Surplus Talega Taxes May Go to SCHS

Recent refinancing of bonds netted $17 million savings could be returned to taxpayers in Talega. But decrepit conditions at the high school gave trustees pause.

San Clemente High School. Reader submitted photo.
San Clemente High School. Reader submitted photo.

Originally published at 5:04 p.m. Aug. 15, 2013

Minutes before discussing what to do with a $17 million windfall from a special tax district in Talega, the Capistrano Unified school board heard from a student who described the current conditions at San Clemente High.

“I had a friend scared to death by a rat falling on her foot during dance rehearsal.”

Gillian Perry was there to advocate for a new, scratch that, a first performing arts center. Currently, students use the Triton Center for dramatic and dance presentations. The less-than-stellar space doubles as the cafeteria.

School board members said they would like to address some of the problems at San Clemente High, and a recent refinancing of bonds related to the Talega Mello-Roos district could help do that.

The effort produced an extra $17 million, said Clark Hampton, deputy superintendent for business services.

Right before tackling the Talega proceeds, the board decided to lower the taxes for Las Flores residents by $97 annually (on average), giving back most the $4.8 million refinancing windfall. A smaller portion will replace interest income the district had collected before the refinancing from an account that has since been liquidated.

But with San Clemente High’s conditions so subpar, the board decided to hold onto the proceeds for at least another year to come up with a plan on how they might be used.

“In the future if we cannot create and maintain the kinds of schools that they actually insist on…,” said Trustee Amy Hanacek, “we may be held accountable for not utilizing the resources.”

A slew of competing motions followed.

Trustee Ellen Addonizio moved to give the money back to the taxpayers, which would have meant an annual average savings of $314. Trustee Anna Bryson.

Hanacek moved to split the baby, giving residents a $157 break (on average) on their yearly tax bill, allowing the district to keep $8.5 million for future projects.

She then changed her mind and moved to keep all of the money. But no one seconded.

Superintendent Joseph Farley asked the board to consider giving staff some time to come up with a plan for the money.

“The reality is we can’t go much longer without a plan on what we’re going to do there,” he said. “I would encourage you to give us a year to see what could develop.”

Reardon said he could go along with that as long as everything was done transparently.

“If we turn it into a piggy bank, we will get some blow back,” he said.

The board ultimately voted 6-0 to hold on to the money and revisit the issue after staff has come up with a plan to address San Clemente High’s many needs. Board President John Alpay did not participate in the discussion or vote because he lives in Talega.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Gillian Perry's name was previously spelled incorrectly. 
rlferg August 17, 2013 at 01:15 AM
The Board should do the right thing and either return the money to the residents of the Talega neighborhood of San Clemente or make improvements at the Talega neighborhood school within the Mello Roos district. If $17M surplus is available, why do we not address the portable classrooms at Vista del Mar elementary -- a school that was built with Mello Roos funds because it sits within the CFD? This should be the priority #1 since it lies within the CFD in which the taxes are collected. Use part of this money to expand the classrooms and provide a quality learning environment for all students here whose parent's pay the Mello Roos tax. San Clemente High’s conditions have been subpar for a long time and unfortunately the band aid approach to improving a near 50-year old facility is no longer a solution. A new high school is needed. If Talega Mello Roos funds end up being used to improve the existing SCHS, then the high school needs to be an option for Talega kids to attend, even after the La Pata road punches through in 2 years to San Juan Hills High School, which Talega's Mello Roos taxes were also instrumental in funding. As it stands now, once the road goes through kids from Talega will not be slated to attend SCHS. Talega's Mello Roos funds, and those of other Mello Roos districts within CUSD even helped fund the $38 million CUSD headquarters without any say in that decision. Perhaps rather than take the Talega money, the board should first look at using its rental revenue collected from leasing out one-fifth of this building and put in a fund for high school improvements, rather than spending it on employee salaries, which it was never intended for. The rent was supposed to be put back into the schools. So far $3,549,104 has been collected in rent, with another $5 million anticipated over the next decade.


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