When the Antioch Unified School District Board voted last December to place a $61.6 million bond measure on the June 3 ballot to repair and upgrade the district's older schools, they did so skittishly, fearing voters wouldn't support it due to the slowdown in the economy and rising gas and food prices.
They were so skittish that they declared themselves ready to change their minds and pull it off the ballot if economic circumstances worsened. But they were emboldened and decided to stick with the measure after nearly all of the school bond measures on the February ballot elsewhere in California were approved.
Those other bond measures proved prophetic, because Measure C passed handily with 62 percent of the vote in a low-turnout election. The bond will be paid for by residents in the non-Mello-Roos areas of Antioch at an annual rate of $28 per $100,000 of assessed valuation of the home for the next 30 years.
When asked for a reaction Wednesday morning, AUSD Board President Walter Ruehlig said, I am elated, I am exhausted. I couldn't sleep last night, pretty wired, terribly relieved. Had the vote come up short, I would have felt we would have let the kids down.
In the end, the citizens of Antioch felt that $25 to $50 a year wasn't a bad idea to profit their kids. It was a great day for the kids and the American sense of fairness. What our parents did for us, we did for the future generation.
About $35,000 was raised for the Measure C campaign by an independent committee that was not officially a part of the school district but which was comprised of school officials, teachers and parents. On Saturday, they campaigned door to door, hitting about 2,000 homes. By phone, they reached about 3,000 people; they also sent out a mailer.
On our phone calls, we were running 64 percent who said they were going to vote affirmative, said Ruehlig. You pinch yourself and feel perhaps they are being polite it turned out it was pretty accurate.
There was much less campaigning against the bond measure. It mostly relied on the anti-Measure C arguments in the election pamphlet written by Ralph and Norma Hernandez, former City Council members who head up a group called Citizens for Democracy.
I think that we stated our case, said Ralph Hernandez. Unfortunately, the facts are true that the school district is going to now use the monies by the state, the 3 percent, will just redirect those to other things than they are supposed to, which includes more raises and benefits to employees. That's all they really accomplished. The shame is on them. They fooled the public and some of the public fell for it.
Hernandez also blamed the low voter turnout for contributing to the results, estimating it was about 20 percent.
That's a big contributing fact, he said. When you have a low voter turnout, the special interests are the ones who gain. I think it would have been defeated (were it on the November ballot). Those that have proposed and are in favor of the taxes are going to come out and vote in numbers in a low-vote turnout.
Ruehlig acknowledged that the low turnout didn't hurt, but he disputed the claim that the funds given to the district for maintenance and repairs will now be diverted to salaries and benefits.
It's about as big a fabrication as I have heard. It has no bearing with reality, said Ruehlig. Those funds are highly restricted in what you can use them for. They are basically repairs and ongoing maintenance. That's fear-mongering.
Ruehlig said that a seven-member committee would be formed this summer to oversee the spending of the $61.6 million. The repairs and upgrades would probably not begin until the summer of 2009.