Like many other school districts grappling with funding cuts, the Sunnyvale School District is exploring its newest option to fill in the gaps: placing a bond measure on the November 2013 ballot. With 2011 parcel tax money going toward maintaining programs and services for the next seven years and a prior bond nearly spent, unfunded deferred maintenance costs are of great concern.
In November 2004, voters in the school district boundaries approved Measure P, a $120 million school bond to modernize, expand and maintain the district’s 10 schools. “In 2003, the bond developed a facilities standards and a master plan, which served as a guiding light for Measure P,” said Rob Williams, Sunnyvale School District’s Chief of Operations. “As a result of that, we were able to modernize over 163 classrooms, we constructed 47 new classrooms, we modernized 56 restrooms and on top of that we added another 50 restrooms, plus 17 play structures and 5 libraries. Measure P accomplished a significant amount of work.”
Out of the $120 million, the district was able to generate $10 million in interest by matching state funds to take in almost $130 million. Expenditures to date are at $116 million, with a balance of about $14 million. Future and ongoing projects are expected to cost about $12 million. Four schools have yet to be fully modernized. Bishop, Cherry Chase, Ellis Elementary and Sunnyvale Middle schools need to be renovated to provide up-to-date classrooms, replace 50-year old underground water, sewer and gas lines, and replace inefficient electrical, lighting, heating, plumbing and ventilation systems.
In addition, all schools-including the six other schools in the district-Cumberland, Fairwood, Lakewood, San Miguel, Vargas and Columbia Middle-are in need of updated instructional technology, as well as ongoing repairs and renovations. The district has identified $5 million worth of deferred maintenance needs over the next 10 years, which are currently unfunded. And with the governor’s budget, the requirement for the minimum contribution for routine and restricted maintenance and deferred maintenance funding has been eliminated.
If state funding becomes available to the district, it qualifies for about $2 million in modernization funds, which would require a district match. The district currently doesn’t have the funds to match. This bond would address these needs and be used for ongoing maintenance well into the future. The board has yet to determine an amount for the possible bond, but is looking at tax rate estimates. Options include a $15 per $100,000 of assessed value tax rate for property owners that would bring in around $84 million or a $20 per $100,000 rate, which would generate about $105 million.
At a meeting with parent leaders on April 8, parents question board members and district staff as to why the Measure P bond didn’t cover everything, what the bond would need to pass and how certain schools ended up getting upgrades before others. District officials said a number of things contributed to the previous bond not going as far as initially predicted, including inflation and escalation, enrollment growth and poor interest rate returns. The district also anticipated getting a 5.5 percent return, but it ended up being less than 1 percent, Williams explained. As opposed to the parcel tax that passed in 2011, which needed a two-thirds vote to pass, the proposed bond needs 55 percent to pass. Williams also explained that the prioritizing of school projects is all based on a point system in which schools were ranked by need.
Of course, one of the greatest challenges for the district has been depending a great deal on the state to move things forward. “We’ve seen California state funding decline,” Superintendent Ben Picard said. “And we are seeing more and more districts asking for more local support. That is something we are going to have to do as we move forward.” Despite the challenges, Mike Klein, a member of the 2004 bond oversight committee, said he was impressed with the management and transparency of the previous bond. “Money is well spent by this management group when it comes to prioritizing and really just understanding what the environment is,” Klein said at the meeting. “And if you want transparency, this is the one place you will get it.”
The school board will have a special development meeting on April 25 to discuss the details of the bond and a survey and phone research is scheduled for late April. The board will do a preliminary review of a draft resolution calling for an election by June 6, with final approval slotted for June 20, well before the August 9 deadline to get it on the November 5 ballot.
Article submitted by Alia Wilson, Staff Writer for The Sunnyvale Sun