When the school board called on taxpayers and voters to approve the bond issue to finance renovation and upkeep of your public school facilities, we were admonished that our community deserved classroom and sports facilities as good or better than any other public school in Orange County.
So voters added the school bond obligation to our local property taxes that pay 90% of our public school budget. That is how much we support our schools. But many who voted for the bond have expressed frustration that the school district has not delivered on promises of both first class facilities for all students and joint use benefits for the community.
The festering controversy over the LBHS tennis courts is a case in point. LBHS tennis players and public court users have been petitioning the school district for years to upgrade the substandard tennis facilities on the LBHS campus. Parents of tennis team players insist conditions are unsafe and impede competitiveness in this important sport. Public use has declined because of the shabbiness of the courts, not diminished demand.
The school board spared no expense spending taxpayer dollars on high profile football and baseball facilities, but short-changed LBHS tennis players and public court users. After years of stonewalling, the school board finally agreed to allocate funding that should have been targeted on the tennis courts during the bond financed renovation program.
In what seemed an auspicious beginning the city agreed to fund most of the cost of new LBHS tennis courts due to public use demand. The initial budget in 2011 was estimated at $300,000. The city was to contribute $210,000 and the School District was on the hook for $90,000. That budget quickly grew to $400,000 in 2012, with $280,000 from the city and $120,000 from the school board.
Then after dancing around the issue in 2013 the school board cost estimate soared to $620,000, with the city being asked to kick in $435,000 and the school board $125,000. Now with the 2014 fiscal year underway, the school board finally has revealed that the actual cost to meet the same standards as other schools in the region could be as high as $1.5 million.
The school board lamely says it will try to come up with $450,000, but wants the city to suck it up and provide $1.05 million. Like a car salesman trying to mitigate sticker shock, the school district also floated a $1.9 million version of the project to make $1.05 million look like a good deal for the city.
Instead of competent, open and transparent planning that would keep public and city expectations aligned with reliable cost estimates, the school board has stumbled into yet another controversy distracting from the public school mission.
The school board now wants the city to bail them out. No doubt the school board will blame this new fiasco on the superintendent, whose most successful contribution seems to be taking the heat for school board screw-ups.
The time and money wasted to correct hiring abuses smacking of cronyism, as well as the cost of consultants and contractors paid to coach high paid senior staff on how to do their job, would have gone a long way toward paying for tennis court improvements.
Clearly, it is the school board that needs to be repaired. All that talk about putting the students first and partnership with the community is sounding more than a little hollow and self-serving.
Next time one of the school board’s surrogates sanctimoniously admonishes frustrated parents or taxpayers to “stay positive” about our great schools, someone needs to remind them we have good schools because we pay our taxes. It is the school board that undermines the good it does and creates negativity by politicizing its agenda in truly inane ways instead of just doing its job in a nonpolitical and competent manner.
Howard Hills, of the LBHS class of 1970, is president of the Laguna Beach Republicans.