stood on the campus of Hillcrest High School
, staring at a wall that cost $10 million to build.
The mile-long barrier was constructed to prevent the hillside above from sliding into the new school during a heavy storm.
The state-of-the-art campus with its extravagant sculpted concrete wall, he
said, has helped upgrade the image of the downtrodden district.
Click to enlarge
Click to enlarge
"They wanted a beautiful high school, and we gave them a beautiful high school," said Calderon, assistant superintendent for business services of the Alvord Unified School District in Riverside.
By 2046, when the loan is paid off, Calderon
said, it will have cost taxpayers $375 million - 6.6 times the principal.
Calderon, who joined the Alvord district as chief business officer in July, called the deal "a necessary evil" and said falling property tax revenue and dwindling state funding had left districts with no choice but to engage in risky borrowing.
"If this was a mortgage, you would run," he
Calderon, Alvord's chief business officer, lamented the lack of financial expertise that leaves many districts unqualified to navigate complex bond deals - or to do business with high-powered financial advisers and Wall Street investors.
"They're swimming with the big sharks," said Calderon
, who likened running a school district to heading up a large corporation.
"These are principals and assistant superintendents of curriculum, and they're being promoted in the role of a chief business officer."
Unlike Napa, Alvord
had reached the $60 tax cap at the time it decided to issue its capital appreciation bond.
Before Hillcrest High School
opened in 2012, Calderon
other two high schools were bursting at the seams.
Postponing construction on the new school would have meant holding classes in portable structures, "like a tent city."
With the district unable to borrow more money with traditional bonds and voters demanding a new school, district leaders began to feel the political heat.
"It's one of those situations that people are forced into when there's a lot of pressure put on by either boards or superintendents, that they want this building finished and they want it today," Calderon
first toured the aquatic center after joining the district last summer, he
"The first words out of my mouth were, 'Where is the rest of the pool?' " he
insists that Alvord
Although the district is $500 million in debt, he
said, it's "good debt" put toward facilities that will enhance learning for generations of students.
"Maybe one of these years or one of these decades," he
said, "if we ever get to sell another bond or do fundraising, maybe we can break open that concrete and build ourselves a true 50-meter, Olympic-size pool."