Improving Oversight, Accountability, and Fiscal Responsibility (Section 9 of 9)

See the complete California Policy Center report For the Kids: California Voters Must Become Wary of Borrowing Billions More from Wealthy Investors for Educational Construction (complete, printable PDF Version, 4 MB, 361 pages)

Links to all sections of this study readable online:
Executive Summary: “For the Kids” – Comprehensive Review of California School Bonds (1 of 9)
More Borrowing for California Educational Construction in 2016 (2 of 9)
Quantifying and Explaining California’s Educational Construction Debt (3 of 9)
How California School and College Districts Acquire and Manage Debt (4 of 9)
Capital Appreciation Bonds: Disturbing Repayment Terms (5 of 9)
Tricks of the Trade: Questionable Behavior with Bonds (6 of 9)
The System Is Skewed to Pass Bond Measures (7 of 9)
More Trouble with Bond Finance for Educational Construction (8 of 9)
You are here: Improving Oversight, Accountability, and Fiscal Responsibility (9 of 9)
Guide to all Tables and Appendices – Comprehensive Reference for Researchers


Improving Oversight, Accountability, and Fiscal Responsibility

To help fix the many deficiencies identified in this report concerning school construction finance, the California legislature and the executive branch are urged to adopt 23 specific recommendations organized into these five goals:

Five Categories of Recommendations
1Provide Adequate and Effective Oversight and Accountability for Bond Measures
2Enable Voters to Make a Reasonably Informed Decision on Bond Measures
3Eliminate or Mitigate Conflicts of Interest in Contracting Related to Bond Measures
4Reduce Inappropriate, Excessive, or Unnecessary Spending of Bond Proceeds
5Improve Understanding of Bond Measures Through Public Education Campaigns

Adoption of these 23 recommendations will help California voters to become more wary of borrowing billions more from wealthy investors for educational construction. Future generations will benefit when these five visions are advanced:

Five Visions
1Californians will know basic critical information about bonds and the meaning of bond measures. They will know that money from bond measures is borrowed from investors and must be paid back to investors with interest over time through taxes.
2Official election material provided to voters by the government will provide a more objective and balanced perspective of proposed bond measures, including information about the district showing the cumulative history of bond debt and showing changes in annual enrollment and assessed taxable property value.
3Voters will rely less on emotional language and unproven claims engineered by political consultants and focus more on charts, tables, and graphics that give context.
4School and college districts and their bond finance and campaign consultants will be compelled to adjust to a more informed voter pool with more caution, responsibility, and accountability in their proposals to accumulate more debt.
5California voters will use their much clearer understanding about bond measures to reward school and college districts that practice openness, transparency, and fiscal responsibility, while rejecting additional borrowing authority for school and college districts that unwisely borrow and spend money.

The introduction to a 2009 California Little Hoover Commission report entitled Bond Spending: Expanding and Enhancing Oversight claimed that government “must earn Californians’ confidence by demonstrating that it is providing oversight and accountability for the dollars put in their trust and delivering the promised value once a project is completed. Such confidence will be critical to the success of any future bond proposals.”

This warning was not heeded and the prediction was wrong. Oversight and accountability has not measurably improved, but Californians continue to vote for state and local bond measures.

The California Policy Center rejects the idea that additional oversight and accountability isn’t needed or desirable. Some legislative reforms and education programs (both public and private) can overcome voter cynicism, frustration, apathy, and ignorance. The following charts provide 23 recommendations for adoption by the California legislature, California executive branch agencies, and California local officials such as county treasurers.

Specific Recommendations to Achieve Goal 1: Provide Adequate and Effective Oversight and Accountability for Bond Measures
1Expand the statutory responsibilities of the Citizens Bond Oversight Committee to include an annual review of the district’s arrangements for issuing and repaying bonds.
2Assign the California State Treasurer or a state agency to produce an annual report to the legislature and the public about the status of bond measures. The data shall consist of eight categories for every community college district and K-12 school district, presented in a format that allows the public to download some or all data into a common spreadsheet software for easy sorting by type of data.

The name of the school district or college district.
The enrollment or average daily attendance of the district.
The total assessed valuation of the district.
The amount of bond authority approved by voters since 1986.
The amount of bonds issued since 1986.
The amount of outstanding bond authority for the fiscal year immediately proceeding the current year.
The amount of outstanding principal for the fiscal year immediately proceeding the current year.
The total amount of debt service (principal and interest owed over the terms of all outstanding bonds if they are not redeemed early or refunded).

