Schools seek control of bond-issue repair

It seems relatively straightforward and is allowed under state law, even if it is a somewhat unusual move: changing the terms of a nearly $300 million school bond without voter approval.

A plan to do just that, however, may meet resistance when the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors votes Tuesday on the proposal by the San Mateo Union High School District.

In 2006, voters passed the 25-year bond issue, known as Measure M. But district officials recently found that the bonds would not produce enough return to fund all $298 million authorized by the voters.

To remedy the problem, the district wants to issue longer-term bonds than were called for by Measure M, district Superintendent David Miller said.

Supervisors, however, are not without their worries.

“There are questions that have been raised that need further discussion with our council,” Supervisor Jerry Hill said. “I have concerns about circumventing what the voters have approved.”

Supervisor Rich Gordon said he would vote in favor of allowing the school district to issue the bonds. Since the bonds will be issued by the school district and not the county, he said, it is up to school officials to decide the terms and face possible opposition from taxpayers.

“Very candidly, this is not something we’ve done before,” he said. “It has been the practice and procedure that the county issues the bonds on behalf of the school district.”

Miller said the option of going back to the voters wasn’t desirable because it would cost between $300,000 and $400,000 — funds that would be taken away from the infrastructure improvement projects funded by the bond measure.

Taking out loans to pay for the critical improvements is unrealistic as well, as the district is in debt and has no clear revenue stream, he said.

District officials believe issuing a bond for as long as 40 years would allow the school district to deliver the projects it promised to voters two years ago.

The improvements include bringing classrooms up to date, installing air conditioning, and repairing arts and sports facilities.

“If we limit ourselves to just 25-year bonds, we will end up paying $38 million in finance charges,” Miller said.

The final optionof having the county issue the bonds on behalf of the district remains unlikely, as several supervisors have voiced opposition to the idea.

tbarak@examiner.com

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