Their word is their bond

CUSD sessions
Chico school officials have scheduled workshops for public input on facilities:Monday (Oct. 22)—Pleasant Valley High
Oct. 25—Shasta Elementary
Oct. 30—Chico High
Each will run 6-8 p.m.

Nine years ago, Chico residents agreed to increase taxes in order to give the Chico Unified School District money for a third high school. The vote was by no means a landslide, and it followed several thwarted attempts.

The bond would fund improvements to existing campuses as well as the construction of Canyon View High. The former took place; the latter did not, and the school board decided last month that it never will.

That leaves Chico with two high schools … and unissued bonds totaling around $30 million, burning a hole in the district’s safety deposit box.

CUSD officials could do a lot with that money. They can’t use it to offset the deficit, unfortunately, but they could improve facilities and build new ones to boost programs such as performing arts and vocational training.

At least that’s how CUSD lawyers interpret the bond’s terms. Interim Superintendent Kelly Staley knows there’s a big difference between legal and prudent. Spend this money without the public’s blessing, and the district can kiss any future bond issue goodbye.

The district is looking to get feedback through a series of workshops later this month. Staley and board members are open to suggestions via e-mail (check the board’s and superintendent’s pages) and even by letter (1163 E. Seventh St., Chico, CA 95928).

What then?

Good question … and a tough one.

CUSD could take the various bits of public opinion, synthesize a list of suggestions, then have the board vote whether to issue the bond and, if yes, where to allocate the money. Taxpayers might be satisfied with the input they had.

Then again, they might not.

I think the district should put this issue before all Chicoans. We have three elections next year—three opportunities to let all the voters decide, not just the five on the school board.

Solicit ideas. Add them to the needs cataloged by district staff. Survey the citizenry to help prioritize the list. Put the proposal on the ballot.

Could the district lose the money? Certainly. It also would cost a hefty sum—around $80,000, possibly more—in election fees. So obviously there’s risk.

But if CUSD makes a clear case for redirecting the bond, following an open, honest dialogue, odds are good there’ll be a great reward: this bond, plus goodwill for the future.

Candace Grubbs, Butte County’s clerk-recorder and registrar, has seen a number of bond measures over the years. The campaigns that tend to succeed, she says, follow the advice she gave Butte College before its successful Measure A: “You have to be upfront, honest and show the need”—plus “you have to sell ’em; tell ’em why it’s good for the public.”

And lest the district think ’98 is in the distant past, Grubbs says she still gets calls about the exact wording of CUSD’s Measure A.

From CUSD to CN&R: Our inaugural Poetry 99 competition is getting a strong response; keep those poems coming! We’d love to see more entries from kids, teens and spoken word/slam poets—so teachers, please send some creative students our way. (Check here for details.)