SPOTLIGHT – CAPISTRANO UNIFIED SCHOOL DISTRICT

District has Paid Consultants Over $400k to Promote Bond
October 16, 2016
State law prohibits government officials from using taxpayer dollars in political campaigns. But on June 8, Keith Weaver of Government Financial Strategies stood before the Capistrano Unified school board, coaching trustees on how to pass an $889 bond measure on the November 8 ballot. “November elections do better,” said Weaver, whose Sacramento-based firm has been paid at least $400,000 to manage what the district calls an outreach campaign. Weaver went on, telling the board that November is “when we have a lot of turnout. I would encourage us to focus on voter registration and focus on getting people to the polls because turnout helps bond measures.” Throughout the state, public officials are blurring the line between information and advocacy – often paying firms like GFS to run point on political campaigns, and especially campaigns involving tax hikes like Capistrano’s Measure M.

School District’s Bond Controversy Reveals Rising Concern About ‘Pay-to-Play’
September 29, 2016
In the space of just a few months, state officials have suddenly turned their attention to a problem in the public-educational shadows: insider dealing among California school district officials and outside vendors. In a January opinion, state Attorney General Kamala Harris concluded that school officials had become too cozy with companies that stand to benefit from passage of high-ticket school bonds. “A school or community college district violates California constitutional and statutory prohibitions against using public funds to advocate passage of a bond measure by contracting with a person or entity for services related to a bond election campaign if the pre-election services may be fairly characterized as campaign activity,” Harris wrote.

Controversial ‘Education Center’ Schools Parents in Bond Pitfalls
September 28, 2016
Anyone looking down the barrel of an $889 million school bond should consider what the Capistrano Unified School District did with its last bond, in 2002. After issuing the bond – called a certificate of participation (COP) – the district began constructing a $35 million administration building in San Juan Capistrano, east of I-5. Opened in 2006, Capistrano USD called it the Education Center. Critics called it the Taj Mahal. In a recall notice some of them delivered to trustees, they sounded as if they were attended by men in short pants, tri-corner hats and a fife-and-drum corps. “You are are recklessly spending $52,000,000 on an administration building … while our schools are in dire need of repairs and students are crammed into substandard portable classrooms with non-functioning restrooms,” they wrote.

OC’s Measure M Treats Some Homeowners More Equally Than Others
September 23, 2016
Orange County voters are being asked to approve over $2.4 billion in new school bonds. The largest bond: Capistrano Unified School District (CUSD)’s $889-million Measure M. The new CUSD bond would be serviced by property owners in most of the school district, but not quite all of it. One community, Rancho Mission Viejo, won’t be voting on Measure M and won’t be paying the new taxes if it passes. CUSD’s Measure M web page says the new community is being excluded on the grounds that it won’t have a school until Fall 2018, when Escenia Elementary will begin serving Rancho Mission Viejo residents. But this ignores the fact that community members can send their children to Tesoro High School, which will receive upgrades from Measure M proceeds. In reality, district officials removed Rancho Mission Viejo from the Measure M bond district to avoid a political showdown with powerful, sophisticated real estate developers there.