Vote NO! on Measure C from General Shafter Elementary on June 7, 2016
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Bakersfield Neighbors for Honesty in School Bonds

Thank You for Reading the Ballot Argument Against Measure C

What You Need to Know

There are two primary things I've learned over the past year that I think will give you the big picture.

Number 1

I'm going to go out on a limb here and make a categorical statement that none of the Proposition 39 bond measures that have been placed on local ballots around the state over the past 10 years are in accordance with the law. The law in this case is the California Constitution, Article XIII-A.

Not a single one of the 45 Prop 39 bond measures on this June's ballot is a "list of specific school facilities projects to be funded." That language is a mandate in the Constitution in order to make an exception from the general rule that school construction bonds require a two-thirds vote for passage.

The school bonds cartel was behind the passage of Proposition 39. You can read for yourself its unmitigated glee with the results of the primary election in 2002 in its own words, the first election at which Proposition 39 bond measures could be placed on the ballot anywhere in California.

Number 2

There is a massive, organized lobby that operates all over the state whose only goal is to make its members money or gain them prestige or political power or all three. I call it the school bonds cartel. Since Proposition 39 passed in November 2000, the school bonds cartel has persuaded local voters around the state to indebt themselves for nearly $200 BILLION, all secured by their homes.

After a 10-year drought, as the money spigot was about to drip its last dollar, C.A.S.H. took the initiative (pun intended) and placed another $9 BILLION state-wide bond on the ballot for November 2016. It only cost it about $1.5 MILLION. If it passes, that's an excellent return on investment.

I should have had an inkling of this, but I was naive, perhaps because I didn't really know anything about school construction bonds. When you follow the money, all becomes clear.

What you should take away from these two things is that your local school and college districts have gotten into bed with the school bonds cartel to soak homeowners (mostly) and small business owners for the maximum amount of money that the law allows or that the market will bear, whichever is greater.

Financial Reports

This is, perhaps, the most disgusting part of a bond measure campaign. Almost as if by design, the campaign financial filings are almost impossible to come by. The county registrar of voters is the only place where you can get the filings. They're on paper, often faxed, and sometimes hand-written. (There is no searchable database in any county in the state.) You have to travel there during business hours to get them. (Some counties have the images of the paper filings on-line in a heavily redacted, nearly useless form.) In a word, it's a Herculean task.

Do you believe in fairies? How about angels? Who gives money to a Yes-on-Measure Committee? The answer to this question raises the specter of all kinds of political favors, waste, and public corruption. The proof is in the pudding, as they say.

If you were to believe the Yes-on-Measure Committee, it's a bunch of grassroots parents, teachers, and community leaders." In fact, the school bonds cartel rears its hydra head again. The donors to the Yes-on-Measure Committee are a who's who of C.A.S.H. go-to firms.

Why is this secret, you might ask? Because it's nearly impossible for average folks like you to get your hands on the reports that the Yes-on-Measure Committee and the major donors must file. The reason that it'

By the way, it's not just the Yes-on-Measure Committee. There's a heavy correlation between these donors to trustee candidates. What would you think if donors to trustee campaigns and the Yes-on-Measure Committee received contracts with district, either before or after a bond measure election?

I don't have campaign filing information for Measure C. Would you be an angel and visit your county registrar's office to get a copy of the filings? Call or text me at 909-378-5401 and I'll walk you through what to expect. It's not difficult, if you can spare the time and small expense, but it's extremely helpful to everyone else who will visit this page. The information will be also be added to our growing database of Yes-on-Measure Committee donors to help connect the dots all over California.

Legal Requirements

How many times can you find references to state statutes or codes or law in the question, in the full text, in the arguments, in the impartial analysis, and in the tax rate statement? Why is it there? The only reason it's put in there is to give you a false sense of comfort.

Let me explain.

If something is required to be done by law, then it's not optional. Adding language that says the district will follow the law adds nothing. Wouldn't one expect that anyway? Then why put it in?

I'm building a library of past bond measures for reference. The earliest one currently in the library is from November 2002. This was the first general election where the brand new Proposition 39 (55%) bonds were on the ballot. Look at how simple it was. Los Angeles County Measure J.

