The Coast News Group
The view from outside the San Dieguito Union School District’s Encinitas office. An election nail biter, the San Dieguito bond is at 54.9 percent, just below the 55 percent it needs. MiraCosta and Del Mar also have school bonds close to passing. Photo by Jared Whitlock
Rancho Santa Fe Lead Story

MiraCosta, San Dieguito bonds still too close to call

COAST CITIES — School officials are playing the waiting game. 

A definitive answer on whether the MiraCosta and San Dieguito bonds passed might not be coming for another week or so.

The $497 million MiraCosta bond, Proposition EE, and the $449 million San Dieguito bond, Proposition AA, are currently trailing in the polls. As of Wednesday night, the MiraCosta bond has a 54.10 percent approval, short of the 55 percent required.

The San Dieguito bond is faring slightly better with 54.9 percent. However, there are still 160,000 countywide provisional and mail ballots that need to be counted, according to the San Diego County Registrar of Voters.

“We’re working to process the ballots,” said Deborah Seiler, registrar of Voters, adding that it’s unknown how many of the remaining ballots are from North County.

Seiler said that election results must be certified and released by Dec. 4, and there’s a slight chance it could be that long until the outcome of the bonds is known with certainty.

The number of residents voting by mail in this election nearly doubled from 2008. But Seiler said the increased volume hasn’t necessarily added to the processing time compared to previous elections.

The MiraCosta bond would fund renovations and new buildings throughout MiraCosta’s three campuses. Supporters of the bond say that’s necessary because there aren’t enough facilities to accommodate the current student body, let alone one that’s expected to grow over the next 20 years.

To finance the bond, property taxes in the school’s district would be raised an additional $20 per every $100,000 of a home’s assessed value for around 25 years. Including principal and interest, repayment is estimated to cost nearly $1 billion.

90 percent of MiraCosta’s budget comes from local property tax revenue, according to MiraCosta spokeswoman Cheryl Broom.

Broom said the school is “cautiously optimistic” that approval will push past the 55 percent threshold.

Should the bond fail, cuts aren’t planned, as the bond had yet to be accounted for in the school’s budget. But the status quo of student wait lists will continue and possibly get worse, she said.

“Either way, we’ll do our best to accommodate students,” Broom said.

Wait lists are longest for chemistry and biology majors, mainly due to the lack of science labs, Broom said. But she added that there’s also a need for additional facilities throughout a variety of disciplines.

More than half of the nearly 15,000 students at MiraCosta were placed on a wait list for at least one of their classes before the current fall semester began, according to school data. Nine hundred and six out of 1,248 classes had a wait list the day before the fall semester. The top three wait listed classes were a biology lab with 591 students on the wait list, English 100 with 477 students on the wait list and elementary algebra with 296 students on the wait list.

Construction could take as long as three years to begin on any permanent science labs, Broom said. As a stopgap measure, the MiraCosta Board of Trustees may vote as early as Nov. 20 on $4.7 million in funding, independent of the bond, for four modular science labs that have a four to five-year life span.

While support for the MiraCosta proposition is hovering around 55 percent, that’s down from a poll this summer showing around 65 percent of likely voters in favor of the bond.

Ed Wagner, a member of ETA (Encinitas Taxpayers Association) attributes the drop to two factors. First, Wagner said the ETA and Stop Taxing Us, another local group, teamed up in recent months to campaign against the bond, or what Wagner called a “money grab to plug holes in MiraCosta’s operating budget.”

To get the word out, the groups put out anti-Proposition EE bond signs and also made their case in editorials published in several local newspapers leading up to the election.

“And there was the cumulative effect of having so many bonds and tax increases on the budget — that’s wearing for voters over time,” Wagner said.

Similarly, backing for the San Dieguito bond declined nearly 10 points since a tracking poll taken this summer.

Ken Noah, superintendent of the San Dieguito Union High School District, said that tracking polls typically overestimate support.

“We knew that going into this,” he said. “We were around that 65 percent margin you want.”

Noah also said that having three school bonds on the ballot might have overwhelmed North County voters, forcing them “to pick one over the other.”

Although behind the others, the Del Mar Union School District’s $77 million Proposition CC still has a shot of passing with 53.7 percent in favor.

The San Dieguito bond would borrow $449 million over the next 25 to 30 years for technology infrastructure upgrades, rebuilding schools, libraries and other construction for schools throughout the district.

To pay for this, property taxes in the district would go up by an estimated $24 to $25 per every $100,000 in assessed value, according to Noah.

Noah said it’s difficult to tell whether the bond will pass. But he did point out that support has ticked up since last week when early votes came in. If the San Dieguito bond doesn’t get the green light, then another bond is possible in the future to fund badly needed construction, he said.

“We have limited options if it doesn’t pass,” Noah said.