A few dozen residents and several school administrators showed up for San Ramon Valley Unified's second community forum Monday night to hear details on a possible school facilities bond measure. Held at San Ramon Valley High School, the forum is one of four dedicated to informing voters on how the bond will affect their schools.
Although the bond amount has yet to be determined, the district has identified a list of potential capital projects that total over $235 million in modernization projects across 17 schools. Modernization includes replacement of aging roofs and HVAC systems, expanded digital bandwidth and wireless access, security upgrades and energy efficiency upgrades.
"Hand in hand with quality education is quality school buildings," said Chris Kenber, a former board member and former chair of the facilities oversight committee. "Technology is changing so rapidly, schools have to keep up with it."
Monday's meeting focused specifically on San Ramon Valley High and its feeder schools, among which are Stone Valley and Charlotte Wood middle schools as well as Rancho Romero and Sycamore Valley elementaries. Several tentative projects, including renovations at SRVHS and Stone Valley and the addition of a new library at Charlotte Wood are eligible for state matching dollars.
Although some of the modernization products at SRVHS include the demolition of single-story buildings and the construction of three-story classroom buildings to accommodate growth, Assistant Superintendent Christine Williams assured attendees that bond money will not just go toward building new wings but be put toward finishing schools' master plans, taking care of deferred maintenance and improving digital infrastructure.
"As a site principal, I can't underestimate the importance of digital infrastructure," said Charlotte Wood Principal Chris George. "In the next 3 to 5 years, the amount of digital things in the hands of kids is going to go up exponentially."
While most of the resident break-out discussion group agreed that improvements to technology infrastructure were crucial to provide students with learning tools for the future, several expressed concern about paying for facilities improvements without providing money for teachers. Superintendent Steven Enoch said the bond would cost homeowners between $20 and $30 per $100,000 assessed valuation and be paid back over 25 years.
According to Board of Education Member Denise Jennison, the school district could reduce the overall burden on taxpayers by refinancing bonds, saving residents millions. Regardless of whether it decides to refinance, the district does not plan around state matching funds. Any excess funds could be funneled back into SRVUSD's general fund and could be put back into the classrooms to support students, Jennison said.
Another resident, who has children in both middle and elementary school, said she was worried that parent donations to specific schools would decline if homeowners were forced to pay for an additional facilities bond. When San Ramon resident Vince Kyle questioned whether there was a sliding scale option for residents living in more construction and bond-money heavy school areas, Superintendent Steven Enoch said there was quite a bit of equity between feeder schools.
Rebecca Adams, a Stone Valley Elementary parent, encouraged district officials to tell residents that, "just because your school won't benefit from this bond, your kid will eventually be affected by it."
The proposed bond could be put to vote as early as June of this year, be delayed till November 2012 or November 2014. Although several residents took issue with the June and November 2012 dates -- citing lack of preparation time and over-saturation of issues during the presidential election, respectively -- others said increased interest rates and changes in the construction market will make the project less fiscally sound. SRVUSD emphasized that today's low interest rates and construction costs can help maximize bond funds.
The facilities bond would be the third such bond passed by San Ramon Valley voters in 14 years. Measure D, a $70 million bond from 1998, will be paid off in 2018 and the $260 million Measure A bond passed in 2002 should be paid off by 2027. The 2002 bond was augmented by over $90 million in state matching funds and over half a billion dollars in developer funds.
"As a result, we avoided year-round schools, maintained smaller class sizes, minimized serious overcrowding, avoided most student diversions and protected property values," Kenber said.
SRVUSD has experienced a 4 percent growth of its student population, or approximately 1,000 additional students a year, over the past six years. Kenber emphasized that the growth is not confined to the Dougherty Valley but includes new families replacing empty nesters in older areas. The district expects to house an average of 35,000 students over the next 20 to 25 years.
District officials and San Ramon High administrators gathered post-it notes with requests and questions from each break-out group, which called for a comprehensive list of projects for each school as well as more in-depth financial information, for compiling by a bond exploratory committee. The committee will provide its recommendation to the Board of Education, which will hold a special session on Feb. 14 to discuss next steps.
The board must legally take action to approve or deny the bond by March 9 if it wishes to approve the measure for the June 5 ballot.
Residents still have an opportunity to ask questions and voice their opinions at the final two community forums, held at Monte Vista on Feb. 2 and at Dougherty Valley on Feb. 8. Both forums begin at 7 p.m.