bond proposal on the November ballot. We used as background the Lompoc Unified School District's bond proposal that appeared on the June primary ballot, and we wrote the following about the district’s bond fortunes:
“There’s also the matter of the Lompoc Unified District school board deciding to put its $79-million school improvement bond measure back on the ballot, trying to atone for a previous thrashing at the polls.”
We stand by that Aug. 28 editorial, because we feel strongly that Hancock College’s overall performance in recent years has earned voters’ support.
On the other hand our choice of words — “thrashed at the polls” — misrepresents the facts, as LUSD school board member Dick Barrett politely pointed out in a note to our editorial board.
In the case of those LUSD bond measures, they surpassed the usual 55-percent-approval requirement — but not the recently approved 67-percent approval requirement in Lompoc. A simple majority generally does not rule in school bond votes, the feeling being that when it comes to new taxes, a tougher standard is required.
Our apologies to the LUSD board. We firmly believe the majority should rule, because super-majority requirements equate to minority rule in many cases.
The question mark with voters in LUSD’s case involves the notion of transparency, as in almost a line-item description of how the bond proceeds would be spent. And in this situation, there is a lesson for agencies at every level of government, from district boards to the U.S. Congress. And the lesson is this:
If you want voters to OK your proposal, especially if it involves higher taxes and a super-majority requirement, explain in minute detail what you intend to do with the revenue from those taxes.
The problem is that while most bond proposals include some sort of independent oversight committee, that happens after voters have cast their ballots. It comes down to a matter of trust, and there isn’t a lot of that going around in government these days.
In fact, LUSD’s bond proposal is described, in some detail, in the district’s 2018 Master Plan Costs Update, copies of which are available at the district office. Anyone taking the time to look at the plan will quickly recognize the district’s need for funds.
However, we imagine that if auditors made the rounds of North County school districts, they would be hard-pressed to find a district that doesn’t need money for repairs, upgrades and bringing classrooms and campus facilities up to early 21st-century standards. In many cases, auditors would find facilities that simply aren’t as safe as they could, and should be.
School bond votes aren’t just about fixing what’s broken. There are many components, some technical and some personal. But those are problems the bond proposer needs to figure out and address prior to an election.
We are entering an era in which voters demand more information than they’ve been given in the past. How, exactly, will bond proceeds be spent? And voters will be demanding an accounting, right down to the last dollar.
Which brings us back to the issue of transparency, and the need for elected officials to do everything they can to put all their cards on the table, not just the obvious ones.