By Collin Breaux | Twitter: @collin_breaux

In light of bond measures intended to fund school improvements that have been voted down in recent years, the Capistrano Unified School District (CUSD) Board of Trustees heard a presentation on the circumstances surrounding the unsuccessful bids during a regular meeting on Wednesday, Nov. 18.

Voters did not approve bond measures placed on ballots in March 2020 and November 2016 that would have funded school facility renovations. Timothy McLarney with True North Research—the district’s survey consultant—and Charles Heath of TBWBH, the strategy and communication consultants on the bond measure process—mentioned numerous factors surrounding the March primary election, including rising partisanship, the COVID-19 pandemic and stock market conditions creating uncertainty, as well as negative advertising.

“Just trying to put this election in context based on what else we saw with measures on the ballot in Orange County and around the state, this was a historically tough election for bond measures, in Orange County specifically but also throughout California,” Heath said while displaying an informational slide on failed bond measures in other Orange County school districts.

Measures H and I on the March ballot received 44.16% and 45.77% yes votes, respectively. Measure H’s margin of defeat was 2,400 votes, while Measure I’s was 4,200 votes. Measure M in 2016 received 45.47% yes votes. The measures needed to meet a 55% approval level to pass.

More Democrats generally voted in favor of the bonds than Republicans.

“What we see is a strong correlation between those precincts that have the highest percentage of Democrats, the lowest percentage of Republicans, the lowest percentages of homeowners, and the lowest percentages of older voters tended to be the stronger precincts for Measure H,” Heath said.

Suggestions going forward included needing stronger turnout and involvement from parents (whose turnout was lower than expected), communicating with voters from all parties on facility needs, and needing a favorable election environment to reach the required 55% vote threshold for passage.

In other district news, the board approved a regular interim financial report, during which it was said the district would have to make cuts to meet a required threshold for upcoming fiscal years. A second budget report is expected to come back before the board in March 2021.

Enrollment has declined by 2,700 students from last year, more than a previous projected loss of 601 students. The district will have to “cautiously” handle staffing due to uncertainty surrounding student returns, said Philippa Townsend, Assistant Superintendent of Fiscal Services. Student enrollment is said to have declined in most districts across the nation.

The Nov. 18 meeting was the last regular one for Board President Jim Reardon and Trustee Patricia Holloway. Reardon lost a reelection bid to challenger Pamela Braunstein in the recent general election, while Holloway did not run for reelection. Candidates Lisa Davis and Sue Hill have been in a close race for Holloway’s Area 3 seat. Reardon, Holloway, and other trustees celebrated and thanked one another for their service on the board.

 Collin Breaux covers San Juan Capistrano and other South Orange County news as the City Editor for The Capistrano Dispatch. Before moving to California, he covered Hurricane Michael, politics and education in Panama City, Florida. He can be reached by email at cbreaux@picketfencemedia.com.

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