Fine print may bring 15 years of higher tax

Improvement projects for one of the largest school districts in San Mateo County are in jeopardy after district officials found flaws in the fine print of a $294 million bond measure in the latest chapter of the bond’s troubled history.

The Measure M bond, approved in November 2006, was intended to help the San Mateo Union High School District build new classrooms and renovate facilities at its schools. Months after the bond passed, three civil grand jury reports slammed the district for mismanaging the bond’s implementation.

In a news conference Tuesday morning, Superintendent David Miller said the bond was drafted with excessively optimistic assumptions about the housing market, on which bond values depend.

He said the language in the bond measure specifically limits the district to issuing smaller, 25-year bonds, which will not provide enough cash to complete all the projects it promised to voters.

To deal with this problem, the district will now float 40-year bonds, forcing taxpayers to pay extra property taxes for 15 years longer than they’d agreed to when the bond was approved.

Miller made it clear Tuesday that a new team is at work on the bond now, and contracts with the previous team who drafted the flawed bond have been terminated.

In order to pass the 40-year bonds, the district has two options: It can either present a revised measure on the ballot for voters to approve again, or it can make the change itself and have the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors “validate,” or approve, their decision.

Supervisor Jerry Hill said he has asked the county’s counsel whether the supervisors have a legal right to sidestep the voters in this way.

The district’s new legal counsel, Sean Absher, said the original bond measure didn’t have to specify the length of the bonds at all.

When asked why or how the flawed language happened, Miller said he didn’t “see the advantage” of looking to the past, and instead the district must simply solve the problem and move on.

“I wasn’t here, I have no idea why they did the calculations the way they did them,” he said.

kworth@examiner.com

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