Measure I, the attempted $900 million extraction of local property taxes by the Morgan Hill Unified School District for a vaguely defined range of construction projects, was rejected in a veritable landslide. For once, the voters mobilized and rose up to crush a measure funded by the very same “1-percenter” developers, architects and construction bosses who have so handsomely profited from our current school construction bond, Measure G.
While it may seem that this overwhelming defeat of Measure I is a fitting end point to what many perceived as an unexpected raid on their tax obligations for up to 69 years into the future, the real work is just beginning.
Now we have to hold the MHUSD leadership and its compliant school board to account. The current superintendent seems to see himself more as the Superintendent of Construction instead of the Superintendent of Schools. Witness the unwanted and unneeded Borello Elementary School site going up on Peet Road, on what was Dieldrin-contaminated soil; or the proposed plan tucked within Measure I to build a new District Office, to accommodate a 20-25 percent increase in staff, despite flat to declining student enrollment.
Many in Morgan Hill are already upset by the sense that the entire town is being dug up and transformed into a “Little San Jose.” The fear of handing MHUSD Superintendent Steve Betando a blank check for up to $900 million to potentially go on another building spree all over town was one of the drivers in rejecting Measure I.
As for the MHUSD school board, three of their seven members are up for re-election in November. Presumably, now that the community has mobilized around this recent bond campaign, it will not be difficult to encourage candidates to run in the fall in these three trustee areas.
But replacing those three would still leave four of the compliant board members in office. Board President Carol Ann Gittens and VP Wendy Sullivan each authored poorly reasoned articles defending this $900 million bond measure. It’s time for them to realize that, by their active roles in this losing campaign, they in particular have been handed a massive vote of “no confidence.” They won’t be up for re-election in their small trustee territories until 2022. So perhaps it is time for them to acknowledge the voters’ verdict, and step down to be replaced.
Question: Having now seen their biggest (in dollars) and most visible strategic initiative to be school construction, how much do you trust this seven-member board and superintendent to handle Coronavirus, or serve the 14 percent of MHUSD students with special needs? How much confidence do you have that this board will turn away from the pressure from the district leadership to put another, smaller bond measure on the ballot, instead of focusing more on student learning and achievement?
As I said, March 3 is only the first step. The people have finally stood up and made their voices heard. Now is the time for those who rejected Measure I to move to the tough tasks of planning and making long overdue changes to MHUSD leadership and then to unify the community around a student-focused, and not a developer-focused, agenda. If we do this, MHUSD will finally become a public school system that will make all of us proud.
David Gerard, Ph.D.