Flush with a $22-million windfall, Capistrano Unified school board members discussed on Wednesday what to do with it.
In one case, they decided to hold onto the money to address a deteriorating San Clemente High, while in another – Las Flores – they decided to reduce taxes for landowners. A third area, Mission Viejo and Aliso Viejo, may see a slight decrease in tax levies but that decision was postponed a few weeks.
The school district recently refinanced the bonds associated with several Community Facilities Districts, or Mello-Roos districts. The end result is CUSD now has on hand more money than anticipated when the districts first formed.
Mello-Roos districts are a way to pass along infrastructure costs, such as roads and schools, to homeowners who buy in new developments. The money can only be used on facilities, and specifically for bringing them up to current safety codes or renovations.
School board members had a philosophical discussion of what to do with the money, which amounts to $17.4 million from Talega residents and $4.8 million for Las Flores residents.
The money raised was for a “discrete” purpose, said board President John Alpay. The district has accomplished those purposes.
“The money, in my opinion, should go back to the taxpayer,” he said.
But Trustee Amy Hanaceck said residents want the district to invest in good schools, which includes facilities as well as strong educational programs.
“I would think that the homeowner would recognize that the biggest return on your money is schools,” she said.
Trustee Jim Reardon said it was “not a Republican or Democrat issue.” Instead of relying on scattered Mello-Roos districts, the district needs to come up with a “sustainable facilities solution,” one that may need the vote of the people.
“We can’t get the public’s attention about taxation when they are being taxed to death,” he said.