News - November 16, 2011

Election 2011: Rare rejection of school bond measure

• Voters re-elect incumbents to community college board.

by Dave Boyce

School bond construction measures have had an easier time of it since 2001, when state Proposition 39 lowered the threshold for passage to 55 percent voter approval (from two-thirds). Voters rarely reject such measures. Nov. 8, 2011, was an exception.

Measure H, the San Mateo County Community College District's bid for another $564 million to continue its decade-long reconstruction program, missed the mark by a little over 2 percentage points. The unofficial tally from the county Elections Office showed 52.57 percent favoring the measure, and 47.43 percent opposed.

For their part, the three incumbent candidates for the college district's governing board, Dave Mandelkern, Karen Schwarz and Patricia Miljanich, all of whom supported Measure H, cruised to re-election with unofficial pluralities of 26 percent, 23 percent and 20 percent, respectively.

The vote counts for the five candidates, as of the Nov. 10 update, are: Mr. Mandelkern, 46,221; Ms. Schwarz, 41,388; Ms. Miljanich, 35,945; Joe Ross, 28,040; Michael G. Stogner, 15,320; and Jaime Diaz, 9,542.

The district, which governs Canada College in Woodside, Skyline College in San Bruno and the College of San Mateo in San Mateo, has asked voters for construction funding before, and gotten it: $207 million in 2001 (passed by 65 percent of voters), and $468 million in 2005 (by 64 percent).

But the 2008 economic meltdown and the still-struggling economy may have made Measure H unpalatable enough to miss the mark by two and a half percentage points.

All three campuses still have classroom buildings that are 40 to 50 years old, board President Richard Holober told the Almanac in October.

When asked to justify another half billion dollars of indebtedness, the candidates noted the need for up-to-date science, technology, engineering and math curriculums, and that the district lost $200 million in state funding in 2006, and $25 million in 2008 when Lehman Brothers investment bank collapsed.

Measure H would also have allowed bond funds to replace $2 million in annual maintenance expenses, enabling the district to enroll 6,000 to 7,000 more students, about 10 percent of whom would be full-time, Mr. Holober said.

"We will continue to do the best we can," Mr. Mandelkern said in a telephone interview after the election. "This is a democracy and we gave people a choice. I get it. People are reaching their limit at what they're willing to spend in support of schools."

The measure would have raised residential and commercial property taxes by $12.92 a year for each $100,000 of assessed value for the life of the bonds, typically 30 years. Interest payments typically double the indebtedness.


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