This information should also be printed on a dedicated page of the district’s annual financial report required under Proposition 39. This would make the report more accessible to oversight committee members and other members of the general public who aren’t familiar with balance sheets or accounting principles.
3Require districts to obtain reasonable and informed projections of assessed property valuation from an independent source (NOT from their bond advisors and consultants) before placing a bond measure on the ballot.
4Assign and provide funding to a state agency or agencies for the following activities:

Ensure that every school or college district that administers a bond measure approved under Proposition 39 complies with legal requirements for a bond oversight committee, bond program performance audits, and bond program financial audits, including posting of required information on the district website.
Establish and maintain a centralized web-based database of California bond program performance audits and bond program financial audits for all districts.
Promote bond oversight committees to the public, educate and train bond oversight committee members and relevant district administrators, and provide resources and assistance to school and college districts to fill vacancies on the committees.
5Give a state agency or county official specific authority to block educational districts from selling bonds when their Independent Citizens’ Bond Oversight Committees are dormant or otherwise not compliant with state law.
6Require a school or college district to issue 85% of the bonds authorized by voters within three years after voter approval of the bond measure, and require 100% of the bond proceeds to be spent or redeemed within seven years after voter approval.
Specific Recommendations to Achieve Goal 2: Enable Voters to Make a Reasonably Informed Decision on Bond Measures
1Bond measure ballot titles should be more accurate and objective, perhaps using standard language similar to this that balances construction projects with debt finance plans:

Shall [NAME OF DISTRICT] be authorized to borrow up to [$xxxxx] in the next [x] years for construction, reconstruction, rehabilitation, replacement, furnishing or equipping of specified school facilities by selling bonds and paying the buyers back, with interest, within [xx] years after the bonds are issued?
2To provide proper historical context for the proposed bond measure, ballot statements should provide a table with a tally of each proposed bond measure approved by voters going back to 1987 with the following information:

Amount that voters authorized the district to borrow through bond sales.
Amount of the borrowing authority that still remains to be spent.
Amount of principal that the district still needs to pay back to investors.
Amount of debt service that the district will need to pay back to investors.
3Ballot statements should provide a chart with the history and projections of assessed property valuation for the district:

History:
Each year annually for previous 10 years.
The last two previous five-year periods.
The last previous ten-year period.

Projections:
Each year annually for next 10 years.
The next two five-year periods.
The next ten-year period.
4Ballot statements should provide a chart with the history of enrollment (or average daily attendance) in the district for the previous five years, the most accurate assessment of current enrollment, and the projected enrollment for the next five years.
Specific Recommendations to Achieve Goal 3: Eliminate or Mitigate Conflicts of Interest in Contracting Related to Bond Measures
1All campaign contribution reports for and against bond measures should be available to the public in easily-accessible electronic form on either the district website or the county elections office website.
2Prohibit corporations and individuals that obtain a contract from a district for feasibility studies or consultation on developing a bond measure from also obtaining a contract for services related to bond issuance, including bond underwriting services.
3California statewide officeholders and the California legislature should encourage the Municipal Securities Rulemaking Board (MSRB) to adopt a rule that provides more comprehensive reporting requirements and either restricts or bans the practice of hybrid bond campaign consultants/bond underwriters getting a contract for bond measure preparation and/or campaign services and then getting a contract (sometimes without competitive bidding) for bond underwriting.
Specific Recommendations to Achieve Goal 4: Reduce Inappropriate, Excessive, or Unnecessary Spending of Bond Proceeds
1Local education agencies should be explicitly prohibited from using proceeds from long-term bonds (bonds with maturities exceeding three years) to buy technological equipment such as portable personal electronics (iPads).
2The California Attorney General should issue a legal opinion on some of the ambiguities of “Furnishing and Equipment,” including portable personal electronics, software that comes in a package with electronics, and hiring companies to move furniture from one building to another.
3Bond premiums should not exceed 1% of the principal of the bond series or be used to offset transaction fees or costs of issuance.
4Criteria relevant to construction bond finance should be developed for the California State Board of Education to evaluate when considering applications from school districts for tax and debt waivers. Two grounds for rejecting waiver applications should be excessive indebtedness and insufficient evidence that new facilities are needed.
5A detailed history of tax and debt waiver requests and approvals from the California State Board of Education should be posted on its website.
6Following the 1994 example of Michigan, California school and college districts should be prohibited from issuing Capital Appreciation Bonds. Assembly Bill 182 has not sufficiently discouraged this kind of debt finance.
Specific Recommendations to Achieve Goal 5: Improve Understanding of Bond Measures Through Public Education Campaigns
1The California State Treasurer or another state agency should commission a study to determine if the state’s voters understand a bond measure, including how the government obtains money via borrowing from investors and pays back the money, with interest, over time to those investors by collecting taxes. County treasurers/tax collectors can conduct a similar survey for their counties.
2The California State Treasurer or another state agency should consider seeking funding for the development and implementation of a non-partisan public education campaign to increase voter knowledge about bond measures and public debt related to bonds. The funding could be appropriated in the state’s general fund or received as a contribution from foundations or other private sources. County treasurers/tax collectors can do the same on a county basis.
3The California State Treasurer should use the position to warn the public to be thoughtful and cautious about how much debt is being imposed on future generations — our children and grandchildren — through excessive borrowing and extreme methods of debt finance such as Capital Appreciation Bonds. County treasurers/tax collectors can do the same on a county basis.
4Information about bonds and bond measures should be added to the suggested “Financial Literacy and Mathematics Education” component of the California Department of Education Curriculum Frameworks.

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