SMCCCD will need more bond money

 (Brian Mckay)

(Brian Mckay)

The San Mateo County Community College District is edging closer to fully declaring its intent on placing a second bond on the ballot, as it predicts depleting the $207 million Measure C funds by mid-2006.

In February, the district voted to spend $33,500 for a voter opinion research services report, with results expected in early May. The poll will analyze voter opinions on the district’s plan to go out for a second bond measure.

The report is vital to successfully facilitating the districts long time intended plan to seek a second bond as it detects the arguments that will most likely sway voters. This puts the district one step closer to exercising the intent to again access the revenue stream metamorphosed by Proposition 39 in 2000.

Proposition 39 amended the California state constitution, a change that allows school bonds to pass with 55 percent voter approval, down from 67 percent, a fear by some opponents of the proposition that the result would likely cause school districts to line and put bond after bond on the ballot, because the bonds raise homeowners property taxes.

In November 2001, voters in San Mateo County passed a $207 million bond with 65.3 percent approval for district facilities upgrades and construction. The district said this amount would be sufficient to improve the education and facilities that were in dire need of help. However, the district’s plan to complete its dream is far from over and far from funded.

Before Proposition 39, community college bonds approved $875 million, while post-Proposition 39 bonds have, to date, approved over $12 billion, according to the state chancellor’s office.

In November 2004, SMCCCD board of trustees member Richard Holober suggested the district move forward with another bond measure. The district’s Director of Community and Government Relations, Barbara Christensen, said the district always intended to seek another bond.

“We always planned to go out for another bond to finish the work on all three colleges,” Christensen said. “We knew we had $400 to $500 million of need, while the polling said voters would support $207 million in 2001.”

Without defining soft costs, the district said in board of trustee meeting minutes that “soft” costs as well as escalating labor and material prices are among some reasons there is a need for money beyond $207 million.

A source from the district said that delays at the Division of the State Architects office (DSA) have cost millions.

However, the district said the current scope of the construction work is proceeding in the allotted time and budget.

According to the Board of Trustees, rapidly escalating materials costs have contributed to project delays.

Leroy Tam, a supervisor at the DSA Office in Oakland where building and renovation plans are checked prior to commencement of work, said the accusation that DSA delays are to blame is “not necessarily right. Hold up? I totally disagree with that. Maybe there’s a different expectation,” Tam explained.

Tam said because there’s politics and funding involved, there’s motive behind saying there are hold-ups at the DSA. He said people try to put a different spin on things to shift responsibility and blame to other entities. He said the DSA hears this all the time and there’s an agenda behind the accusation. He said it’s very convenient to point fingers at the government.

Additionally, Christensen said everyone is experiencing delays. The DSA does not expand or contract their staff to accommodate projects, but, she said, delays have not cost millions.

“There’s nothing wrong with our contracts. Our projects are on time and on budget.” she said.

Another concern of the SMCCCD is its own outreach efforts in attracting competitive bids, despite what it claims in Board of Trustee meeting minutes have been “exhaustive and far-reaching efforts directed to attracting more bidders.”

In an interview, trustee Holober said, “I think the board has a general concern in wanting to spread a wider net when seeking bids of these kinds of projects. Obviously, we’d rather have more bidders.”

The SMCCCD also recorded in board meeting minutes two $20,000 stipends awarded to companies that submitted bids but were not awarded contracts. The district states in trustee meeting minutes that this is standard practice in the industry.

The passage of Proposition 39 is claimed by some to be a victory for California school districts. As stated in the Community College League of California’s Winter 2005 newsletter, there is a bond construction boom with 11 successful bond elections in November 2004 in 10 California community college districts.