A proposed multi-million-dollar bond measure that would have funded updates at Dana Hills High School will not make it onto November’s election ballot after it failed in a split vote by the Capistrano Unified School District’s Board of Education this week.
Last month trustees voted 4 to 1—with one abstention—to continue discussion on the bond, which would allow Dana Hills voters to decide whether to levy a $34 property tax per $100,000 of assessed value to provide $171 million to fund both seismic and basic updates to Dana Hills High School.
This week, however, the bond failed in a split 3 to 3 final vote, with board president Martha McNicholas, and trustees Amy Hanacek and Krista Castellanos in favor of the bond measure, and trustees Gila Jones, Judy Bullockus, and Lisa Davis against it.
Ahead of the vote, several Dana Hills teachers, parents, and students urged trustees to pass the bond during the meeting’s public comment.
“I’m asking for our community’s support to create an environment that allows us to compete academically on a level equal to our peers within and beyond our district,” one student said. “We can no longer delay investing in upgrading the basic facilities essential to a productive learning environment and access to current technology and resources that will bring Dana Hills High on par with other schools.”
In addition to seismic updates, one Dana Hills teacher said basic updates are needed because many classrooms are riddled with mold, insects, and leaks.
“Our infrastructure impedes students’ ability to learn … students are often displaced from their classroom every time there’s an issue,” the teacher said.
Trustees in support of the bond said that voters should be able to decide if they want the tax or not.
“I really think we need to let the voters decide whether they want to pass this or not,” McNicholas said. “I think we need to get it out there. I think we have an enthusiastic community that will help us do better than our previous polling numbers.”
Trustees in opposition to the bond said the tax was too expensive for voters, given the current economic inflation.
Jones, who voted in its favor during the first reading in May, said she wanted to see the bond passed eventually but believes that now is not the right time.
“I will vote for it another time. I cannot vote for it to go on the November ballot,” Jones said. “I will vote for it at the next possible opportunity.”
Jones also cited recent polling that showed the proposed bond measure did not get enough support to meet a required voter threshold of 55 percent.
“It has not polled high enough to pass, certainly not at the $34 per $100,000 level,” Jones said. “I wish it would, and I would vote for it.”
The district in recent years has tried to pass other bonds for needed updates to its schools, but those bond measures have failed to gather the polling support needed to make it onto the ballot.
Because the state does not provide funding for facility updates, many schools use bond measures to update their facilities, according to a district spokesperson.
Orange County school districts have an average of one to three bonds, with tax levies ranging from $7.45 to $79.90 per $100,000 of assessed value, according to a chart provided by the district.
As of the 2019–2020 school year, Capistrano Unified currently has one bond at a $7.45 tax levy.
This comes as Orange County’s largest school district faces a projected funding shortfall brought on by declining student enrollment.
Last month, a budget presentation projected enrollment would drop by 812 students from the current school year, putting the district at around 42,000 for the 2022–2023 school year.
Because the amount of state funding available is dependent on average attendance and enrollment, it’s likely the district’s funds will also dwindle.
Capistrano Unified has faced underfunding issues for almost a decade after the state established a funding formula based on average daily attendance and prioritizing extra funding for high-need students, including foster youth and students from low-income families.
Because of these criteria, Capistrano Unified received less annual state funding than other districts in the county, even though it serves more students.
According to Education Data Partnership, an education database that is partnered with the state, the district had an average daily attendance rate of 85 percent for the current school year, with 98 foster youth students, and 13,000 low-income students.
Capistrano Unified received $12,700 per student in 2021, while the average amount received by school districts in the state was nearly $15,000 per student.