Community college board backs away from bond measure

Foothill-De Anza shelves plans to put $898 million bond before voters

Sensing a potential political battle brewing, Foothill-De Anza Community College District board members agreed this week to postpone plans to put a $898 million bond measure before voters this November.

The unanimous decision by board members at the July 9 meeting aligns with the request of district officials, who urged trustees to wait for another election -- likely in 2020 -- in order to work through issues including staffing cuts, budget uncertainty and enrollment numbers that have tumbled in recent years. All of these factors could feed into a powerful opposition campaign and strain the likelihood of a successful bond measure.

In an announcement via email Tuesday, Foothill-De Anza Chancellor Judy Miner wrote that a confluence of unstable enrollment and an "unprecedented" number of staffing eliminations on the horizon -- along with strained labor negotiations -- has created a rare but volatile environment ripe for a strong opposition campaign, throwing into jeopardy whether the measure would meet the 55 percent majority of district voters required to pass it.

"The convergence of these unfortunate circumstances is unusual in our history and I do not expect it to remain this way indefinitely," Miner said. "We will continue to assess the situation and look for a more opportune time to engage with district voters, which could be as early as 2020."

The decision comes despite polling data earlier this year that found strong support for a bond measure, with about 75 percent of respondents at least leaning toward voting in favor of a hypothetical $898 million measure. The language of the proposed measure was pretty vague, asking voters whether they would support a bond that would pay for new and improved facilities aimed at "preparing students for four-year university transfer and careers such as healthcare, nursing, paramedics, technology, engineering and sciences."

At the time, staff concluded that a ballot measure is "viable and receives widespread support from the district's voters," with a particular interest among the 800 respondents in building better facilities suited for science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields.

But Miner cautioned board members that good polling numbers are no slam dunk, particularly in an uncertain political environment. She noted that Foothill-De Anza's Measure E parcel tax in 2010 had solid polling numbers but ended up falling significantly short of the two-thirds majority required to pass. The six-year, $69 parcel tax measure faced opposition from the Silicon Valley Taxpayer's Association and the local chapter of the California School Employees Association, both accusing the district of overpaying some of its employees in the face of budget woes.

The worry is that something similar could happen again this year. District officials are heavily focused on bringing down annual expenditures to reduce chronic deficit spending, which will likely result in staffing cuts -- something that Miner said could lead to an "opposition campaign based on misinformation."

At the same time, uncertainty in state funding strained negotiations with the district's largest union, the Faculty Association, during the spring, leading to a "work to contract" protest lasting one month. The district has since brokered an agreement with the association for a one-time pay increase of 5 percent over two years, with no permanent increases to the salary schedule.

Despite Miner's concerns that the standoff caused "tensions" that could hurt the bond's chances, Faculty Association president Tim Shively told board members at the July 9 meeting that the union would be supportive of the district's bond regardless of whether it goes to the ballot box this November or in 2020.

While polling showed widespread support for a facilities bond that supports STEM programs and classes that put students in a strong position to enter the workforce or transfer to four-year universities, some board members urged the district to look at options for teacher housing. Board member Laura Casas said the district is going to need to find ways to attract new staff to replace retiring faculty, and housing could be a direct way to appeal to teachers in the high-cost region.

Board members agreed to explore faculty housing options, looking to the example set by the San Mateo County Community College District, which owns and operates a total of 104 housing units on two of its campuses.

Foothill-De Anza is still wrapping up projects funded by the $490 million Measure C bond, which district voters passed in 2006.

What is democracy worth to you?
Support local journalism.


14 people like this
Posted by Another billion for what?
a resident of Waverly Park
on Jul 12, 2018 at 2:25 pm

The district got 2 prior bond measures by voters. Now they want another billion dollars in borrowing with declining enrollment. For what? Some real community members should run for seats on the community college board and find out what's really gping on.

14 people like this
Posted by William Hitchens
a resident of Waverly Park
on Jul 12, 2018 at 2:40 pm

William Hitchens is a registered user.

Why is FHDA Community college pushing a nearly $900 million bond issue when they recently have been losing students recently at a rate of at least 5% per year? And just what are they doing with some of the previous bond money? They've wiped out an entire STUDENT parking lot (Lot 7) at FH to build a huge, shiny Taj Mahal for ADMINISTRATORS. The only things growing at FHDA are the number and salaries of administrators --- all protecting each other's jobs. Bureaucracies have a nasty habit of becoming self-perpetuating. To quote: "Bureaucracy defends the status quo long past the time when the quo has lost its status." Laurence J. Peter

3 people like this
Posted by Except...
a resident of Cuesta Park
on Jul 12, 2018 at 7:12 pm

Since they’re s Sanctuary campus we have to pay to educate the undocumented students. That takes money!

3 people like this
Posted by Voice of Reason
a resident of another community
on Jul 13, 2018 at 10:13 am

Enrollment is declining because the number of young people in the area is declining. Families cannot afford to live here.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

Stay informed

Get daily headlines sent straight to your inbox.

Chick-fil-A quietly starts delivering out of DoorDash kitchen in Redwood City
By Elena Kadvany | 53 comments | 9,117 views

Palo Altans and their Virtue Signaling
By Sherry Listgarten | 23 comments | 2,446 views

Differentiating Grief from Clinical Depression
By Chandrama Anderson | 0 comments | 2,160 views