In some cases, the ballot measure goes to great lengths to quote or paraphrase what the law says. In my view, this is dangerous because the paraphrased language is not the law. Will the district follow the paraphrased language or the actual law, if you approve this tax measure? The only way to know is to sue in court, which requires lawyers and a lot of money.

The law hasn't changed since that 2002 measure was placed on the ballot. The only reason for all the legal gobbledygook is that C.A.S.H. members have conducted focus-groups and have determined that putting in all that meaningless legal mumbo-jumbo sells better.

Legal Interest Rates

This is usually right in the question, but can appear elsewhere in the full text. Again, what purpose does it serve, except a false sense of comfort. Did you know that legal interest rates are currently up to 12%? Does that shock you? Would you take a 12% loan on your house? Of course not. Why didn't the consultant who wrote the question put in the maximum 'legal' interest rate? (You didn't think district officials wrote it, did you?) Because "at legal interest rates" sells much better than "at up to 12% interest rates."

It's just part of the sales job.

Accountability

If there's one thing you'll see throughout the sample ballot materials and all the propaganda materials you're receiving in your mail is how much accountability there is. Why do the advisors put so much attention on this? As you'll see, the reason is always the same -- because it sells.

In fact, the sole purpose of the Smaller Classes, Safer Schools and Financial Accountability Act of 2000 was to undermine opposition to the passage of Proposition 39. Like all legislative acts, the title of the act is the sizzle. It looks good. It sounds good. It means nothing. Oftentimes it's actually an oxymoron, meaning it does the exact opposite of what it sounds like it does. This case is no different. There is mention of accountability in the act, but in practice, the trustees control the two groups that are deceptively described as independent.

The independent citizens' bond oversight committee (CBOC) actually serves at the pleasure of the trustees. In practice, the trustees adopt the committee's bylaws, restrict its activities, and manage its meetings where high-level administrators and vendors are always in attendance. If you'd like to learn what really goes on in these meetings, read about the initial meeting of the Torrance Unified School District CBOC The Big Switcheroo.

The two so-called independent audits, which are constitutional provisions, are actually anything but. Note that each bond measure must have two audits every year until all the funds have been spent. This is very lucrative business for accounting firms. Would you guess that these accounting firms are members of C.A.S.H.? That should tell you to whole story. The school bonds cartel is like a vertical holding company. It controls every aspect of school facilities projects in California from selling the district officials on a sky-high pile of money (not very hard to do) through to final repayment of indebtedness.

An audit is an opinion that certain financial practices are in place and that nothing appears out-of-line. It's a very conservative thing. It's based on the data provided. It's not looking for trouble. It's looking for the mundane. The district determines what data to provide. It's looking for a good report. Of the thousands of audits performed in California each year, do you know how many did not report a clean bill of health? Does zero sound reasonable? Like I said, the accounting firms are just doing the job they're paid to do with the data they're provided. These are not forensic audits looking for trouble. These are routine audits looking for the mundane. Did I mention that this audit business is very lucrative?

So why do I say that there's no accountability? Because even the scandals like Sweetwater in San Diego County that led to criminal convictions, passed all the accountability procedures. Grand jury reports like those in Contra Costa, Orange, and Solano counties are routinely rationalized away and ignored.

Are bond funds being wasted and misused? Without a doubt. Guess how many prosecutions have been initiated by county district attorneys for misuse of bond funds under the Smaller Classes, Safer Schools and Financial Accountability Act of 2000? Zero.

The so-called watchdogs are asleep at the wheel. Those few souls who have uncovered the waste and misuse are left to their own resorts. They can bring their own civil suits at their own expense and on their own time. Their stories are seldom told by a disinterested press that's just trying to survive the age of the Internet.

Impartial Analysis

This is really one big joke. It looks all official and all, written by the county counsel, but it's just a fill in the blank form that fulfills a requirement of the legislature.

It basically says: NOTHING IS AS IT APPEARS. BUYER BEWARE!

