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League of Women Voters forum: Measure K-$45 million bond

Austin Widger, Ojai Valley News reporter
At the League of Women Voters’ virtual forum Oct. 6, two community members discussed the Ojai Unified School District Measure K bond for $45 million to upgrade OUSD campuses.
OUSD Superintendent Tiffany Morse argued in favor of the bond, and Ojai Valley News owner and former Measure J Citizen’s Oversight Committee member Bob Daddi argued against it.
The Measure K bond question on the ballot asks voters: “To improve the quality of local schools; modernize and renovate classrooms, restrooms and facilities; upgrade outdated electrical, plumbing, and sewer systems; and make health, safety and security improvements; shall Ojai Unified School District’s measure be adopted authorizing $45,000,000 of bonds at legal interest rates, generating on average $2,336,000 annually while bonds are outstanding with levies of approximately 2. 7 cents per $100 assessed value, annual audits, no money for salaries, citizen oversight, and no money taken by the state?” 
One of the key projects that has been discussed, though it does not appear on the bond ballot question, is the construction of an aquatic center for use by both Nordhoff High School and the community.
Daddi said that he implored the board to spend $5 million of 2014’s Measure J to replace the pool. He said: “I thought a pool would have been fine at that time. Now when you speak about an aquatic center, the last aquatic center put in California was $14 million. ... What I’m concerned about is, even if we have a $14 million or more for an aquatic center, where are the funds going to come from to run it?”
Morse said: “If Measure K does not pass, we will need to take some of our remaining Measure J funds, probably about $1 million, just to improve the pumps and filtration system (in the existing pool). But with Measure K, we can create an aquatic center for community use … we are currently exploring partnerships with potentially the YMCA. We would certainly explore a partnership with the city to help us run the ‘learn to swim’ programs.”
Daddi said: “When I go to www.greatschools.org, we have ratings that are at a place that, you know, I can’t really see why we need to be where we are. I urged prior superintendents, not this one, to please, let’s do something. Let’s step up the academics. Let’s do these other things that we need to do. We really haven’t done that. I think what we’re doing is we’re getting sidelined with building and expanding and painting and doing lots and lots of things.”
Morse said that contributing to student success are adequate facilities. She said: “I can just tell you the state of our classrooms in many places is really problematic. I don’t know that I would put my own child in some of our classrooms, just given the state of where they are. So we, one, have to do lots of repairs on things that are continuing to deteriorate that we weren’t able to address in Measure J, but also our facilities. Things like painting, things like plumbing, things like roofs, our infrastructure for technology; those all will continue to deteriorate.”
Daddi said he would likely have supported a parcel tax over a school bond since the $45 million bond will end up costing $86.4 million, with interest, over 30 years. “That is an enormous bond. We still have a prior bond — I think we’re going to be well over $100 million in bonds. I just think that I’m not for that type of long-term extended spending.”
Morse said a parcel tax would have only given the district about $4 million, which is not nearly enough to meet the total of $100 million in needs the district has. Morse said: “Every unified school district in Ventura County has bonds. That’s how we have to fund this work. Most of them have three. Many have four, five or even six bonds to fund this work.”
Daddi said in his closing, in part: “My biggest objection is the way it’s put together. We have so much flexibility that it’s really kind of hard to understand what you’re really voting for and what you’re ‘buying,’ if that’s what we’re doing. It’s really without price tags and without a scale of importance.”
Morse said in her closing, in part: “We will start with the critical needs and then we will look at what could possibly be on our wish list. The pool is a critical need for us. Measure K is a modest ask that’s sensitive to the needs of the taxpayers and what’s happening in our world right now related to COVID. Measure K is also a great benefit to our community. You don’t just have to take my word for it. Every school board candidate has endorsed Measure K, as have our administrators, many of our teachers, and our current board voted unanimously to place it on the ballot.”

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