The Redwood City School District will not change the language it plans to use on the November bond ballot measure known as Measure S even after residents pointed out that the ballot as written could mislead voters into thinking the funds could be used for other items.
In response, residents have filed a ballot measure rebuttal directed at Measure S, citing the language as “misleading.”
The ballot label—what voters will see when they head to the polls to vote on the bond— asks voters to approve $298 million “with annual audits, citizen oversight, no money for administrators, and all funds staying local.”
Patricia Love, executive director of strategy and communications for the county of education, said bond funds can be used for facilities infrastructure but cannot be used for administrators’ salaries, teachers’ salaries or academic programs, according to California law.
The rebuttal, filed on Friday, Aug. 26, points to the average daily attendance and enrollment decline in the district over the past five years and argues whether it would make sense to ask voters to pay for “buildings over teachers and academic programs.”
The law is clear, but the ballot measure is not, said Chris Robell, a Redwood City resident and retired CFO, at an RCSD board meeting in August, speaking in opposition of Measure S the night members were voting on the bond. Robell is the author of the rebuttal against bond Measure S.
Robell told members that it was important to be specific about the language used in the bond resolution, specifically about how the bond cannot be used for administrators’ salaries, teachers’ salaries or academic programs.
Robell argued that the district should either remove the phrase “no money for administrators” entirely or include the words “teachers’ salaries or academic programs” after the word administrators to make it clear that the funds cannot be used for these items.
A 'catch all'
However, Love said it's not surprising that the ballot label uses just the word "administrators," and does not include “teachers’ salaries or academic programs.”
The word "administrators" could be used as a sort of a "catch all," she said, adding that ballot measures have a 75-word limit.
Redwood City resident Donna Adams said in an interview that she’s also opposed to language in the bond ballot.
“They are written a little deceptively; They just confuse people,” Adams said. “And it leads you to believe one thing when actually if you take the time to read the other materials, you’re actually voting for something else.
“And that part is rather discouraging,” she added.
In 2015, the district used the same language for its $193 million Measure T bond.
The deadline to amend or withdraw a bond measure was Wednesday, Aug. 17, but RCSD had until Monday, Aug. 22 at 5 p.m. to file a writ of mandate with a judge to change the language, said a spokesman for the county elections office.
When asked on Thursday after the deadline had passed about the language used on the ballot, a spokesperson for the district said it was conferring with legal counsel about whether it would change it.
But by Friday afternoon, the district said it had decided to keep the language, opting to instead update all its newsletters and informational materials “to include additional examples of operations for which the funds cannot be used such as teacher salaries and benefits and the operations of instructional programs.”
“While the request for the district to adjust the language is appreciated, the law is clear that bond funds may only be used for facility repairs and improvements as stated in the measure,” said Jorge Quintana, district spokesperson, in an email.
“The full ballot text is the complete statement of the measure that provides all of the detail to voters about the measure. This language will be included in the ballot pamphlet that all voters receive,” he added.
The district also sent out a newsletter on Friday, Aug. 19, reiterating how the bond funds could be used.
Robell said he was disappointed the district "chose not to correct a misleading statement."
Other Redwood City residents filed an argument in favor of RCSD bond Measure S, including newly appointed district 4 council member Elmer Martínez Saballos.
“Thanks to strong community support, students continue to thrive in our local schools. However, all our local elementary and middle school are 50 to 100 years old and need repairs and improvements to meet current standard and continue providing a quality education to students,” the argument read.