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Kirk Effinger: Pavilions and Proposition K

This past weekend members of the public were treated to a preview of the latest installment in the saga of San Marcos Unified School District’s rise from moribund to magnificent. 

On Saturday visitors were invited to tour the new Knights Center pavilion at the site of San Marcos High School, currently undergoing a complete reconstruction after demolition of the 50-year old campus.

In case you are wondering why “pavilion” and not “gymnasium”, well — there are classrooms, a dance studio, weight training room, and lots of windows — very un-gym-like.

The transformation of the SMHS campus from its original, unappealing look to what will be unquestionably one of the highest of high-quality high school campuses in North County — if not in the entire — county marks an image turnaround for the school that is long overdue, even if it was never really necessary or fair.

For years students, faculty, parents, and administrators at the school and district labored under the misapplied perception from outside that San Marcos High School and the school district itself were substandard, mostly due to visual cues — aging schools and a high percentage of minority students.

Thanks to the hard work of these same groups over many years, that perception is now changing.

The reconstruction of San Marcos High School and its location at the western gateway to the city of San Marcos serves as an announcement to the community that San Marcos places a high value on the education of its children, and values quality in its development.

This hasn’t come without a price, however. Funding for reconstruction of SMHS, as well as other, smaller projects, came about through passage of the Proposition K school bond in 2010, which was the largest voter-approved school bond authorization in California at the time. To help ensure its passage, Prop. K promised voters that the bond repayment rate would be held at not more than $44 per $100,000 of assessed valuation.

What the district’s decision makers were not made aware of at the time by their advisors — who conveniently make more money off of this non-disclosure — is that due to declining assessed property values, the only way to keep this promise is to sell what are known as “capital appreciation bonds” (CABs) that pile interest onto principle, with no chance for early repayment — a very expensive financing alternative.

Fortunately, unlike other school districts in the county, only a portion of the money needed to complete funding of school construction was financed this way, but the damage is done.

I am assured San Marcos Unified School District leadership is pursuing every avenue open to them to make up for the financial missteps taken with the guidance of their outside advisors.

I have no reason to doubt their sincerity or ultimate success.

In the meanwhile, parents and the community at large eagerly anticipate the unveiling of the district’s new flagship San Marcos High School, which is set to open in its entirety after the winter break.

Kirk W. Effinger was born in San Diego and raised in Southern California. He and his family have been residents of San Marcos for the past 30 years. His opinion columns have appeared regularly in the North County Times and, later, the San Diego Union-Tribune since 1995. He can be reached at k[email protected] or follow him on Twitter at @kirkeffinger