Two rows of portables sit across from each other in Solana Vista Elementary in the Solana Beach School District. It is one of the districts asking voters for new school bonds this November, intended in part to replace portable classrooms. April 12, 2016. Megan Wood, inewsource
Two rows of portables sit across from each other in Solana Vista Elementary in the Solana Beach School District. It is one of the districts asking voters for new school bonds this November, intended in part to replace portable classrooms. April 12, 2016. Megan Wood, inewsource

School bond measures, which ask voters to raise their own taxes, can have an uphill climb in the voting booth. So special interests in the 10 school bond measures on the ballot in San Diego County Nov. 8 are opening their wallets generously.

So far, those who favor financing everything from a workforce training center in East County to a new high school in Bonsall have contributed more than $925,000 to make their case.

Only one measure has attracted opposition funding — Grossmont-Cuyamaca Community College District in East County, with some $85,000. And the opponents have out raised the proponents. Details on that battle are below.

Tom Shepard, a San Diego political consultant who is working with committees supporting school bond measures, said proponents spend money to educate voters to convince them of the need. And that requires a certain kind of messaging to voters without children, he said.

The message to voters might be about “pride in a community, in some cases the fact that schools provide facilities that are used by the larger community,” Shepard said. “When you’re asking someone to raise their taxes you need to be able to describe some kind of benefit.”

That means if you’re a voter in a school district asking for bond approvals this election, you’ll be seeing fliers in the mail and messages in your Facebook and Twitter timelines.

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Shepard said there are good reasons for districts to ask voters to approve bond measures now. Low interest rates mean it’s cheap to borrow money, and a California state bond on the ballot offers the potential for matching funds, stretching districts’ dollars.

“The conventional wisdom is that the higher the voter turnout, the better chance you have of passing a bond,” he said. “November presidential elections are typically the highest turnout elections … so this is an auspicious time to have a measure on the ballot.”

A look at sponsors

All the bond measures on the November ballot have supporting committees, which raise and spend the money to get the measure passed. (In this election only the Grossmont-Cuyamaca Community College District’s measure attracted an opposition committee).

The top donor countywide among the 10 school bond measures so far is the MiraCosta College Foundation, which has given $150,000 in support of the MiraCosta Community College District’s measure MM campaign. That measure asks for $455 million and covers the coastal communities from Oceanside to Del Mar.

Other top donors include construction companies and contractor trade groups, which may not be surprising given that much of the bond revenue will pay for new buildings. Business interests account for about 82 percent of the contributions in favor of the measures.

Biggest donors in the construction field include the San Diego County Building Trades Council Family Housing Corp., which runs the National City Park Apartments and gave more than $100,000 to support two measures; the Infrastructure PAC of the Associated General Contractors, a local advocacy group that gave $60,000 toward two measures; and Erickson-Hall Construction, based in Escondido, which split $52,500 among three measures.

Overall, individuals have contributed just over 4 percent of all itemized contributions to school bond committees — donations of $100 or more. Money from other political committees made up just under 13 percent of the itemized money.

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Here is how the money breaks down by bond measure:

Yes on AA

Fallbrook Union High School District’s Yes on AA committee has raised $25,000 so far this year. The district is asking voters for $45 million in bond money, in part to modernize Fallbrook High School. The Fallbrook Teachers Association PAC donated $5,000 in October. Two companies that work on school construction each donated $10,000.

Erickson-Hall Construction, a major donor to this and two other measures, boasts about its experience building schools. On its website it says, “To date, we have constructed more than $250 million of new construction and modernization work on active school campuses in Southern California.”

PJHM Architects, which has offices in Oceanside and has contributed $10,000 to the Fallbrook measure, also specializes in “planning, designing and modernizing” schools in the state, according to its website.

Yes on BB

Grossmont Union High School District’s Yes on BB committee has raised $296,253 so far, second most for a bond measure in the county. The district wants $128 million in part to refurbish classrooms and labs. It also includes money for a new high school in the Alpine/Blossom Valley area. Of that, $4,350 came from people identified as district employees, including the superintendent, the executive director of facilities management and the deputy superintendent of business services.

The top contributor, construction company Balfour Beatty, has given $30,000. The company has undertaken multiple school construction projects in San Diego County, including Southwestern College’s $45.1 million stadium renovation project.

Other contributors at the $25,000 level include construction companies C.W. Driver and Erickson-Hall, and architecture and engineering companies such as Harley Ellis Devereaux and Ruhnau Ruhnau Clarke and Associates.

Yes on DD

Bonsall Unified’s Yes on DD committee has raised just $17,500. The district is asking voters for $58 million in part to build a new Bonsall High School. All of the money has come from the construction firm Erickson-Hall.

