If approved by voters, the tax would impact all school district residents with the exception of Rancho Mission Viejo

By Allison Jarrell

Voters in the Capistrano Unified School District will decide on Nov. 8 whether they want to pay more taxes to help the district leverage state funds to pay for over $800 million in deferred facilities maintenance.

After heated public comment and debate, the CUSD Board of Trustees voted 6-1 Wednesday night, with Trustee Jim Reardon dissenting, to call a school bond election within the newly formed School Facilities Improvement District #2, which encompasses the entire district except for Rancho Mission Viejo.

Over the last several months, trustees debated back and forth over whether to pursue smaller regional bonds, a districtwide bond or an SFID with Rancho Mission Viejo carved out. On July 13, trustees voted 6-1, again with Reardon dissenting, to pass their intent to form SFID #2.

If 55 percent of voters approve the proposed $889 million general obligation bond in November, residents living within SFID #2 will be taxed $43 for every $100,000 of assessed value on their homes. While staff has estimated that $43 per $100,000 is the maximum tax rate needed to fund the bond, the ballot measure language states that the rate can technically reach $60 per year per $100,000, which Reardon noted could realistically happen if interest rates rise enough over the next 10 years.

How CUSD will spend the potential new funding is still a topic of contention, especially among residents who have criticized the district’s lack of transparency and history of overtaxation in Community Facilities Districts.

Carolyn Cavecche, president and CEO of the Orange County Taxpayers Association, told the board in July that the district’s bond measure met most of the association’s criteria, with the exception of a list of projects on which the board is committed to using the bond’s revenue. Several trustees voiced concerns over the lack of a detailed project list and directed staff to work on a more specific list of facilities improvements to be completed.

On Aug. 3, Cavecche said in an interview that the revised draft resolution the district sent her met the minimum criteria for what the association feels “taxpayers should look for in a school bond.”

On Wednesday night, several trustees aimed to alleviate transparency concerns by emphasizing that the bond would include accountability measures such as a Citizens’ Bond Oversight Committee and advisory groups in each region of the district that would relay their schools’ needs to the oversight committee and trustees. The committee would be charged with ensuring the bond proceeds are used only for the school facilities projects listed in the district’s bond project list.

The most contention Wednesday night seemed to stem from a letter signed by 11 South Orange County elected officials opposing the district bond. Spearheaded by Mission Viejo Mayor Frank Ury and Rancho Santa Margarita Mayor Tony Beall, the letter ultimately asked the district to “determine realistic needs and exhaust all potential sources of funding before [going] back to the taxpayers for more money.”

Following an extended closed session at the beginning of Wednesday’s meeting, Board President Amy Hanacek reported that trustees voted 6-1 in closed session to initiate litigation against Ury and Beall. Hanacek said the board directed staff to request the Orange County District Attorney and California Attorney General investigate whether the city of Mission Viejo or the city of Rancho Santa Margarita has misused public funds to influence the outcome of an election.

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