Voters' rejection Tuesday of a bond measure for the Huntington Beach Union High School District took school officials by surprise and dealt a serious blow to a district beset by sinking buildings, leaking roofs, outdated bathrooms and deteriorating electrical and plumbing systems.
Supporters had expected the $123-million bond measure to pass after similar efforts succeeded in the Capistrano and Santa Ana Unified districts earlier this month. But the Huntington Beach measure fell several percentage points short of the necessary two-thirds majority, garnering 61.3% approval among the 29,198 ballots cast.
In analyzing the result, school board Vice President Michael Simons said he didn't know what had gone wrong. "If we were going to do it over again, we probably would [do] it the same way," he said.
"A high school district is different than a unified school district," Simons added. "I don't think we had the buy-in from elementary school parents that we needed."
The district serves Huntington Beach, Fountain Valley and Westminster. Repairs are most urgently needed at Fountain Valley High, where one building must be rebuilt on another site because it has sunk into swampland, and at Huntington Beach High, which dates to 1926.
With the bond measure's defeat, school officials must greatly pare their plans for repairs.
"I'm a helluva cook, but we can't have enough bake sales to raise the amount the bond [measure] would have to fix our schools," Supt. Susan Roper said after the defeat.
A possible contingency plan calls for the district to seek funds from a state modernization program--part of statewide school bond Measure 1-A, which voters passed in November 1998.
"That will be one of the options we'll be looking at," Roper said of the state bond money. "We'll be looking at the data from the bond election and a variety of options."
Under the state program, the state would pay about $4 for every dollar the school district provides toward repair money in a formula based on school capacity, the number of campuses and how old the buildings are.
The district could draw $37 million from the state, but to qualify it would have to come up with $9 million in matching funds. Even then, the $46-million total would be far short of what the bond measure's supporters say they need for repairs.
The annual cost of the bonds to property owners would have been about $27 per $100,000 of the assessed value of their property.
The measure's defeat was a bitter one for supporters.
"I wish people cared more about kids in our community," said Tracy Pellman, a board member in another district whose teenage children attend high school in Huntington Beach Union. "The schools need fixing. They don't have the money, and there's no way else to do this."
But this week's loss may not be the last word on school bonds in the district. A state initiative on the March ballot would give California voters the option of lowering the threshold for bond elections to a simple majority, rather than the two-thirds majority currently required. If the proposed change is enacted, Roper said she would consider putting another bond measure on the ballot.