Citizen oversight committee to keep tabs on spending
■ Robin Underwood / Contributed
The Governing Board of the Hemet Unified School District has recently approved placing a $150 million dollar school-bond measure on the November 6 ballot.
The amount was arrived at after an evaluation of the needs of all the schools in the district. It also happens to meet the cap for what the district can sell in the way of bonds. Despite the size of the voter-approved amount, the district has decided to sell the bonds in smaller increments, allowing for repayment through a tax extension rather than a tax increase over current school taxes.
The measure has within its details a “Bond Project List,” which specifies projects the district proposes to finance with proceeds from the sale of the bonds. Listed projects will be completed as needed at a particular school or facility according to the Board’s established priorities. The specified projects authorized to be financed with proceeds from sale of the bonds have to do with safety, repair, modernization and upgrade projects. Student safety and security are at the top of the list in importance.
As presented by the school board, a recent school shooting in Northern California was thwarted, and no children were killed, due to the school being equipped with security cameras, an emergency communication system, and door locks. These, combined with a well-trained staff, allowed students to be protected. Hemet Unified School District wants the same system here and designated these high on the list of priorities.
The $150 million bond measure is subject to strict accountability requirements, according to the school administration. Every dollar used to upgrade local neighborhood schools will be overseen by a citizens’ oversight committee. By law, no funds can be spent on administrators’ salaries or pensions. The Board will establish the committee within 60 days of the date that it enters the election results on its minutes.
The citizens’ oversight committee will have at least seven members, including a member active in a business organization representing the business community within the district. Also on the committee will be a member active in a senior citizens organization, another active in a bona fide taxpayer organization. There will be a parent or guardian of a child enrolled in the District and a committee member who is a parent/guardian of an enrolled child and active in a parent-teacher organization. No employee or official of the district, nor a vendor, contractor or consultant of the District will be appointed to the citizens’ oversight committee.
The measure is further subjected to accountability requirements by the Board conducting annual audits and independent performance audits to ensure that the bond proceeds have been spent only on the school facilities projects listed in the Bond Projects List. The results of these audits will be made public available and also be submitted to the citizens’ oversight committee.
When FM3, an organization hired to help ensure passage of the bond measure, conducted surveys of Hemet residents, it was shown that from January’s survey to June’s survey, percentages for approval went up while the percentage who opposed went down. In January’s surveys, the total yes votes reached 55 percent while in June, “yes” results were up to 63 percent and no votes declined to 28 percent, a ten point decrease from January’s survey results.
When surveys were broken down into age brackets, political parties, property owners versus renters, racial and ethnic groups, opinions were across the board. There were high approval ratings and support for the measure by voters, and surpassed the 55 percent threshold necessary for passage on the November ballot.
Hemet Unified School Board has tried to take steps to ensure that the public is aware of the details of the measure and gets to ask questions of the Board at upcoming meetings. The idea is that by the Nov. 6 election, each resident will have ample knowledge of the issue before being called up to vote. School board meetings and information can be obtained via the Hemet Unified School District website at https://www.hemetusd.org.