How many trees have been killed putting this meaningless fine print in millions of sample ballot booklets for all these years?

Bottom Line

Of all the legal mumbo jumbo in the measures and their related documents, there is not a single provision of law that sanctions a district for non-compliance. In other words, the districts can violate the provisions of the law, which they do, with impunity -- without consequence. Sure individuals can file lawsuits at their own expense to attempt to force the district to comply with the laws it is subject to. The best result attainable would be an order to follow the law with absolutely no consequence. Note that the district pays for its defense with your taxes, so its no skin off its back.

And if you the think in-house counsel and outside lawyers are giving advice that is competent or that explains all the legal possibilities, then all you need do is look at all the lawyers that are part of the school bonds cartel and C.A.S.H.. A retired lawyer in Monterey County who writes extensively about the legalities of the persistent expansion of public employee pensions has even suggested that these yes-man lawyers are violating there own code of professional responsibility. It's become so prevalent that no matter what legal violation you raise, the district will always claim that its counsel has said the district is following the law -- just before it loses in court or on appeal.

Fairness

Do you think it's fair when a district uses public resources to influence an election that it has a direct interest in. An election like a bond measure election, let's say.

Kamala Harris, California's current Attorney General has weighed in on this issue. You can read the official opinion which was just published in January 2016.

For my analysis on the Attorney General's opinion, see Attorney General Weighs In.

This is one of my pet peeves. The district says it's simply providing allowable 'information.' Don't buy the lame lawyers' argument that as long as the material doesn't tell the voter how to vote, it's legal. The Attorney General didn't buy it. One look at the fancy, colorful, image-loaded, campaign-style mailers and you know in your gut that it's not information -- it's persuasion and it's designed to influence the election. As the Attorney General points out, that violates the law.

What can you do about it? Plenty. Unfortunately, you won't be able to stop it in time to make a difference for the current election. If you want to know the tactics that have worked, then you'll have to join the weekly Wednesday night call here.

There's also the issue of the Yes-on-Measure Committee name. The advisors know the it's a 'sponsored' committee, but it doesn't help the campaign when the committee name that appears on all communications includes a description of the major contributors. So it doesn't. (That's why the campaign finance filings are so important.) The advisors know that even if a complaint is made to the FPPC, a decision will only come months after the election. When you're looking at hundreds of millions of dollars in spending money, even large fines look tiny by comparison. Don't let them get away with it.

Previous Measures

The district has had previous bond measures. It will carefully select the most impressive facilities improvements that it can find to convince you that it's done a good job. The consultants will have beautiful pictures taken. It'll all be just marketing.

What you won't get is a detailed report of where ALL the money went. You also won't get a report of what the actual cost of any individual project was. Nor will you get a report of the tax payments allocated to the project. Why? Because it's not a pretty picture. C.A.S.H. estimates that, at best, only one-third of the actual taxes that you pay will go toward the actual facilities. At least one-half will be interest payments. The rest will be administration and other ill-defined soft costs, like administrator salaries (yes, despite the yelling on the ballot measure to the contrary) and paperwork.

School Accountability Report Card (SARC)

Is the district painting a truthful picture about the state of the schools? Do they really have "leaky roofs," "deteriorating plumbing," and sweltering classrooms?

If you're a voter without children in school, you may not be aware that the legislature requires that school districts complete a report card every year. The report card describes, in detail, a whole range of statistics and details about each school in the district. Importantly, for the purpose of considering a bond measure, there is a facilities sub-section, under Section A (Conditions of Learning). The sub-section is called School Facility Conditions and Planned Improvements (Most Recent Year).

SARCs for General Shafter Elementary Schools

Let's make a game of this. Find the school that doesn't have a perfect facilities report card. Give up yet? So is the district lying on the report card or on the ballot measure?

Remember, the ballot measure is written by the consultants that are mailing you the same propaganda. It's designed to make you feel guilty.

Want to go a step further? Call the district and set up an appointment to inspect a school for yourself. If the district were to let you, which it won't, make sure to bring a video camera so that you can record your report so that others might benefit from your experience.

 


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