TUSD Bond Measures T and U Take Center Stage at Community Meeting
A meeting to debate the pros and cons of the proposed bond measures T and U that will be voted on this November drew a crowd of civic leaders and concerned residents to the Torrance Historical Society Museum late Thursday evening. Former Mayor Frank Scotto provided the argument for the school bonds while Rick Marshall, a current candidate for the Board of Equalization, delivered an argument against the measures.
Measure T is a $144 Million bond that will improve school security systems, upgrade classrooms and science and computer labs, add new STEM courses, renovate auxiliary gyms, and make energy efficiency improvements. Measure U is a $50 Million bond that will provide an aquatic center, add multi-purpose gyms at middle schools, and renovate facilities and playgrounds. Together the bonds represent about $30 per year in property taxes for every $100K of assessed home value.
Scotto reiterated that people come to live in Torrance for the safe community and good schools and expressed his belief that the community should finish what it started when it passed bond measures Y and Z. He confessed that as a Republican he is generally the last person that would ask for more taxes but said he believed in the bond measures as he thought of them as a good investment for the community as quality schools will help to maintain high property values that benefit all residents.
The former Mayor acknowledged that the aquatic center with its hefty $15 Million price tag has become a target for those opposing the bonds. Part of the consternation is due to the lack of details about the proposed facility and the yet to be determined location for the pool. Current plans are to have an Olympic sized pool with stadium seating and an open roof. It will be made available to the general public, but high school swim and water polo teams will have priority use. Local schools currently use the outdated Plunge for swimming activities.
The question was raised whether the project could include more family friendly amenities such as slides and splash pads for younger children in addition to the pool. Those additions are not currently in the plans, but they are suggestions that could be raised at future community meetings should the bond measure be approved.
As for the location, no funds are included in the bond measure to acquire property for the project necessitating that it be built on City or TUSD property. According to Scotto, utilizing City property for the estimated 10 acre site might allow the City to help with maintenance costs and could lead to the City eventually assuming control of the facility. He commented that he didn’t want to see SCROC close, but suggested that if it did that the SCROC site could be a possible home for the Aquatic Center due to its central location.
To argue against the measures, Rick Marshall stated that increased taxes are an impediment to economic growth and job creation. In defense of that assertion, he quoted a recently released book entitled “An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of States.” The book claims that California has tax rates that are roughly 65 percent higher than are Texas’s tax rates and overall tax revenue that is 25 higher. Yet according to the book, “Texas grows faster, employs more people, and attracts more residents. Texas also has better roads, police protection, fire protection, schools, and prison facilities, as well as less poverty and less need for welfare workers.”
Marshall was also critical of utilizing borrowed money for many of the projects included in the bond measures and suggested that the taxpayers would get better value for their money if the School District used the General Fund to pay for such measures. He expressed concern that interest payments on the bonds often results in the taxpayers paying two or three times as much.
Marshall also stated that the 2010 census indicated that Torrance has an aging population with a decrease in the number of kids attending Torrance schools. Marshall used that statistic to suggest that TUSD could reduce the number of schools and facilities in the district and possibly sell the property as a way to raise the money for some of the projects included in the bond measures. Mark Steffen, a TUSD Board Member in attendance, acknowledged that the District currently relies on about 3,000 kids coming from outside Torrance to fill out its 25,000 enrollment figures, but claimed that argument was a red herring as the kids from outside Torrance bring with them needed state funding.
TUSD has formed a committee comprising of community leaders like former Mayor Scotto and head of the Torrance PTA Council Janet Tajii to spearhead a campaign in support of the bond measures. To help raise awareness, the Committee asked PTA organizations at each school to voice their support and provide a suggested donation of $500. Residents wanting lawn signs, pamphlets, or other materials can contact TUSD or their local schools for more information.
At the conclusion of the meeting, one resident seemed to capture the mood in the room when he commented that he did not like taxes, but that sometimes you just have to suck it up and bite the bullet for the good of the community. Whether the rest of the community agrees with that sentiment remains to be seen.