Board of San Diego Unified School District Senses Voters May Reject $2.8 Billion Bond Measure (Proposition Z) Because of Board’s Past Use of Capital Appreciation Bonds

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“Board of Education” is displayed on the outside of the board’s meeting room at San Diego Unified School District headquarters. Oversized portraits of board members have not been hung – yet.

The board of education of the San Diego Unified School District wants permission from voters on November 6, 2012 to borrow more money for school construction by selling another $2.8 billion worth of bonds to investors. (The $2.8 billion amount does not include interest payments and transaction fees.) The ballot measure is designated as Proposition Z.

In November 2008, 68.71% of voters in the school district approved the $2.1 billion Proposition S. This bond measure remains controversial because the newly elected pro-union majority subsequently voted 3-2 to require construction contractors to sign a Project Labor Agreement (PLA) with unions for projects of $1 million or more funded wholly or in part by Proposition S.

The current school board – now made up of five pro-union board members – recognized that the proposed Proposition Z bond measure would inevitably draw opposition because of the Project Labor Agreement on projects funded by Proposition S. They made a political calculation and voted on July 24, 2012 to apply the Project Labor Agreement to Proposition Z as well as Proposition S. This locked in the campaign support of the San Diego County Building and Construction Trades Council for a tough campaign. (Proposition Z is already opposed by the San Diego County Taxpayers Association.)

But now a new and unexpected campaign vulnerability looms for the San Diego Unified School District’s proposed $2.8 billion Proposition Z: the sale of Capital Appreciation Bonds.

One of the school districts bordering the San Diego Unified School District – the Poway Unified School District – is now getting national news attention because its board decided in 2011 to borrow $105,000,150 by selling Capital Appreciation Bonds. Taxpayers will need to pay investors $981,562,329 by 2052. See page 12 of the Poway Unified School District’s Proposition C Bond Building Fund Annual Audit Report, January 31, 2012.

The San Diego Unified School District was also in on the Capital Appreciation Bond racket, big-time.

For example, the San Diego Unified School District board of education voted on March 24, 2009 to authorize what became a sale of $131,157,580.95 in Capital Appreciation Bonds for Proposition S. To complicate matters, $73,168,837.40 of those bonds (but not the other $57,988,743.55) would convert to the more traditional current interest bonds in 2019. The interest on borrowing that $131 million would total $273,994,919.05 by 2033, with the interest backloaded to the end of the maturity period, of course. Based on this 2011 San Diego Unified School District annual audit report, it would be accurate to say that taxpayers are paying $405 million through 2033 to borrow $131 million in 2009 through the “2008 Series A” bond sales.

Perhaps the school board let this happen because it was preoccupied with negotiating the Project Labor Agreement to fulfill the demands of construction union lobbyists. Either that, or it just didn’t care about how the specifics of its bond sales would affect future taxpayers.

Even worse is the $163,869,784 that the San Diego Unified School District borrowed from investors through the “2008 Series C” bond sales. Interest on that $164 million will total $740,360,216 by the time the bonds mature in 2050. It would be accurate to say that taxpayers are paying $904 million through 2050 to borrow $164 million in 2010 through the “2008 Series C” bond sales.

That’s $1.3 billion to borrow $295 million. Not as bad as the Poway Unified School District, but it’s unlikely many voters in the district would have voted for Proposition S if they understood what it would truly cost taxpayers to borrow money for school construction.

And you can’t blame the voters. The people who approved Proposition S in November 2008 didn’t know that the district would sell Capital Appreciation Bonds, rather than the traditional “current interest bonds” for which interest is paid out twice a year to investors. (Actually, I’ll make a guess that most people who voted for Proposition S couldn’t explain a bond if they were asked – they just wanted to help the kids.)

Now the board of education for the San Diego Unified School District needs to neutralize the Capital Appreciation Bond issue before it sinks the proposed Proposition Z. The board president John Lee Evans has declared that the board will consider a resolution stating it will not sell any more Capital Appreciation Bonds.

SD Unified to Consider Bond Restrictions – San Diego Union-Tribune – August 23, 2012

City Schools Prez Pledges No Exotic Financing on New Bond – Voice of San Diego – August 23, 2012

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  1. […] resolution claiming they wouldn’t sell any more Capital Appreciation Bonds. (See my article Board of San Diego Unified School District Senses Voters May Reject $2.8 Billion Bond Measure (Propo….) Now the Voice of San Diego reports (on October 12, 2012 in School Officials Pitch Prop. Z As […]