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Mirisch: June Gloom – Yet Another Blank Check School Bond

Posted: Friday, March 2, 2018 – 11:02 AM

Guest Editorial by City Councilmember John Mirisch

The BHUSD Board of Education isn’t doing a particularly good job of educating our kids (the once top-ranked Beverly Hills High School is now a dismal 760th in the nation). Its boardmembers seem to be clueless about school safety and security, being forced to rely almost entirely on the BHPD (they leave school gates and doors wide open and then complain that there are no police guarding the open gates); and the district’s finances are a master lesson in fiscal mismanagement (we spend more than 50 percent more per pupil than higher performing districts, partially because ours still ridiculously links increases in teacher salaries to increases in Beverly Hills property values).

Yet the boardmembers are truly smooth operators when it comes to one thing–treating our residents like ATM machines. Because this Tuesday, in yet another night-and-fog action under cover of darkness, less than a decade after the residents passed Measure E, a $334 million bond which was supposed to last 30 years, the board unanimously voted to put a new $385 million school bond on the ballot this June. Not November, to allow the board to prepare an integrated path which would allow it time to come up with a plan for the future configuration of the schools, which is currently in a massive state of flux. But this June–a mere three months away–where’s the rush? Why not put a possible bond on the November ballot, when two school board seats are up for election?

The only reason the Board of Education went into any level of detail about the bond on Tuesday was because the mayor and myself had chosen to stay at the school board meeting after the room has largely emptied out. Board president Lisa Korbatov was forced to admit that the board isn’t putting the bond on the November ballot, “because if it doesn’t pass, we’ll be forced to wait two years until we can ask for another bond.” One can conclude that if the bond doesn’t pass in June, the board will simply come back in November with another bond. Or, in an equally likely scenario, even if the bond passes, the board may be back in November with a parcel tax, in addition to the bond.

Because Boardmembers Mel Spitz and Isabel Hacker have drunk the blank check Kool-Aid and voted to put this bond on the ballot, it will only need 55 percent of the vote to pass, as opposed to other tax increases which require a two-thirds vote.

Funded by bond salesmen, construction companies and others who will nosh at the taxpayer trough, and fueled by the cries of “it’s for the kids,” there is a good chance a bond will pass, because voters don’t have the time to get into all the facts and the vote will be falsely framed as “supporting the kids.” And, hey, who doesn’t want to support the kids?

And yet despite protestations to the contrary, this bond measure is nothing more than another blank check to a board which has given fiscal mismanagement a bad name. We heard at the Tuesday meeting that the bond was required, among other things, “to increase the security” of the schools. Yet Measure E, among all the other upgrades it promised to make, was supposed to do just that. Here’s everything we were promised with Measure E:

“To provide safe and modernized school facilities, make necessary structural seismic safety repairs, upgrade, repair, and reconstruct aging classrooms, infrastructure, multiuse, gyms, libraries, science, technology & labs; roofing, plumbing, heating, ventilation and electrical systems; renovate Beverly Hills Unified School District schools to better protect student/staff from unauthorized entry, security risks and natural disasters.”

It couldn’t be more clear that the board is selling us the same bill of goods time and time again. What’s that old definition of insanity which makes for great Internet memes?

What makes the June bond even more absurd is that the district hasn’t decided on the future configuration of our schools. The board is claiming that the proposed bond “won’t affect reconfiguration one way or another” since they are not spending money on Hawthorne, which led Boardmember Spitz to confirm that the district would indeed need a future bond to deal with Hawthorne. As if close to a billion dollars in construction money wouldn’t be enough…

But this is all disingenuous, because a future reconfiguration must necessarily inform construction. Any conversion of one of the elementary schools will necessarily have an impact on construction plans. If the high school became a 7-12 school, then, of course, the construction would also have to be planned accordingly, especially if we want to support the concept of a “campus within a campus.”

And if the enrollment decline doesn’t stop – and it won’t unless the board can fulfill its core function of giving our kids a world-class education – then we may be faced with closing not just one, but two elementary schools.

And yet we have Board of Education members claiming that Horace Mann was “overbuilt” who now want to stick the residents with more taxes for more construction without any actual plan of what educational models our district will be offering in the future.

Forget the fact that the construction of Horace Mann was massively delayed and over budget. Forget the epic fiscal mismanagement of the current board which instead of “doing more with less,” evidently has “doing less with more” as its motto.

Without a firm plan in place for the future configuration of our schools, the June bond is the very definition of “irresponsible.”

Instead of figuring out new ways it can squeeze money from our residents through bonds and parcel taxes, instead of figuring out new ways to do less with more, the school board needs to focus on its core mission of educating our kids in a safe learning environment.

We have a multitude of problems in our schools which the current board seems unable or unwilling to deal with. Those problems range from elementary school kids being caught having sex in a school bathroom, to kids masturbating openly in class, to 10-year-old children with known anger management issues and behavioral problems being allowed to beat each other bloody without adult intervention and without any support to the kids traumatized by the fight.

Before asking this community to step up with more taxpayer money, the Board of Education needs to focus on its core mission; it needs to get its fiscal house in order; it needs to come up with an integrated plan for the future of the district; and it needs to reestablish that it can be trusted not to break its promises. Then, maybe then, we can talk about a bond.

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