The SAUSD Song Remains the Same

1999: Kelly Rowland, LaTavia Roberson, Beyonce Knowles and LeToya Luckett, of Destiny’s Child, perform at the Woodlands Pavilion at Jump Jam. Santa Ana Unified was asking taxpayers to pay its unplayable bills. (AP Photo/Houston Chronicle, Steve Campbell)

It’s 1999, and Bill Clinton is one year removed from his affair with Monica Lewinsky becoming public. Destiny’s Child is a hit with its single “Bills, Bills, Bills,” and the San Antonio Spurs have won the NBA championship. Meanwhile, the Santa Ana Unified School District (SAUSD) is proposing a $145 million bond measure to fund the construction of 13 new schools, replace portables with permanent classrooms, and renovate facilities.

The measure passed. A few years later, it was revealed the district hadspent $450 million building just five schools instead of the 13 promised.

Flash forward to 2008. The New York Giants beat the undefeated Patriots, Katy Perry is on top of bubblegum radio with the hit single “I Kissed a Girl,” Barack Obama becomes the first African American president – and SAUSD is pushing forward yet another bond, Measure G.

Almost a mirror image of Measure C, that bond was also successful. An independent auditor says Measure G funds were handled more responsibly than Measure Cfunds. But there’s still this weirdness: The $200 million generated by Measure G targeted precisely the same problems that were supposed to have been corrected under Measure C – the replacement of portable classrooms with permanent buildings, and implementing upgrades to facilities throughout the district. Both bonds won’t be paid off until 2040. That’s three more decades of higher taxes.

Now it’s 2018. Donald Trump is president, the Houston Astros are the defending World Series champs – and there’s another SAUSD bond measure. Depending on which day you talk to district officials, the proposed November 2018 bond measure would raise either $479 million, $518 million or, most recently, $232 million. The purpose of this new bond? You guessed it: fix deteriorating roofs, upgrade older schools, and, yes, replace portable classrooms with permanent ones.

In 19 years, SAUSD has proposed three bonds at a cost of more than a billion dollars (counting interest) – and is still unable to fix those portables or maintain its other facilities. At the same time, they have told state officials their facilities (the very facilities they say are in need of an upgrade) are good or even exemplary. In the meantime, government union-backed trustees have ignored official warnings of a looming financial crisis.

The country has changed so much since 1999, but not the SAUSD. There’s clearly a problem in Santa Ana that more tax dollars won’t fix.

Kelly McGee is a Rhodes College graduate and a journalism intern at California Policy Center.