October 27, 2006

Editorial:

Trust is needed in Sweetwater before we can recommend Prop. O

Proposition O. School Classroom, Safety and Repair Measure — Sweetwater Union High School District (School Bond - 55% Approval Required)

To improve learning/safety at every Sweetwater Union High School District campus by repairing/earthquake retrofitting classrooms/restrooms; installing upgraded fire safety systems, security fencing, safety lighting; upgrading science labs/computer technology; improving handicap accessibility; replacing leaky roofs, heating/air conditioning, outdated plumbing; removing asbestos, mold, and lead paint; shall the District issue $644 million in bonds, at legal interest rates, with citizens’ oversight, independent annual audits and no money for administrators’ salaries?

This is déjà vu. It was in 2000 that the Sweetwater Union High School Board put a $187 million dollar bond on the ballot to fix the problems that this proposition now states that this bond will fix. The question that begs to be asked is what happened with the $187 million and why these problems weren’t fixed the first time around. We remember the bond in 2000, Prop. BB, and we quote: The proposed bond initiative will provide the means to implement major renovations and repairs…. Once targeted facilities are brought up to par Sweetwater’s ongoing commitments … will be sufficient to keep district facilities in good condition far into the future.” Evidently “far into the future” means 5 years.

Prop. BB was promoted, pictures were provided, and a plan was put forth that detailed the needs, what happened? After the bond passed the school board and the Superintendent, Ed Brand, failed the community and did not follow through on the plan or the promises. What the schools got instead were gyms, brand new gyms in place of fixing the real problems that the schools needed. You can visit Sweetwater High School, they have now have two gyms, one huge brand new gym that overlooks the still broken down bathrooms and degraded classrooms, which stands next to the old gym.

Parents were outraged and a Grand Jury investigation occurred. While the Grand Jury found no criminal wrong doing they did chastise the school board for failing to follow through on the intent of Prop. BB. Do you think the school board listened to the Parents or read the Grand Jury report? Evidently not. National City Middle School which was supposed to be first on the list of school for repairs and renovation, being the oldest school in the district, had been ignored until the parents finally had to hit the streets to protest the districts’ lack of action in 2005. Finally after being embarrassed the school district finally directed repairs and renovations at the school and what was their first action, you got it, they are building the school a new gymnasium.

We do not deny the need, we just don’t have any confidence in this school board, nor do we know enough about the new Superintendent at this time to put our trust into, to recommend a Yes vote on Prop. O. There are multiple problems at this district that need to be shored up, as detailed in 2006 audit of the district which found “serious weaknesses” in the way it buys and controls spending. There is a lack of oversight and accountability within the district.

The way the funds from Prop. BB were spent has created a lack of trust with the district to do the right thing and this trust has to be earned back before we can recommend a yes vote on $644 more million dollars to fix the problems that the $187 million was supposed to fix in the first place.

And there is one last question: six years ago they only needed $187 million to fix the problems they are saying still need fixing; the question is why do they now need $644 million? Has the cost of plumbing repairs and air conditioning gone up that much???

We recommend a NO Vote on Prop. O

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