A 'Sea Change' for Poway Unified - Voice of San Diego

Education

A 'Sea Change' for Poway Unified

Two school board incumbents who rigidly supported the district’s use of capital appreciation bonds were voted out Tuesday, while a third stepped down.

Two years ago, California State Treasurer Bill Lockyer called on voters to oust school board members who approved what he considered reckless and wasteful capital appreciation bond deals.

And that’s what happened Tuesday at the Poway Unified School District, the poster child for CAB borrowing, where two incumbent board members were voted out of office.

Todd Gutschow and Marc Davis lost their re-election bids in a campaign that was dominated by the 2011 bond deal, which will ultimately cost voters just shy of $1 billion in principal and interest. A third incumbent (and staunch bond deal supporter,) Penny Rantfle, stepped down this year rather than face re-election.

Gutschow, Davis and Rantfle will be replaced by newcomers Michelle O’Connor Ratcliff, an adjunct professor of business law at the University of San Diego, Charles Sellers, a local accountant and T.J. Zane, a former chief executive of the conservative Lincoln Club of San Diego County.

“A sea change has taken place,” Kimberly Beatty, who was elected to the school board in November 2012, told me Wednesday.

In the early months of her tenure, Beatty expressed frustration at working with a group she considered insular, uncommunicative and staunchly defensive of Poway’s bond deals. When I interviewed her in those early months, it seemed like Beatty was being shut out from the rest of the board.

Now, she’s got reinforcements.

Beatty said she encountered two worlds when she first joined the board. Within the community, she had found widespread dissatisfaction with the board, a sentiment she managed to use to her advantage in her election campaign. But when she joined Davis, Rantfle and Gutschow on the board, she said she discovered a whole different vibe.

“They thought everything they were doing was beyond reproach. They misunderstood the feelings and anger in the community. They thought it was just a small band of troublemakers and it wasn’t — it was pervasive.”

Evidently so. Sellers, O’Connor and Zane all put the bond deal at the center of their campaigns. They slammed the incumbents for a lack of transparency and for making a deal that will cost future generations hundreds of millions of dollars in interest.

Here’s Zane’s website (None of the three new board members was available for comment Wednesday):

Yes, I was furious when I learned about the $105 Million Capital Appreciation Bond that will cost district homeowners $1 Billion in interest. I will absolutely oppose the issuance of such reckless and non-callable bonds if elected.

Four of the five board members in Poway are now critics of the bond. Most of the senior staff members who put together and have defended the deal, including Superintendent John Collins, remain at the district and will likely face some serious scrutiny from the new board members.

Poway is also currently considering whether to enter into a whole new deal that would seek to renegotiate its bonds.

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