DAILY POST EDITORIAL
The Mountain View-Los Altos High School District is asking voters in the June 5 primary to support a $295 million bond issue to build new classrooms and keep up with growing enrollment.
The Post isn’t taking a position on the issue, known as Measure E, but we’d like to give you our philosophy behind school bond measures so that you can make an informed decision.
We are not disputing the need for more classrooms in the district’s two schools. The district anticipates that it will need room for about 500 more kids in the next few years due to all of the housing Mountain View is adding.
The question is whether a bond issue is the best way for the district to pay for new classrooms and capital improvements.
The growth in enrollment has been caused by a housing boom fueled by the expansion of tech companies like Google. Under state law, a school district is allowed to charge developer fees on both commercial and residential projects. Currently, the district is charging $1.26 a square foot for residential developments and a ridiculous 20 cents per square foot for commercial projects.
We’re not anti-development, but we believe that if you’re putting up a new building, and the building will make the lives of neighbors worse, you have to mitigate the problems you’re creating for your neighbors. If that means you’re creating more traffic, you have to find a way to solve that, maybe by busing your employees to work. If you’re making the jobs-housing imbalance worse, you need to build homes. And if you’re bringing in families whose kids will overcrowd the schools, you’ve got to help the school district.
Google and the other big companies in this district should be paying 100% of the cost of any new schools that are necessary because of the growth created by these companies. We don’t say this because we want to punish these companies — they’re a tremendous asset to the region — but they shouldn’t be allowed to pass on their costs to the typical resident.
A homeowner in the Mountain View-Los Altos High School District who owns a home with a tax value of $1 million will pay $300 more a year if Measure E passes. And this new tax will continue until 2039. Yes, the taxes of Google will go up too, but the burden will be felt mostly by residents.
Instead of going to the voters with a bond measure, the board should have raised its developer fees to a level that would cover the new construction.
We know that would take some courage. The big tech companies would probably sue and they’d bankroll school board candidates who wouldn’t take such a hard line.
But if you’re responsible for causing a problem, you need to pay to clean it up. We need school board members who have the steely resolve to stand up to these incredibly powerful companies.
A pay-as-you-go approach
Our second concern is that bond issues are an expensive way to fund capital projects. Borrowing $295 million will cost taxpayers $379 million when you include the interest and fees Wall Street collects on bond issues. Why would we voluntarily send $84 million to Wall Street?
We’d rather see school districts switch to a “pay as you go” system for capital improvements. A bond issue gives politicians a high because once they get it passed, they can immediately begin construction and then have an accomplishment they can crow about at the next election.
Pay-as-you-go requires a long term perspective. Yes, you have to raise taxes, but not as much. There’s no borrowing costs and no fees to Wall Street. You bank the money until it is needed. You plan ahead for when buildings have to be replaced and other capital requirements arise, like when you have to replace a roof. These things are predictable.
If a district is lurching from crisis to crisis, and there’s no long term vision on the school board, pay as you go won’t work. It takes a school board member who is capable of persuading the public that they need to raise taxes now to replace a school building 10 years from now. That’s a hard sell when the public wants immediate gratification. But it will lower the cost to taxpayers over the long haul.
Again, we’re not asking you to reject Measure E based on these arguments. But if it does fail, this is the district’s Plan B. These are two ideas that are worthy of further discussion.
— Editor Dave Price