Yes on EE

Cajon Valley Union School District’s Yes on EE committee hasn’t raised any new money this election cycle. However, it has $405 left over from its Yes on Measure C committee. That group supported the district’s failed 2014 bond measure. The district is asking for $20 million to be used for new technology such as laptops, tablets and projectors.

Yes on GG

Cardiff School District’s Yes on GG committee has only raised $650 so far. That money came primarily from two individuals, both identified themselves as “self-employed.” However, Mark Whitehouse, who gave $500, and Sienna Randall, who gave $100, are both members of the Cardiff school board.

The district is asking voters for $22 million, to be used at least in part to rebuild Cardiff Elementary School.

Yes on HH

National School District’s Yes on HH committee has raised $7,576. Almost all of that money came from the Committee for Measure N, which was created to support the district’s successful 2014 bond measure.

The district is asking for $30 million in part to repair old classrooms and replace portables with permanent rooms.

Yes on JJ

Solana Beach School District’s Yes on JJ committee has raised $34,519 so far this year. The district wants $105 million, to be used in part to make basic repairs and to replace portable classrooms with permanent ones. The bond also provides money for a new elementary school in the district.

Four groups have contributed $5,000 each to the committee: TELACU Construction Management, Eric Davy Architects, APC, PardeeHomes, and Citizens for a Business Friendly San Diego (Kilroy Realty, LP).

Yes on MM

MiraCosta’s Yes on MM committee has attracted the most money. The district is asking for $455 million in part to replace and upgrade classrooms, upgrade career training facilities and expand the Veterans’ Center.

The supporting committee has received $416,881 in contributions so far. The bulk of that money has come from individuals and associations directly tied to the college.

Besides MiraCosta College Foundation and its $150,000 donation, other college-tied groups who have contributed include the MiraCosta College Faculty Assembly with $11,000 and the MiraCosta College Academic Associate Faculty PAC at $6,354.

Twenty-five individuals who list MiraCosta College as their employer — including two college board members — donated a total of $5,845.

The building industry also has invested heavily in this bond measure. Top contributors to the committee include the construction company Kitchell Corp. with $33,500 and the architecture and planning firm Westberg+White Inc. with $20,000.

Yes on X / No on X

Grossmont-Cuyamaca’s Yes on X committee has received $56,875 so far, less than the opposition has collected. The community college district wants $348 million to be used in part to build a new Workforce Training Center.

The majority of the supporting money, $51,875, came from the San Diego County Building Trades Council Family Housing Corp. Other top donors include the San Diego Electrical Contractors PAC and the law firm Stradling, Yocca, Carlson & Rauth APC, both with contributions of $2,500.

Critics have cited several complaints, including a lack of detail about the proposal. However, most of the dispute seems to center on a proposal to require union labor for all bond projects. It was cited by the San Diego County Taxpayers Association, which opposed the measure. In its statement, the association said the district’s plan to negotiate with labor unions for the projects “goes against SDCTA commitment to fair and open competition.”

Grossmont-Cuyamaca’s No on X committee has raised $85,602 so far. The single largest contribution was $60,000 from the Infrastructure PAC of the Associated General Contractors. Other contractor associations have also contributed thousands of dollars.

Interpipe Contracting Inc. contributed $3,500. The owner, Mary Smith, wrote the official rebuttal to the yes on X argument in the bond measure. In it, she criticized the bond for requiring unionized workers.

Yes on Z

Southwestern College’s Yes on Z committee has received $70,000 from just three contributors this year. The district is asking voters for $400 million, it plans to use the money for repairs like removing asbestos and lead paint. The district also wants to expand services and job training for veterans.

Similar to Yes on X, the largest donation, $50,000, came from the San Diego County Building Trades Council Family Housing Corp.

The other donors are the SW Regional Council of Carpenters Issues Committee, a  labor group that contributed $15,000, and the San Diego Electrical Contractors Political Action Committee that gave $5,000.

Leonardo Castañeda was a reporter and economic analyst for inewsource. To contact him with tips, suggestions or corrections, please email leocastaneda [at] inewsource [dot] org.

2 replies on “School bonds get thousands in building industry support”

  1. Good job raising awareness of the pay to play nature of school bond property tax increases. Most people don’t know school districts DO NOT have to award bond funded contracts based on price. This loophole helps explain why those who profit from bond funded contracts are so willing to contribute. Check out the countless investigations and commentaries linked on http://WWW.SCHOOLBONDSCAM.ORG which show the extremely high correlation between campaign contributions and contract awards. Easy to see how this arrangement leads to waste and misspending of bond proceeds.

  2. Let us stop calling schools “public,” and recognize what they indeed are: capitalist schools (fully segregated by class and race) schools of the empire.

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