Tag Archive for Contra Costa Taxpayers Association

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

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.

Don’t Be Fooled! Meet Some Sneaky Fake Taxpayer Groups In California

In November 2000, California voters approved Proposition 39, which allows school districts to seek voter approval for school construction bonds at a 55% threshold instead of a two-thirds threshold. One of the conditions in Proposition 39 required of school districts seeking the 55% threshold for passage is to establish a Citizens Bond Oversight Committee, with the requirement that “One member shall be active in a bona fide taxpayers’ organization.” (See California Education Code Section 15282.)

I scoffed at that provision and figured it wouldn’t be long before the California Labor Federation, AFL-CIO and its regional affiliates created their own “bona fide taxpayers’ organizations” to undermine bond oversight committees and make sure taxpayers remain a generous source of revenue for the government and the people who live off of it.

That has surely happened with the case of the Middle Class Taxpayers Association in San Diego, one of two obviously phony taxpayer organizations that float about nowadays to provide cover for the union tax-and-spend agenda.

The Middle Class Taxpayers Association in San Diego – FAKE!

The Middle Class Taxpayers Association, formed in 2011 in San Diego, betrays its true agenda with the code words in its mission, as reported in the leftist Ocean Beach Rag: “MCTA will focus on pocket-books issues such as healthcare coverage, housing affordability, quality of life, small business development, asset building, moral public budgeting, employment self-sufficiency, lifetime education, retirement security, and consumer safety.” (They forgot to include “investment” in this list.) In other words, more taxes, more programs, more spending.

A post on the web site of the San Diego County Republican Party claims that “the ‘Middle Class Taxpayers Association’ isn’t a new voice for responsible stewardship of our tax dollars. It’s a front group shilling for the San Diego (Central) Labor Council. The Labor Council doesn’t even try to hide its involvement.” No surprise, the Middle Class Taxpayers Association opposes Proposition A (Fair and Open Competition) and Proposition B (City Employee Pension Reform) on the June 5 ballot in the City of San Diego.

In the summer of 2011, the Governing Board of the Southwestern Community College District in Chula Vista declined to reappoint Rebecca Kelley, the representative of the San Diego County Taxpayers Association, to its Citizens’ Bond Oversight Committee for the $389 million Proposition R bond measure, instead placing a representative of the Middle Class Taxpayers Association on the oversight committee.

That so-called taxpayers’ representative is Matt Kriz, political director of International Union of Painters and Allied Trades, District Council 36 and Local 831. As reported earlier by the Dayton Public Policy Institute, the board of directors of the Southwestern Community College District is about to vote on a policy to require contractors to sign a Project Labor Agreement with construction unions to work on projects funded by Proposition R. Even the college newspaper was able to make the connection:

Builder Decries Loss of Oversight Members: SWC Board Replaced Two on Prop. R Committee over the Summer – Southwestern College Sun newspaper – October 7, 2011

Also, see Breaking: Labor Corruption…SD Labor Council Seeks to Oust Taxpayer Advocate from Oversight Committee – posted on San Diego Rostra by Ryan Purdy – July 12, 2011

The real taxpayers’ organization in San Diego County is the San Diego County Taxpayers Association. In addition, Richard Rider’s San Diego Tax Fighters is a reliable source of information on local fiscal responsibility.

The Contra Costa County Senior Taxpayers Group – FAKE!

I only checked the existence of this phony organization when construction union officials handed me a letter from the Richmond-based “Contra Costa County Senior Taxpayers Group” on May 18 outside an event hosted by the Contra Costa Taxpayers Association. The letter reiterated union-backed attacks on a study showing that school construction in California is 13%-15% more expensive when a school district requires contractors to sign a Project Labor Agreement with unions.

Using web searches, I only find one example of the Contra Costa County Senior Taxpayers Group involved in policy issues: on June 18, 2009, Susan Swift – the executive director of the Contra Costa County Senior Taxpayers Group – spoke to the Brentwood City Council in support of a requirement for contractors to sign a Project Labor Agreement to work on the Brentwood Civic Center. (The union requirement was approved on a 3-2 vote.) Swift is a former staffer to two San Francisco Bay Area Democrat state legislators and received the endorsements of numerous Democrat politicians and unions when she ran unsuccessfully for Director of the West Contra Costa Healthcare District in 2004.

The real taxpayers’ organization in Contra Costa County is the Contra Costa Taxpayers Association. There is also a small group called the Alliance of Contra Costa Taxpayers, which still seems to pop up occasionally to oppose new taxes but whose web site has been neglected for several years.

The Mother Lode Taxpayers Association – BONA FIDE or a POLITICAL FRONT?

I was reminded last week of my old 2000 prediction about fake taxpayer groups when I read about the controversy concerning the legitimacy of the Mother Lode Taxpayers Association, a group founded in 2010 that established a Political Action Committee on April 12, 2012 for independent campaign expenditures in support of Frank Bigelow, a Republican candidate for the 5th Assembly District facing off in the June 5 primary against former Assemblyman Rico Oller.

Now, I’m guessing that Frank Bigelow (just like Rico Oller) would be a solid vote for fiscal responsibility in the California State Assembly. But I wouldn’t regard the three donors to the Mother Lode Taxpayers Association’s Political Action Committee to be special interest groups known for their philosophical resistance to relentless tax increases and government expansion. It received $150,000 from the California Real Estate Independent Expenditure Committee, $75,000 from the California Dental Association Independent Expenditure PAC, and $10,000 from the California Cattlemen’s Association PAC (CATTLE PAC).

The Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association (which endorsed Rico Oller) issued a press release noting “fake taxpayer groups like this undermine legitimate taxpayer organizations…” Yet, I notice that the web site for the Mother Lode Taxpayers Association has been active in other local campaigns in the past three years: see here. The executive director, Heidi Morton, is active in Republican and conservative causes in Tuolumne County.

So is the Mother Lode Taxpayers Association bona fide or not? I hope so, and I hope it will join the other legitimate taxpayer associations in California in the lonely fight for fiscal responsibility.

A Fairly Trustworthy List of Taxpayer Organizations in California

I don’t know every listed group, but I believe the National Taxpayers Union (based in Washington, D.C.) has posted a fairly accurate list of bona fide taxpayer groups in California: California is the Best Example of How to Run a State’s Economy into the Ground.

Author of Most Comprehensive Study on the Cost of Project Labor Agreements Speaks in Contra Costa County, California and Earns Inflatable Rat Balloon Greeting

UPDATE: see coverage of the meeting by Lisa Vorderbrueggen of the Contra Costa Times newspaper in “Political Blotter: Politics in the Bay Area and Beyond:”

Was that a Rat on Contra Costa Boulevard? – Contra Costa Times – May 18, 2012


This morning I went to a meeting of the Contra Costa Taxpayers Association featuring a presentation by Erik Bruvold, the President and CEO of the National University System Institute for Policy Research, based in San Diego. This institute describes itself as “a groundbreaking economic think tank that promotes high quality economic, policy, and public-opinion research to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of local governments.”

Bruvold is the lead author of “Measuring the Costs of Project Labor Agreements on School Construction in California.” Published in July 2011, this study is the most comprehensive statistical assessment ever done about the fiscal impact of government-mandated Project Labor Agreements (PLAs), with a sample size five times larger than any other study. The study takes into account several potential cost variables overlooked in earlier PLA studies, and it was reviewed for its credibility and accuracy by economists at The Keston Institute for Public Finance and Infrastructure Policy at the University of Southern California.

It was appropriate for Bruvold to make a major public presentation in Contra Costa County, located in the San Francisco Bay Area with a population of 1.1 million. For 20 years, Contra Costa County has been a hotbed of political and legal battles over government-mandated Project Labor Agreements. In fact, in some ways Contra Costa County has been a national leader in the union strategic effort to use government-mandated Project Labor Agreements as a tool to gain market share of taxpayer-funded construction.

For example, the Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors was the first government in California to require contractors to sign a Project Labor Agreement for a public project (the Contra Costa Regional Medical Center in 1994 – see background here). In 2001, the Contra Costa Building and Construction Trades Council and the City of Richmond (in Contra Costa County) joined the Building and Construction Trades Department, AFL-CIO in a court challenge to President George W. Bush’s Executive Order 13202 prohibiting federal funding on construction projects on which governments require contractors to sign Project Labor Agreements with unions as a condition of work. (The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals rejected the lawsuit in Building and Construction Trades Department AFL-CIO v. Allbaugh, No. 01-5436.)

The Contra Costa Taxpayers Association describes itself as “a non-profit, non-partisan organization dedicated to promoting accountable, cost-effective and efficient government and opposing unnecessary taxes and spending.” This organization has long opposed government-mandated Project Labor Agreements – not surprising when the study “Measuring the Costs of Project Labor Agreements on School Construction in California” indicates a 13-15% increased cost of construction when the bid specifications of school districts require contractors to sign a PLA.

Obviously this study irks union officials. Several dozen union picketers and an inflatable rat balloon were in front of the Hyatt House in Pleasant Hill to greet the 93 meeting attendees.

In addition, two union officials (Aram Hodess, who is a California Apprenticeship Council commissioner and business manager of UA Plumbers and Steamfitters Local 159, and Kevin VanBuskirk, who is a business representative of the Sheet Metal Workers Local No. 104) were handing out this double-sided flyer at the front door of the hotel.

I felt Bruvold did an excellent job in explaining the following: (1) his institute spent a year collecting and confirming data from school districts, state governments, and the McGraw-Hill publishing company, (2) his institute’s study is exceptional for its large sample size and its effort to account for numerous potential variables, (3) California has rigid school construction standards that minimize cost variables and allow for reasonable comparisons, and (4) a weakness of the study is that it’s impossible to completely disentangle the increased costs of Project Labor Agreements from the increased costs of construction at the Los Angeles Unified School District. Bruvold also rebutted the argument that cost differences were the result of different government-mandated construction wage rates (so-called prevailing wages).

A bunch of union people attended the meeting and asked questions afterwards. Bruvold remained calm and objective throughout his presentation. He declined to speculate much on why school construction costs more under a Project Labor Agreement and why school construction costs more at the Los Angeles Unified School District.

I’ll tell you what I think. School construction costs more under a Project Labor Agreement because non-union contractors generally refuse to bid on projects with a PLA, and subcontractors generally refuse to participate in bids. Less competition means higher costs.

This common sense observation is confirmed by studies done by the Beacon Hill Institute at Suffolk University on school construction in Massachusetts, Connecticut, and New York, as well as anecdotal evidence from 15 projects across the country bid both with and without a PLA.

I contend that school construction costs more at the Los Angeles Unified School District because of what I call the “Urban Corruption Variable.” In fact, I encourage someone to commission the National University System Institute for Policy Research to perform the same research but try to isolate the Corruption Variable and rank the waste, fraud, and abuse at the state’s school districts from best to worst. Contact Erik Bruvold here to inquire about the cost of performing this study.