School District Owes $1 Billion On $100 Million Loan
by Richard Gonzales
More than 200 school districts across California are taking a second look at the high price of the debt they’ve taken on using risky financial arrangements. Collectively, the districts have borrowed billions in loans that defer payments for years — leaving many districts owing far more than they borrowed.
In 2010, officials at the West Contra Costa School District, just east of San Francisco, were in a bind. The district needed $2.5 million to help secure a federally subsidized $25 million loan to build a badly needed elementary school.
“We’d be foolish not to take advantage of getting $25 million” when the district had to spend just $2.5 million to get it, Ramsey says. “The only way we could do it was with a [capital appreciation bond].”
Those bonds, known as CABs, are unlike typical bonds, where a school district is required to make immediate and regular payments. Instead, CABs allow districts to defer payments well into the future — by which time lots of interest has accrued.
In the West Contra Costa Schools’ case, that $2.5 million bond will cost the district a whopping $34 million to repay.
Ramsey says it was a good deal, because his district is getting a brand-new $25 million school. “You’d take that any day,” he says. “Why would you leave $25 million on the table? You would never leave $25 million on the table.”
But that doesn’t make the arrangement a good deal, says California State Treasurer Bill Lockyer. “It’s the school district equivalent of a payday loan or a balloon payment that you might obligate yourself for,” Lockyer says. “So you don’t pay for, maybe, 20 years — and suddenly you have a spike in interest rates that’s extraordinary.”
As the NPR article notes, in the very last paragraph, CAB loans are legal in CA. Missing from the NPR article - I looked - was the rates on those bonds. IOW, NPR was trying to get readers to see the lenders as predatory at the same time they see the school districts as foolish. Gotta have that moral equivalency! This statement from a district official sums up many educrats’ mindset: “Why would you leave $25 million on the table? You would never leave $25 million on the table.” If getting that $25M means doing something stupid, yes, you should leave that $25M “on the table”!