School Board Trustee Advocates for Antioch’s Measure J

I generally subscribe to Barbara Zivica’s tight-fisted prudence. I, too, pride myself on fiscal integrity. For the record, I, like Barbara, disagreed with extending the Mello-Roos tax, the Antioch sales tax, and the recent water tax in its’ convoluted packaging.

On her recent column, though, regarding Measure J  (renovation of the going on sixty-year Antioch High School, the only school in Contra Costa of that era that has not been restored), Barbara simply barked up the wrong tree as a watchdog.

Even though AHS is sandwiched by stunning Heritage High, college-campus looking Deer Valley, and Pittsburg High, which had a gorgeous makeover keeping its’ old bone structure, I can respectfully differ with Barbara’s opinion that it’s O.K. for our downtown school to stand out like a sore thumb.

Opinion and facts are two things, though. I am not here to argue the ballot merits as the voters will determine whether our kids deserve second rate perimeter security; cracking walls and sidewalks; dark classrooms, outmoded heating, air and technology; an unusable pool and track; and a cafeteria that can’t fit them all in rainy weather. It is the citizens who will decide what an equitable facility would or would not do for downtown morale and property value.

Being, though, that I apparently surprise Barbara in  living one block over in the non-Mello-Roos area, and would, in fact, pay the tax should it pass, I am compelled, as a private citizen, to fact check.

As a soon-to-be sixty-six year old who will start collecting social security June 13th, I, too, would love, both personally and philosophically, to see seniors exempted for the $4.52 per $100,000 assessed value.  Even though it amounts to a tenth or twentieth of what Mello-Roos owners pay, seniors have truly done so much for our community and deserve a break.

Unfortunately, under the law of construction bonds, there is so no such possible exemption. It is simply legally verboten. There seems, then, to be some confusion about the provisions of bonds and parcel taxes, where exemptions can and can not be allowed.

As to the argument that Antioch has properties up the kazoo, I don’t get it. Firstly, precisely because we have received hardship monies to build, the sobering reality is that any properties we sold would be monies given back the state. Secondly, paint this a favorable climate for construction, a dreadful time to sell. Thirdly, even if we were hypothetically able to sell off everything we had, hold nothing for future growth, and be allowed to keep the money, it would be at best a few million rendered, hardly a dime on the dollar of what 21st century modernization will cost.

Fact is, A.U.S.D. has been cut $74 million in state funding over the last four years. Due to the bloodletting, like other districts, we have been given a state exemption on putting away 3% for deferred maintenance and we have stopped putting into long term retirement liability fund.  Plain and simple, there is no golden goose to raid for this remodernization.

Is it true, as has been stated, that we are counting on matching money back from the State? Hoping, of course, but not counting, on it. It would be gravy and no, we never bet the ranch on hypotheticals.

As to the argument that we stopped the last Bond dead in its tracks, leaving some twenty one million dollars unbonded, agreed. Gosh, it feels odd, though, to be criticized for not not taking everything we could have grabbed. Shouldn’t public entities be applauded for  disciplined frugality and turning back money?  We were, in deed, the good stewards we promised to be.

Fact is, we completed most all our list, getting very favorable results from the competitive construction climate.  On top of that we received some $16 million back in saved interest  from the Quality Construction Act. Most of our bonding came in at an incredibly low 2% interest rate. Credit the penny-pinching Scottishness of Tim Forrester, Executive Director of Operations for putting this together.

The loan formulas changed on us and for the small scope of unfinished projects left we would have had to pay $80 to $90 million interest on $20 million bonding. We wisely decided not to.

Unlike my friend Barbara, I was not surprised that the City Council unanimously supported the bond. They, like I, expect that with a mandated build out checklist, a citizens’ oversight committee,  a vigilant administrative team and a fiscally sound Board that has put away $27 million in ending fund balance despite massive state cuts,  we would see the same positive results as Measure C should Measure J Pass. Its all up to the voters.

