School construction tax effort gears up in Orange
The campaign to convince Orange County voters to extend a half-penny sales tax for school construction has begun.
Dozens of business leaders have heard a pitch to support the renewal, and names are being added to a steering committee.
Leading the effort is Dick Batchelor, who helped pass the initial tax in 2002 that has brought in about $1.5 billion and is expected to cover the renovation or replacement of close to 100 schools.
After some reservations about how the district was spending construction money in the years since, Batchelor said he is back on board, impressed by the work of John Morris, the schools' facilities director since 2011.
"The school board and the administration has come a long way since '02, '03," said Batchelor, a consultant and lobbyist.
Since 2003, county residents have been paying the tax as the district tried to complete work on a list of 136 schools. But a slumping economy and increases in building costs during the boom years meant that many schools remain untouched.
The district has about $2 billion in unfunded construction projects on a long to-do list that could be funded by a renewed tax.
Batchelor said the effort will require about $500,000 in fundraising and will include direct mail, print and broadcast advertising, as well as social media. The tax will go on the ballot next fall.
The renewal is facing some scattered opposition, but Batchelor said he hopes to set up meetings between Morris and potential opponents in the coming months.
Board members, who are already discussing the tax with constituents, said on Tuesday that they want to avoid promising voters a rigid list of schools like in 2002.
Batchelor said he'd stay away from the policy decisions, but offered one bit of advice.
"Be very clear, and explain what the caveats are."
[email protected] or 407-420-5120.