PHOTO BY KRIS REILLY
Michele McClowry, standing, discusses the situation facing local schools at the April 19 meeting at the Community Center.
BY KRIS REILLY, Editor
More than 100 people gathered for last week’s meeting regarding Measure S, and several of them spoke passionately about an issue that is threatening to divide Lucerne Valley.
The meeting was hosted at the Lucerne Valley Community Center on April 19 by the Save Our Schools (SOS) committee, which is campaigning in favor of Measure S.
The measure will need 55 percent of the local vote on June 8 in order to pass. Measure S would raise local property taxes by $60 per year per $100,000 of assessed property value for a period of 40 years. The purpose of the measure is to offset the debt incurred by the Lucerne Valley Unified School district when it used a certificates of participation (COP) loan to finance facilities and buses in 2007-2008.
If the district cannot make its COP payments, LVUSD may be taken over by the state. What would happen next is unclear, but the state-appointed trustee would have total control and would look at a number of cost-cutting moves, which could include closing one or both of LVUSD’s campuses and busing students to a neighboring district.
SOS members Millie Rader and Marty Brander outlined the dire financial situation facing the district, as did Michele McClowry, a financial consultant from La Verne who has worked with the county and the district.
The panel then received written questions from the audience, and an open comment forum followed. Many of the written questions were skeptical about the bond, but the spoken comments were mostly supportive — with a few notable exceptions.
Following are some of the highlights:
• OUTSIDE OPINION: McClowry works as a freelance financial consultant for school districts. She said that the LVUSD Board of Trustees’ decision to get the COP loan may have been ill-advised, but she also said that the state budget crisis has deepened the problem.
“There were a lot of mistakes made (by the board),” McClowry said. “But the truth is that if the state was funding you as they should, we probably wouldn’t even have to have this discussion.”
She said the state funding may not be back for years, and “without some relief from (the COP debt), there really is no way that your district will be able to continue on. There just isn’t enough money to fund all of the employees that you need to keep programs going for your students. ... (Measure S) is in my opinion the only solution, and it’s going to be difficult because you’re still going to have to make cuts in addition to this.”
• CRITICAL QUESTIONS: Some of the anonymous written questions were tough.
One asked why Brander didn’t mention the 40-year length of the bond measure in his presentation. Brander said he simply “forgot.” He added, “The bond has an expected payoff date of 2049. It’s a 40-year bond for all practical purposes.”
Another asked why the district had taken out a $4 million loan earlier this month. McClowry explained that it was a TRAN (tax revenue anticipation note) and would be used to pay employees. She said this is necessitated by state funding deferrals and implied that it is a common practice, especially with current state funding shortfalls.
One written comment said “Third option: Make cuts and pay from existing budget.”
Brander said he had asked the same question himself but he believed that “in doing that we would have to ask for across-the-board paycuts to the extent that they literally would bankrupt people. ... It would put (school employees) in a place that no one in this room would want to be.”
Another written question asked if the school will have enough money to operate next year even if the bond passes.
“Even if the bond doesn’t pass, we can probably make one more year — probably,” McClowry said, but she added that the funding situation would not improve and the long-term outlook would be bleak.
One question asked if the passage of the bond would guarantee that the schools would keep sports and elective courses.
Brander said there is “no guarantee that the state of California will not keep chopping the budget. There is no guarantee that if we are able to get this bond passed, that there won’t be some need that we can’t foresee that will send this district back to the community for more money in the future. I don’t know.”
• OPPOSITE SIDES OF THE ISSUE: Parents, teachers, students and several other
community members spoke in support of the bond measure. The positive comments were in the majority.
One man spoke of his autistic son — who is no longer autistic. He said the teachers and staff at Lucerne Valley Elementary school have been instrumental in his son’s turnaround.
Students spoke passionately about the need for a local high school to keep kids out of trouble.
Adults such as local teacher Cindy Lazenby talked about their own experiences of enduring long bus rides to Apple Valley as teens. She said Lucerne Valley students were treated as second-class citizens by both classmates and teachers. She claimed a teacher once told her that kids from Lucerne Valley would never amount to anything.
One voice of dissent was local retiree Glen Davidson, who said “we are in the toughest times since The Great Depression, and you’re still asking me for money. ... I look around this room and see that everyone who’s for this has some sort of bias; they’re either involved directly in the school system, they have kids in the school system or they work for the school. I don’t see a lot of objectivity. I think if the school board’s eliminated (under a state takeover), under the circumstances I think that would be a good thing. Bare bones instruction? Getting back to the three R’s? I also think that would be a good thing.”
Local pastor Steve Colangelo said that while the bond goes against his ideals as a fiscal conservative, he supports it because he believes it is crucial to the survival of local schools. He also called for understanding and acceptance between people who disagree about the issue.
• BANK TAKES A STAND: Jan Morosco, Vice President and Lucerne Valley Branch Manager for First Mountain Bank, is also a member of the SOS committee. She said she has the blessings of her company, which is officially supporting Measure S.
“We did a lot of soul searching. The (bank) president Jack Briner and myself had a meeting and we came to the conclusion, and I know it’s not unanimous, but we came to the conclusion that if we lose our school district or if this measure doesn’t pass that we may be in danger of losing a lot of people in this town, and therefore losing a lot of business in the bank,” Morosco told the audience. “Obviously I don’t want the bank to fail; I love my job. That’s why we took a stand on something political. First time and probably last time it will happen.”
• FUTURE MEETINGS: On Saturday, May 1, at 2 p.m., a meeting hosted by Jeanmarie Taylor (who opposes Measure S) will be held at the Lucerne Valley Community Center. Taylor said she plans to give the first 100 people at the meeting a copy of the COP accounting summary she obtained from the district. The SOS committee will hold another meeting at the Lucerne Valley Community Center on Monday, May 10, at 6 p.m.