As a former football player, Lompoc Unified School District Superintendent Trevor McDonald uses sports analogies when he looks back on the disappointment he felt when the district’s proposed bond measure failed on the 2016 ballot.
Although it received 58.5 percent of votes in favor of its passage — a higher percentage than three school bonds in Santa Barbara County that succeeded — Measure L2016 fell short of the 67-percent threshold that it required.
“I think that, relating it to sports, sometimes losing a game or really performing poorly in a game can help you get better,” McDonald said recently from his office at the LUSD Education Center. “So I think this one hurt for everybody, and if we equate it to a sports contest: We got our butts kicked. And now we have two options: Do we stay the same or do we get better?”
Borrowing another sports term, it appears the district will get off the mat and try again.
Less than five months after the November setback, district leaders are positioning to bring another potential bond to the LUSD Board of Education for inclusion on the 2018 ballot. Members of district staff are tentatively planning to make a presentation regarding the new bond measure at the March 21 board meeting.
Between now and a possible bond in 2018, however, McDonald said the district will do what it can to keep its aging facilities afloat.
Measure L2016 was to be a $65 million general obligation bond — a total that could have jumped to about $100 million with matching funds from the state — that would have gone toward repairing and replacing the failing infrastructures at campuses, some of them five decades old, throughout the district.
Prior to the creation of that bond measure, the district compiled a needs list that recommended more than $90 million in repairs. These included repairing or replacing leaky roofs, upgrading antiquated electrical systems, repairing or replacing air-conditioning and heating systems, making health and handicap-accessibility improvements, and modernizing outdated classrooms and other facilities.
“Without the bond, we’re gonna do the best we can,” McDonald said, noting that safety issues will be addressed first and then everything else whenever possible.
Those issues, many of which have plagued the district for several years, were highlighted during the rainstorms over the past two months.
At the board’s Jan. 24 meeting, Doug Sorum, the district’s manager of maintenance and operations, detailed a laundry list of problems that were brought on by heavy rain and wind the week prior. Among those were flooding at Cabrillo High School and electrical failures throughout the district.
During his presentation, Sorum said that an assessment was done on the window panels at Cabrillo High School in 2013, “and that assessment concluded that (there was) corrosion and that the panels were deformed, allowing water and other stuff to come in.”
He said the district made a proposal in 2013 to repair the panels, but the $3 million price tag led to those plans being scrapped. The work was then included on the list of projects for Measure L2016, but like many of the jobs on that list, it continues to sit on hold.
“We have a small amount of money that’s basically going to be used as Band-Aids,” McDonald said.
Board member Dick Barrett has requested that the board discuss the idea of partnering with volunteers and area businesses to tackle some of the work that is needed.
While Barrett and district administrators acknowledge that such a scenario could be tricky, due to the district’s agreements with labor unions, McDonald suggested that it could be feasible in some areas. School fields and open spaces, for example, have been the site of community beautification projects in the past and a big volunteer force can make a noticeable difference, he said.
“(Volunteers) can come together and really make the space look nice with limited resources, with a lot of people putting their hands in there,” McDonald said. “That stuff definitely helps, but it’s not going to take the place of $100 million. That just isn’t gonna happen, and there’s a lot of hurdles to get over.”
McDonald doesn’t hide the sense of letdown he felt when the 2016 bond failed.
The reason the bond had the higher two-thirds threshold than the other bonds around the county was because the LUSD board initially voted 3-2 to have it placed on the ballot, which caused it to fail since it didn't receive the necessary four-vote minimum.
When the issue was brought back to the board at a later date, it voted unanimously to place the bond on the ballot, but in order to succeed at that point the bond would need 67-percent support, instead of the 55 percent that other bonds around the county required.
“I felt disappointed for the students of Lompoc, and the community when we look around the county and essentially every district passed a bond,” McDonald said.
“It’s disappointing for students, for potential students, parents and community members coming up knowing that our counterparts in Santa Maria, Santa Barbara, Orcutt — their facilities are gonna be in better shape than ours, period.”
McDonald said he feels like a 5-0 or 4-1 vote in favor of placing a bond on the 2018 ballot — which would set the voter approval threshold at 55 percent — is likely with the new makeup of the board.
Former board member Carmela Kessler, who was the board’s most outspoken objector to the bond, chose to not seek re-election in 2016 and each of the three new members who were elected advocated for Measure L2016 during last year’s campaign.
The other vote against placing the bond on the ballot last year came from current board member Bill Heath. If Heath also votes against having a bond on the 2018 ballot, it seems likely he would be alone.
“A $100 million check to us, the district, in the form of a bond, has lasting implications for 30 to 40 years,” McDonald said, referencing a potential total that would have included state matching funds that aren't expected to be available in 2018. “So does this board want to have a legacy of saying, ‘We jumped in and we’re gonna do the best we can for these schools to get them up to speed and let Lompoc Unified School District students compete locally, nationally and internationally?'
“I think the people understand; the community members, staff and students clearly understand we need to upgrade our facilities,” he added. “Now we have five voting members and the question to them is: Do they believe that’s a priority to them?”