CHULA VISTA — A citizens committee that oversees bond money for the Sweetwater Union High School District said Tuesday during a special meeting that the school board has some improvements to make with regard to funding priorities.
Committee members took turns suggesting ways the district could improve on its management of a $644 million general obligation bond initiative to modernize all campuses.
Proposition O is subject to strict accountability requirements, including annual audits and review by an independent citizens’ bond oversight committee.
Committee members are appointed by the school board and are responsible for informing the public on the expenditure of taxpayers’ money.
“I’m hoping that we can give the district as a committee some guidance for the future,” said committee chairman Nick Marinovich.
The school board is responsible for monitoring, prioritization of current projects and spending levels of individual projects.
Committee ideas included more community input, a potential bond advisory group at each campus and more structure, specifically prioritization with how it manages construction projects related to Proposition O, which voters passed in 2006.
Not all $644 million in bonds can be sold at the same time because of tax rate limitations, leaving the district in a lull with regard to other construction.
The initial plan was for three future bond sales, but because the assessed value of property has declined in the district the timing and size of the future bond sales is uncertain.
“We’ve got this two-year hiatus where the assessed value hasn’t caught up,” Marinovich said. “We need to have some more strategic thinking for what direction this district should go especially in light of having a whole new ball game before we know it.”
The school board has three members and two vacancies following resignations of two trustees after guilty pleas to criminal charges in the last few months. Two of the sitting trustees are facing charges in the same corruption scandal.
Phase one of Proposition O combined $180 million from the first bond sale in March 2008 with $15 million remaining from the earlier Proposition BB and about $62 million in state funding to renovate 10 schools and accomplish several small projects.
“We’ve got $464 million left, plus whatever we can garner from state match so we can leverage those funds into our schools,” said Tom Calhoun, district chief facilities executive.
He added that more bonds couldn’t be sold for at least another year and a half.
“Even though the market may be recovering, the assessed valuation doesn’t recover as fast,” he said.
Committee member Kevin O’Neill expressed an interest in listing priorities.
“First and foremost we need to decide how we’re going to spend this money and what’s important to us,” he said.
One thing everyone agreed on is that communication is key.
“If the district is transparent and straight with the committee … it’s a lot easier to move forward and creates confidence,” Marinovich said.
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