At an early Tuesday meeting, the SRVUSD Board of Education unanimously voted to bring a $260 million bond issue to voters this November. The bond has been under discussion for nearly a year.
"As I continue to watch the state and its willful neglect of our public school system, what rises to the top for me is the fact that we can have some local control," said Boardmember Denise Jennison, adding that she was once unsure of the timing of the bond. "This is one instance and one way as a community to support our children…with a local measure that provides local control so this money comes from the residents of this local school district and stays in this school district."
The bond would be used for technology infrastructure improvements -- equipment, cables and software -- for schools, as well as new classrooms to prevent overcrowding and to help make sure kids can go to schools in their own neighborhood. It would also go toward modernizing classrooms and science labs, to improve energy efficiency and add earthquake, fire and security improvements. Upgrades include replacing classroom buildings, finishing master plans and other projects eligible for state matching funds.
A capital facilities needs assessment list identified 102 upgrade or modernization projects at a total of $397,777,938, the November bond will not cover all necessary improvements. Although the Board hasn't solidified the list of school-specific projects to be covered by the bond, several big-ticket items include the modernization of eight elementary and middle schools, four phases of renovation at Stone Valley Middle School and a new building at San Ramon Valley High.
Alamo resident Steve Mick, who served on the Facility Advisory Committee but spoke for himself alone, encouraged the board to let the public know how each school will benefit from bond funds. Mick said he supported the bond measure as a response to "intensity of enrollment" -- the school district now has over 30,000 students.
No one spoke against the bond at Tuesday's meeting, though several teachers and city staff expressed concern for the state of SRVUSD facilities. Bekki Livingston, Golden View Elementary's librarian, said she sees 500 students a week in a library that is " dark, dingy, not conducive to reading" and shared with an English learners class.
"This makes it very difficult for students to listen or pay attention," she said. "I am very much for a bond measure that includes Golden View that will modernize the campus. And this is one little thing at a small school, but this happens all over the district. These are small things that can go a very long way to improving our district. "
San Ramon Valley Education Association President Darren Day also spoke in favor of the bond, citing major improvements at his Bollinger Canyon Elementary classroom that resulted from past bonds.
"I want to encourage you …(to) work as strongly as we can to work on this process of rebuilding and renovation," he said.
The bond would cost, on average, $27.75 per $100,000 of assessed value, although the amount per year would vary from a low of $23.70 to a high of $38.90 per $100,000. If approved by voters, the bond would have a term of 30 years.
In June, the school district refinanced and restructured its Measure A general obligation bond (a $260 million bond passed in 2002 and expected to be paid off in 2027), the move is projected to save property owners more than $17 million in taxes. The Board assured attendees that these new rates, combined with outstanding bonds from Measure D (a $70 million bond passed in 1998), would keep total yearly payments below $75 per $100,000 of assessed value.
The interest rates on the outstanding bonds from the 2002 authorization ranged from 3.55 percent to 4.77 percent. The interest rates for the new bonds, issued on June 19, range from 0.52 percent to 3.14 percent, a difference that will save property owners a collective $17,002,379, or approximately $350 over the next 19 years. After the 2030-31 school year, with the payoff of Measure A completed, the total amount is expected to drop.
Assistant Superintendent Gary Black argued that the bond and ensuing school improvements could have a positive effect on property values while avoiding having to rely on the state for funds.
"In 2008-2009, we had unprecedented cuts, those cuts are $2.4 million a year to deferred maintenance," he said, adding that these cuts have cost the district an estimated $7.4 million. "There is $5 million worth of work in next two years that just wont occur and it becomes more necessary as time goes by."
San Ramon Mayor Bill Clarkson, a former school board member, spoke in favor of the bond and cited Palto Alto and Cupertino as thriving cities with good school districts. There is a correlation between the quality of services a city provides and the quality of its school district, he stated.
"Most of our funding comes from property taxes. Many, many cities have gone through huge decreases in property taxes and they've had to cut police and services. But there is a nexus there," Clarkson said. "Where you find great school districts, you find cities that are doing well."
Board members agreed that state program funds for modernization and construction are not available, and when they are, funds are insufficient.
"It really is, as I see it, more of an investment. The state doesn't provide us funds for what were trying to do with this measure, and hopefully at some point in time, we'll get the match dollars back. If we don't do it as a community, it's not going to get done," said Board Vice President Ken Mintz. "I believe we're putting things into effect that take into account the needs of our residents, our taxpaying community as well as our students, into the future."
Board President Greg Marvel said he does not trust the state of California to spend taxpayer money wisely with regard to education and encouraged San Ramon Valley residents to trust the school board, which "has a history of spending its money wisely and in a way that benefits the taxpayer."
"We have a unique opportunity here, probably a once in a lifetime opportunity, a bringing together of low construction rates and historically low interest rates…We need to take this opportunity and run with it," Marvel said. "We will be able to do more things with less money then we will in 20 or 30 years."
The bond will be on the Nov. 12, 2012 ballot and is expected to cost the district approximately $54,000, or $2.50 per voter. Part of that cost includes the school board election.