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RUSD's Measure O spending faces legal challenge as RAIT files civil injunction

The complaint alleges RUSD is improperly using over $115 million in Measure O funds to build new schools in Casa Blanca, the Eastside, and Highgrove and a campus for the STEM Academy.

Riverside Unified School District office on 14th Street (Camille Grochowski/Gazette)

On July 14, 2023, local group Riversiders Against Increased Taxes (RAIT) filed a civil injunction against Riverside Unified School District (RUSD). RAIT alleges that RUSD is misusing over $115 million in Measure O funds to construct four new schools. They claim this violates Proposition 39, which mandates using bond funds for listed purposes, and the Measure O project list was for repairing and upgrading existing schools.

Measure O
Measure O was a 2016 ballot measure Riverside voters approved, authorizing RUSD to increase its debt by $392 million to enhance and improve district schools. Of the 81,411 votes cast, the measure received substantial support with 57,347 votes, accounting for 70.44%. The opposition totaled 24,064 votes, making up 29.56% of the vote.

RAIT’s main point of contention is the District’s request to “construct” and “acquire.” The injunction claims RUSD is directing significant funds to construct four new schools: Casa Blanca Neighborhood School, Eastside Neighborhood School, Highgrove II Neighborhood School, and a STEM Education Center.

The injunction states, “RUSD threatens to spend more than $115 million for unlawful purposes.”

After the passing of Measure O, RUSD established a Citizens’ Bond Oversight Committee with three responsibilities:

  1. To inform the public of RUSD’s expenditure of bond proceeds,
  2. To review expenditure reports and verify that bond proceeds will be for purposes set by Measure O, and
  3. To present annual reports to the RUSD Board.

On November 27, 2017, RUSD conducted a study session. They discussed the needs of Casa Blanca and Eastside Riverside neighborhoods. The study included the idea of the construction of new schools. The District welcomed public dialogue.

This community engagement is not enough for RAIT.

RAIT claims that RUSD’s intentions were dubious from the start.

They allege fraud.

The injunction alleges, “It is as if RUSD officials knew they wanted to build new schools but were afraid that voters would not approve a bond measure for that purpose. So, they concealed their real intent.”

RUSD stated the possibility of more in their proposed legislation project list. The legislation includes “acquire land; construct new schools.

RAIT’s goal is straightforward. The injunction states that RAIT’s mission is to “help improve the quality of life for Riverside residents by advocating for transparent and responsible government.” RAIT aims to halt the progress of Measure O spending on new RUSD campuses.

RAIT’s foundation of this legal argument is on California Code, Education Code - EDC § 15284. This code lets people in the school or community college district, who pay a property tax, sue the District’s officers, agents, or representatives if they believe the funds are being misused or wasted.

RAIT previously challenged Measure C, which Riverside voters approved in November 2021. On April 26, 2022, Riverside County Superior Court Judge Harold W. Hopp ruled in favor of RAIT against Measure C.