COAST CITIES — After 25 years of experience in the restaurant industry, Thomas Straight decided he wanted to go back to school to be an echocardiogram technician.
Straight enrolled at MiraCosta in hopes of eventually transferring to Grossmont College next fall for a cardiovascular program.
In order to do so, he needs to finish his current Biology 101 class and complete an anatomy class next spring. Getting that class, however, is anything but a sure bet, leaving Straight to wonder if he can enter the cardiovascular program when he planned.
“From what I hear, that’s one of the harder classes to enroll in; there are so many people trying to sign up that there might not be a spot for me,” said Straight, who has already had a difficult time finding classes at MiraCosta and has to commute to the San Elijo campus from Vista.
Due to a shortage of classrooms and labs, Straight’s story is typical of MiraCosta science students hoping to transfer to another program or a four-year university. School trustees said they had frustrated students in mind when they voted last month to place a $497 million bond on the November ballot that would fund renovations and new buildings throughout the school’s three campuses. But critics say the bond is a burden on residents during tough times.
“When people are suffering, is it fair to ask for that much money?” asked Bob Bonde, president of the Encinitas Taxpayers Association.
Bonde argued MiraCosta is parlaying an actual need for biology and chemistry labs into unnecessary campus-wide improvements.
“Instead of asking taxpayers for improvements as they need them, MiraCosta is going for the whole pie all at once,” Bonde said.
Further, he questioned why MiraCosta prioritized constructing a concert hall and art center over science buildings during the last five years.
According to Carlos Lopez, dean of mathematics, sciences and performing arts, there’s been a surge in demand for biology and chemistry classes in the last five years, largely explaining the shortage of science labs. Compared to other buildings, he said the science labs take longer to come online because they require added infrastructure like eye wash stations, extra plumbing, prep space and gas and electricity for each station.
MiraCosta spokeswoman Cheryl Broom said science buildings are a priority, but said more facilities for other disciplines are also necessary to bring down the number of students on wait lists.
More than half of the nearly 15,000 students at MiraCosta were placed on a wait list for at least one of their classes before the fall semester began. According to Broom, 906 out of 1,248 classes had a wait list the day before the fall semester. The top three wait listed classes were a biology lab with 591 students on the wait list, English 100 with 477 students on the wait list and elementary algebra with 296 students on the wait list.
Broom pushed back against claims that MiraCosta is asking for more than it needs with the $497 million bond.
“A lot of time was spent on assessing needs that went into a comprehensive master plan,” Broom said. “The bond wasn’t drawn up out of thin air.”
She added that it would be more expensive and could take 50 to 70 years to complete the master plan if it was broken up into parts and put on a ballot every two to four years.
To finance the bond, property taxes in the school’s district would be raised an additional $20 per every $100,000 of a home’s assessed value for around 25 years. All told, including principal and interest, repayment is estimated to cost nearly $1 billion.
Chris Cate, vice president of the San Diego County Taxpayers Association, said the group is endorsing the bond because MiraCosta justified the cost with “ample planning” and the financing isn’t “exotic.”
MiraCosta committed to using current interest bonds, not capital appreciation bonds, a big reason the San Diego County Taxpayers Association backed the bond, according to Cate.
In recent years, some California school districts, including Poway, have passed high-interest capital appreciation bonds. In Poway’s case, for example, it will begin paying $807 million in interest in 2032 on a $105 million loan it took out last year. Drawing criticism from many, the San Diego County Taxpayers Association supported that controversial school bond. But Cate argued the group was misled and will no longer back any capital appreciation bonds.
He said MiraCosta’s bond is “nothing like what happened in Poway.”
MiraCosta will pay back nearly two times what it borrowed over 25 years, which “isn’t extravagant” and “within a traditional loan,” Cate said.
Gary Gonsalves, representing the group Stop Taxing Us, said MiraCosta is another example of a school district overreaching, referring to the San Dieguito and the Del Mar school districts also placing a bond on the November ballot.
“We don’t have a revenue problem, we have a spending problem,” Gonsalves said. “These districts should learn to live within their means.”
Gonsalves’ group and others against the bond are facing an uphill battle.
MiraCosta needs 55 percent of voters to approve the bond. In July, a survey showed 65 percent of registered voters in favor of it.
“We’ll be outspent by organizations that are for it, but we’ll keep fighting,” Gonsalves said.