M Is For Money
Two measures attempt to fund school facilities in Salinas.
Thursday, September 10, 1998
With two failed bond measures in the last three years, Salinas school officials and supporters are doing more than hoping the third time will be the charm.
Bond measures M and H together provide for $50 million in general obligation bonds for school modernization and new construction. Both will appear on the Salinas ballot on Nov. 3. But this time, the issues are separate bond measures, "M" for the Salinas Union High School District''s middle schools and "H" for high schools.
"The past two attempts have been single bond measures," explains Michael Payne, president of Bricks & MortarBoards, a volunteer committee of Salinas citizens dedicated to better school facilities.
This time, he says, only the areas served by the impacted schools will be voting on each measure. "It''s unfair," he says, "to ask those folks to commit to repayment of bonds on schools that don''t serve them."
Measure M seeks to provide $16.5 million for the addition of seven lab and shop classrooms at Harden Middle School (almost $2 million) and technology enhancement at El Sausal and Washington Middle Schools. Just over $14 million of the total will go to construction of a new middle school on property already donated to the district at Paseo Grande and North Sanborn.
Measure H would provide $33.5 million for structural renovations and modernization and addition of classrooms, labs, shops and special education classrooms and technology enhancements at Alisal High ($4.8 million) and North Salinas High ($6.8 million.) It includes the addition of 18 classrooms, 10 labs and shops and a stadium at Everett Alvarez High ($12.6 million) and modernization and construction of classrooms, labs, shops, gym and recreation facilities, library, cafeteria and auditorium at Salinas High ($8.5 million.)
About $700,000 provides additional portable classrooms at Salinas Adult School and technology enhancements at Mount Toro High.
Both bond measures are to be paid through property tax assessment over 20 years. The assessment rate resulting from these measures, according to Bricks & MortarBoards, is about 20 cents per $1,000 of assessed value for Measure M and 22 cents per $1,000 of assessed value for Measure H.
The funds, says Payne, go only to designated construction, not to administration or operations. He stresses that there is already a bond oversight committee appointed by the school trustees to monitor bond expenditures.
"There''s really no gravy in any of these projects," says Mike Morman, the district''s manager of facilities and planning. "Everything is boiled down to things the state will match, plus Salinas High." The funds slated for Salinas High include $3 million to pay off certificates of participation (COPs), a financing mechanism used to pay for the recently completed renovations at the school.
"Without Measure H," says Fernando Elizondo, district superintendent, "the COPs would have to be paid off from the general fund," a situation Elizondo says isn''t "cost-effective because our discretionary dollars are so limited now. It really does hurt our ability to keep money in the classroom, but we had to provide for the growth and construction (of classrooms)."
Elizondo, Morman and Payne all agree that one of the district''s biggest problems is that facilities are old and need major repairs. Middle schools especially are overcrowded. "The fact of the matter," says Payne, "is state funding for education is not available for capital expenditures. It doesn''t build new classrooms."
All the tax money, explains Morman, goes to operations. Without classrooms, he adds, vocational education courses are currently not being taught at Harden and Alvarez. This includes wood shop, metal shop, plastics, electronics, drafting and CAD (computer aided drafting). Construction funded by the bond measures would remedy this.
The Assembly''s recent approval of Proposition 1A--which will appear on the Nov. 3 ballot--does not solve the district''s construction funding woes. If passed, the $9.2 billion statewide bond would still require local districts to fund half or more of new construction and renovation.
"Districts will be eligible only if they can match the dollars from this bond," says Elizondo. "That means school districts that have passed local bonds. A lot of districts have already passed bonds and have the money." He adds that only about 10 percent of the state bond monies will be reserved for hardship districts that cannot come up with matching funds.
According to Morman, state funding even if available, does not provide 100 percent funding in the best of circumstances. Matching formulas are based on year-round scheduling and other factors, he explains. "Even 100 percent (funding) is actually only 74 percent of the eligible amount. Fifty percent can be half of the 74 percent."
That''s why Elizondo says passage of Measures M and H is "so important to us."
While state bond issues require only a simple majority to pass, local bond measures requires a two-thirds super majority--a requirement that sank the hopes of Salinas Union bond proponents in 1995 and 1997. "It''s an upsetting thing," says Payne of the fact that even a 60 percent majority won''t float a local school bond. "If any politician got that many votes, it would be called a landslide."
Payne points out that an effort was recently made at the state level to change the local vote requirement on school bond issues to a simple majority. Monterey County''s representative to the state Senate, Bruce McPherson, supported it. Assemblymember Peter Frusetta, whose district includes Salinas, did not. The attempt died in the legislature and there are no current plans to reintroduce a similar measure.
The good news for Bricks & MortarBoards is that there appears to be no organized opposition to the two bond measures--at least not yet. No arguments against or rebuttals have been filed with the county elections office.
Will this election be different from the last two failed bond attempts? Proponents are definitely hoping that''s the case.
"The district has gone through difficult times and shown lack of confidence on the part of the public," says Elizondo--alluding to a stormy few years that included public criticism of the board, delayed repairs to Salinas High, and the well-publicized departure of a previous superintendent.
"The district record is now on track. We have demonstrated reserves--about 4 percent--and a strong academic record. We''ve turned the corner on trust and will continue to send that record out to gain public trust."