Walter Ruehlig, Trustee, A.U.S.D.

3 Comments to “School Board Trustee Advocates for Antioch’s Measure J”

  1. Arne Simonsen says:

    Well, my friend Walter and I will disagree on Measure J.

    With $20 million yet to be bonded from Measure C and the AUSD owning surplus property that it will never be building schools on, there are other alternatives.

    And with all the students in the Mello-Roos district off James Donlon and east of Somersville attending AHS, Park Middle and the older elementary schools, they will not be contributing to the cost of repairs; yet they are using those older schools.

    Looks like my NO on J vote will cancel out my friend Walter’s. But, no hard feelings as it will be the voters who decide on June 5th.

    • Cynthia Ruehlig says:

      We do not belong to the Mello-Roos district but live in the newer part of Antioch around 1.5 miles from Deer Valley HS. We do not pay M-R but our son went to K-12 schools paid for by M-R monies. Now our grandsons are attending the same schools.

      Now that the shoe in on the other foot, I will vote yes for Measure J as part of my duty as a citizen who believes in a Antioch united in its commitment to provide the best for all its children.

      Cynthia Ruehlig

  2. Jim Marchetti says:

    While I can see that Walter is a strong supporter of the education system, as am I, I am a strong opponent to any new taxes – period. I believe that the leaders of the city and the school board are charged with, and responsible for, the fiscal health of the city & AUSD. Many would love to blame the recent economic train wreck over the past few years. While the horrible economy is certainly a factor, it is not the actual problem why the school district has no money.

    Let me illustrate:
    It is the same as when a family who has a very comfortable income with a large amount of discretionary income left each month. They need to decide on how it shall be used, right? (remember when the city and AUSD seemingly had lots of cash coming in??)

    Frequently, they go out and buy their McMansion, the requisite boat that living near such a wonderful waterway seemingly requires Antioch residents to buy, the high end cars, fancy and ridiculously expensive clothes, etc. Enjoying their big incomes, they save little or nothing because they think their dual income careers will never end, so they just spend, spend, spend.

    Suddenly, one day, the economy goes to crap, banks that are too big to fail, fail, governments buy 65% of a failing car company, the federal government prints ridiculous amounts of fiat money, further devaluing and diluting the money supply, and then the layoffs begin.

    Mr. and Mrs. FlushWithMoney are now Mr. and Mrs. HolyCrapWeAreBROKE!!!

    That is a very loose, but relatively accurate description of nearly every broke school district in America. Had the schools looked ahead and had realistic visions of the future (everything runs in cycles…), they would have had the foresight to carefully manage their funds. Every one of the city council and AUSD board members for the past 30+ years all have known that schools and other facilities do not last forever.

    Why then does Antioch and the AUSD have no money to renovate/restore/rebuild their oldest high school?

    POOR PLANNING and fiscal irresponsibility. It is not the economy that has forced them to ask for yet another tax to be levied on the already hurting citizens of Antioch.

    I strongly oppose any new taxes, especially when it is NOT the economy that is the root cause of the problem.

    As a responsible family man, I saved my money for a rainy day and when I was laid off in June 2008, I had enough money to fully fund my family for 14 months. Sadly, finding work was so difficult, I actually had to use 13 months of those funds. This included the ridiculously high COBRA insurance rate of $1,476.00 each month. So, my budget actually got bigger because of the COBRA ripoff.

    But, sadly, most families are not setup to survive such a high impact event. But, they could be with a little foresight and careful planning…

    Just like the city and school district. They have never really planned ahead and set aside funds for these sorts of things. Why?

    Lastly, banking on the State kicking in one penny is simply foolish. The State is more broke (is that even the right terminology?) than Antioch and the AUSD. How in the world could the council and board think that they can COUNT on funds from the State?

    Fool’s gold my friend, that is just fool’s gold you’re chasing after.

    ——–>>>> NO ON J <<<<——–

    Respectfully submitted,
    Jim Marchetti

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