San Mateo school district weighs options on debt 

Despite a recent civil grand jury report that said looming debt will affect the budget for the next 37 years, San Mateo Union High School District board members are ambivalent about the idea of amending Measure M — a $298 million school construction bond — to include debt relief.

The measure, passed by voters in November, includes funding for 74 planned construction projects at district schools. At Thursday’s board meeting, Craig Childress, the district’s teachers association president, said Measure M should include debt relief in light of recent swirling reports of financial problems.

"I think we should take a very serious look at that," said board member Linda Lees Dwyer. "I’m not sure it was fully explored when it was first put in front of the public."

However, amending the bond measure would require another election and some board members said the six-figure cost of another ballot measure would be counterproductive.

"We feel we can pay off [debt] aggregation in a timely manner so that it doesn’t go 40 years into the future and I find that preferable to amending Measure M," said board member Marcia Cohn-Lyle.

The district has taken out about $73 million in loans, something that will affect the general fund until 2044, a civil grand jury said in a report this month.

"To me, I’m not opposed to it, but I don’t want to use taxpayer money for the cost of another election," said board member Diane Vranes. "I’m eager to see all of the schools upgraded."

The selected managing contractor for Measure M, Skanska USA, was dropped Thursday because Skanska’s fee proposal of $24 million was $13 million more than the original estimate.

Earlier this month, trustee Peter Hanley wrote a report suggesting Skanska was overcharging the district, adding "the administration is not effectively implementing Measure M." But Hanley said amending the bond measure is not a solution.

"I’m not closed to the idea, but I’m not sure it’s practical," he said.

With Skanska out of the picture, the district will start over with the selection of a managing firm, which could happen in June. Skanska will be allowed to manage some Measure M projects already scheduled for the summer.

Mark Haesloop, the school district’s construction attorney, said Skanska’s fee proposal far exceeded fee standards set by the state Office of Public School Construction.

"The question is, who’s managing the managers," he said. "When it comes to oversight, it’s not a part-time job."

bfoley@examiner.com

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