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By Jim Shilander

Talega residents voiced strong displeasure at the Capistrano Unified School District Board of Trustees’ vote to hold off returning funds from a recent refinancing to taxpayers Wednesday.

In August, the board voted 6-0, with San Clemente’s John Alpay, the board president and a Talega resident, recusing himself, to hold off on returning $17.4 million from a community financing district, or Mello-Roos, used to pay for facilities needs at San Juan Hills and San Clemente high schools and Vista Del Mar.

The board said there were concerns about facility needs at SCHS, the district’s oldest campus. The district conducting a full survey of the needs at SCHS this year, led to the vote to consider the issue again in 2014.

Talega residents told the board Wednesday they had not been made aware of the vote at the time, which was why no one appeared at the board meeting to oppose it.

“When the school year began, everyone seemed so surprised,” resident Laura Ferguson said. “We had to hear about it in the newspaper.” The district had a fiduciary responsibility to the taxpayers in Talega to share how much they might be in line for, she said. Ferguson also said residents in the Las Flores community financing district were returned funds from refinancing.

“Why are they so much more deserving,” Ferguson asked the board. “This surplus needs to go back to the taxpayers.”

Ferguson presented the board with a petition signed by more than 250 residents, asking to reconsider the vote.

Andrea Ewell, another Talega resident, said many in the community were unaware the refinancing had even taken place. She noted that Alpay’s recent campaign website touted “My focus has been on reducing the tax burden on taxpayers.”

“It is my opinion the Mello-Roos refinancing should have translated to a refund for taxpayers,” Ewell told the board. She also spoke directly to trustee Amy Hanacek, who said at an August meeting she was sure Talega residents would want to contribute to repairs at SCHS, that she should not presume to speak for residents in an area she did not live in.

Trustee Jim Reardon said the board expected to hear from more Talega or San Clemente residents at the meeting, noting that the vote reflected a lack of such input. Reardon told the Talega residents in attendance the board could reconsider at a later date.

Hanacek said she thought the needs of the school superseded other concerns.

“It’s time the physical structure at SCHS mirror what goes on inside its walls,” Hanacek said.

Alpay said the Talega financing district was, to his knowledge, the only one in the district that supported two different high schools. Alpay added that other than those using open enrollment, Talega students were not attending San Juan Hills.

Even when the Avenida La Pata connection between San Clemente and San Juan Capistrano is completed, Alpay said, San Juan Hills did not have room to accommodate all of Talega’s high school-aged children, meaning at least some would have to be taught at San Clemente. That arrangement, he said, led to unfair treatment for the community, since residents had paid for a high school their children were not, and in some cases, could not attend.

“Talega’s not being treated equitably, and it’s time to remedy that,” Alpay said. However, he also noted, “a very desperate need” at the SCHS campus for improvements.

Superintendent Joseph Farley said it would be unwise for the board to make any specific decision at the meeting regarding the funding. District staff, having just completed work on negotiations with the developers of Rancho Mission Viejo on financing schools in the development, are now moving to take on the task of surveying the infrastructure needs at the school.

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