Foolishness That Won’t Be Stopped: California’s K-12 School Districts Use Borrowed Money from Bond Sales to Buy iPads and Other Technological Gadgets

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The web site www.EdSource.org (“Engaging Californians on Key Education Challenges”) has an article today (December 18, 2012) entitled Districts Face Questions in Spending Long-Term Bonds for Short-Lived Technology. It’s a good summary of how some K-12 school districts in California are using language in Proposition 39 to justify spending borrowed money from bond sales to “equip” schools with computers and other technological products.

Money borrowed through bond sales is typically paid back with interest over a long period of time – much longer than the useful life of computers. Aren’t you glad you didn’t take out a 30-year bank loan to pay for your Radio Shack TRS-80?

Chris Reed had a short piece posted in the December 9, 2012 www.CalWatchdog.com entitled Will School Finance Scams Be Addressed? One of Two at Best. He predicts the California state legislature will restrict the ability of educational districts to sell Capital Appreciation Bonds (CABs), but will not prevent educational districts from using bond proceeds to buy technological products.

Proposition Z was and still is the Zombie Tax.

Proposition Z was and still is the Zombie Tax.

The most prominent recent controversy about California school districts using borrowed money from bond sales to buy technology occurred during the fall 2012 campaign to pass the $2.4 billion Proposition Z bond measure for the San Diego Unified School District. The San Diego County Taxpayers Association led the charge in pointing out how the school district was spending bond proceeds on iPads. In the October 9, 2012 article Is School Bond Money Going to iPads Over Repairs? Fact Check, Voice of San Diego reported the following:

As of mid-September, the district says it had spent more than $379 million of its Prop. S funds. About 11 percent of that has been used to buy iPads, computers and other technologies, according to figures released by school officials.

While the article never actually stated the amount, 11 percent of $379 million is $42 million.

In a subsequent October 25, 2012 article $2,500 iPads? Fact Check, Voice of San Diego reported these findings:

A display case at San Diego Unified School District administrative headquarters highlighting the Proposition S bond measure. The school board has not yet directed district personnel to enhance the display with the original signed Project Labor Agreement negotiated with union officials.

A display case at San Diego Unified School District administrative headquarters highlights the Proposition S bond measure.

The school district used some money collected under Proposition S, the bond approved in 2008, to invest in classroom technology upgrades, including more than 21,500 iPads and nearly 77,800 laptops. More purchases are planned next year…

The iPad purchases came in two phases. First, the district used a series of highly controversial 40-year bonds to buy 10,729 iPads. The district says each iPad cost $420 plus another $116.50 for three-year warranties and accessories. After reviewing bond documents, we calculated that the district will pay an average of about 7.6 times that amount once the final bill comes due. That means a single iPad will cost $4,077.

The district’s second purchase of nearly 10,800 iPads will be less burdensome. The next set of bonds came with a bill that’s an average of about 5.1 times the original cost. Our math shows the district can expect to pay about $2,731 per device for iPads purchased in the second wave.

San Diego voters didn’t care: 61.80% of them voted for Proposition Z on November 6, 2012 and guaranteed that the San Diego Unified School District will have the authority from the 2008 Proposition S and the 2012 Proposition Z to borrow millions of dollars more to spend on iPads.

Besides the bond investors, the people making money on this activity are investors in Apple, Inc. I tweeted the following about the www.EdSource.org article:

California school districts using borrowed $ from construction bond sales to buy computers. (What’s Apple’s position?)

Finally, Jack Weir, a member of the Pleasant Hill City Council and an activist in several community and taxpayer groups in Contra Costa County, emailed a provocative response to the leadership of the Contra Costa Taxpayers Association in response to the www.EdSource.org article:

From:Jack Weir
Sent:Tuesday, December 18, 2012 9:26 AM
To: xxxx
Subject: Re: Should schools be using bond money for technology which is so short lived?

As Alicia Minyen, Anton Jungherr and other CalBOC board members have amply demonstrated, school bond programs are largely out of control – literally.  Mt. Diablo and West County districts have abused Prop 39 on a major scale, although there are far more egregious examples elsewhere in the state.  The new Mt. Diablo board is committed to address their Measure C issues, but will have little corrective latitude.  Dismantling the massive damned solar canopy won’t unring the bell.

There is a whole industry of bond counsels and consultants that work this field, operating in tandem with teachers unions and Democrat politicians that advocate milking the school construction programs to wring additional operational (compensation) funding from local property-owning taxpayers.

After ten years of wrestling with the problem of bringing public (government) education into the 21st century, it is clear to me that nothing short of a whole new paradigm is needed.  And, to get there, we should be asking broad future-focused questions, such as:

> Do we really need brick and mortar facilities dedicated exclusively to classroom teaching?  (Ditto brick and mortar “libraries.”)
> Does it make sense to continue to load ten year-olds with 50 back-breaking pounds of paper books*, when most have (or should have) access to digital devices and the internet?  Within five years, every bit of data and information needed for a good education will be available on the “cloud,” accessible only via digital devices.  Other countries (and states) will leap-frog traditional educational models and kick our economic asses.  Take a look at what India did to bring education into its remote rural villages 25 years ago, and now their kids are coming here to work on H-1B programs.
> Who should pay for K-12 education?  “Free” education ain’t; certainly not to taxpayers, who currently gain a pathetic return on their “investment.”
> What’s the right role for taxpayer advocates in the political forum going forward?

It’s time to start over.
Jack

Based on the results of the November 6, 2012 elections, Californians don’t want to start over. They like the current paradigm, in which the kids get to use “free” iPads.


* Note from Kevin Dayton: regarding the weight of paper textbooks, Assembly Bill 2532, signed into law by Governor Gray Davis in 2002, required the California Board of Education, on or before July 1, 2004, to adopt maximum weight standards for elementary and secondary school textbooks. The California Board of Education subsequently adopted regulations concerning textbook weight standards.

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