Saugus district discusses survey regarding potential bond measure


Likely voters show initial support for a $148 million bond measure; Staff to conduct further research 

After a survey of likely voters was completed earlier this summer, the Saugus Union School District will continue to collect data for a potential $148 million bond measure in the future for the purpose of funding projects related to student safety, seismic retrofitting and more. 

During a regular meeting in mid-June, governing board members received a presentation from FM3 Research regarding the highlights of a community issues survey — the results of which demonstrated likely voters are interested in supporting a future bond measure. 

Initial support for the possible measure just reaches the 55% threshold for passage, at 56%, and support is “soft,” according to the survey. However, after critical messaging, support drops slightly below the threshold to about 50%. 

Local school bond ballot propositions require a 55% supermajority vote to pass, according to Proposition 39, which was approved by California voters in 2000. 

The survey was conducted June 1 through June 9, and the district interviewed 499 voters within the district’s boundaries, and of those 499 people, 111 were parents of children in the district. 

The Saugus district bond measure summary indicated funds would be allocated for the purpose of retrofitting classrooms/schools for earthquakes, wildfires or other natural disasters; upgrade science, engineering, early childhood education classrooms; remove asbestos; continuing to provide clean drinking water; and acquiring, construction, repairing sites, facilities and equipment. 

FM3 Research described the margin of sampling error to be approximately 4.9%, for a full sample, and 6.2%, for a half sample. The questions in the survey were in regard to the level of support respondents had for various district needs and projects. 

“Depending on the questions, because there were some questions that were split for instance, some respondents went down one road or the other,” Superintendent Colleen Hawkins said. “I think the margin of error increases for [those] questions.” 

Key elements of the survey demonstrate that there is some interest in maintaining and increasing school safety, classroom technology and seismic improvements. 

According to Assistant Superintendent of Business Services Nick Heinlein, the governing board did not take action regarding the information presented by FM3 Research. 

District staff will continue to collect data and engage the community to present additional information at a later date, he added.  

According to the results, about six in 10 respondents believe the district has a need for additional funding, but only a quarter of respondents believe the need is great and 17% are unsure. 

In its conclusions, FM3 Research found it is probably not the right time to propose a bond measure amid high rent or mortgages, and high food and gas prices, as support for the bond measure dropped to 50% after respondents were provided critical messaging against the measure. 

Hawkins said another challenge in planning for a bond measure is the physical diversity of school sites and needs within the district, as campuses are on different kinds of land and in different configurations. 

So, in terms of conducting and funding certain projects, it’s going to be different at each school site whether it will be to update equipment for student safety, construct new buildings for the incoming 4- and 5- year-olds coming into schools for universal prekindergarten, or retrofitting school sites in case of natural disasters.  

In the future, the bond the district puts in front of voters will look completely different from the one they just surveyed in June because of changing needs, Hawkins said. 

“We are talking about two years, but we really don’t know at this point,” Hawkins said. “We’re still getting ever-changing information from the architect, and others, on what we would need to do, and then we have to look at what that would look like in addressing each one of our sites.” 

Another key finding from the survey showed respondents were more supportive of the bond measure if it included “strict fiscal safeguards” such as citizen oversight and annual independent financial audits. 

Stephen Petzold, a Santa Clarita Valley resident who regularly attends government board meetings and is an advocate against bonds, said these “strict fiscal safeguards” are not always effective.  

He said bonds are required to have “protections” like the independent performance and financial audits, oversight committees of citizens who are taxpayers, senior citizens, parents and members of the public. Members of the oversight committee report to the public on whether the funds have been properly expended. 

He also criticized oversight committees for not always scrutinizing how bond funds are being used.  

The California constitution, under Article 13A, states that approved and voter-passed bonds are required only for the purposes specified under a list of school facilities projects and certificated by the school district board, community college board or county office of education. 

“Tell them exactly where they’re getting their money,” Petzold said. “There’s a lot of information which is withheld from the voters to induce them to vote. Citizens bond oversight committees should be held responsible for telling the truth.”  

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