Jack Durham: Extravagant Measure Q’s Millions For Frills – October 15, 2010

Friday, October 15, 2010

On Nov. 2, voters in the Northern Humboldt Union High School District (NHUHSD) will be asked to raise their property taxes to pay for a $25.8 million bond measure for Arcata and McKinleyville high schools.

The annual property tax would be about $19 per $100,000 of assessed value, and would last for 25 to 30 years. The district estimates that the average homeowner would pay about $36 a year.

If the bond measure passes, it is hard to say exactly what it will pay for. The district has an unprioritized laundry list of potential projects, with only cost guesstimates.

Measure Q could pay for some seemingly necessary projects, like upgrading electrical systems that the district has deemed “overloaded.” District facilities, including bathrooms, drinking fountains and parking lots, could be improved to bring them into compliance with the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA).

Some classrooms, which the district has declared “outdated,” may be remodeled. There may also be “security” improvements at both schools.

If Measure Q was limited to such projects, then it would be a slam dunk and I’d vote in favor of it.

The problem is that Measure Q includes some highly questionable – and expensive – projects.

For example, do the high schools really need to spend $2 million, give or take, to install synthetic turf on their football fields? Does Arcata High need an $8.2 million performing arts center?

If the economy was booming, and our community felt like splurging on such luxuries, then it might be worthwhile. But we’re in an economic slump.

We need to take care of our schools’ needs, but frugally.

Perhaps some voters will look at the project list and see items they like – an all-weather track at Arcata High, removal of asbestos, new “media centers” in the school libraries.

The problem is that there’s no guarantee that any of these particular projects would be completed.

Without having the projects prioritized, and with no cost estimates, it’s anybody’s guess how the money will be spent.

If it’s passed, classrooms may be remodeled, maybe not. The money might be spent on Astroturf, or a performing arts center, or maybe none of the above. Who knows?

Will the money be spent equally between McKinleyville and Arcata, or will one school get the lion’s share of bond funds? That’s also unknown.

The project list includes the purchase of solar panels, estimated to cost $900,000. Going green is good, but where’s the cost-benefit analysis? How long is it going to take for the district to recoup its investment?

The district may, or may not, move its Community Day School at an estimated cost of $878,000. Is this preferable to renting a building?

Rather than building a performing arts center for Arcata High, has the district considered expanding or improving the existing facilities?

What about renting a stage at HSU, or working with the Arcata Theater Lounge?

There are too many questionable projects and unknowns to vote in favor of Measure Q, which will hopefully go down in flames on Nov. 2.

The district can then return to voters at a later date with a more refined and frugal bond measure with specific, prioritized and essential projects. That’s something I would support.

Costly propaganda – from Chico?!?

Voters within the Northern Humboldt Union High School District recently received a mailer – paid for by the district – about Measure Q, the school bond measure which will appear on the Nov. 2 ballot.

The glossy flyer touts the district’s educational accomplishments and provides some rosy information about Measure Q.

Under the state’s education code, the district is allowed to spend tax dollars to provide information to the public about its own bond measure, assuming the information provided “constitutes a fair and impartial presentation of relevant facts.”

While much of the flyer meets this criteria, there are some highly questionable statements that appear to advocate in favor of Measure Q.

“Repairing our current facilities should be done,” wrote Superintendent Kenny Richards on the front of the mailer. While he’s probably correct, that’s really more of an opinion than a fact. In its context, the sentence appears to be advocating in favor of Measure Q.

Richards also writes “Measure Q will improve the quality of education to local students and benefit the community for years.”

That also sounds like advocacy in favor of Measure Q and is hardly impartial.

When questioned about this Friday afternoon, Oct. 8, Richards said the mailer was reviewed by district counsel and deemed legal. It’s strictly informational, he said.

The district should stay out of the campaign for Measure Q. Factual information about the measure, and an impartial analysis, was already included in the sample ballot, which the County Elections Division recently mailed to every single registered voter.

It’s also worth pointing out that the recent mailer states that the school board wants “special consideration given to local contractors” if the measure is passed.

But when it came time to prepare the mailer, the district didn’t use a local print shop. Instead, it paid Creative Composition in Chico $9,248 to print and mail the bond propaganda.

What do you think?

Jack Durham is editor and publisher of the McKinleyville Press.

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