Carmel's school bond election comes not a moment too soon.
Thursday, May 18, 2000
The ominous number 13 on the door of the Spanish classroom at Carmel High School may be fair warning: it could be hazardous to your health to walk inside. Above students'' heads are broken ceiling tiles. One hangs balanced on an old wire. A jumble of electrical cords and extensions are plugged into the only outlet in the classroom. The musty stench of an ancient heating system permeates the room.
Welcome to Carmel Unified School District. In a community that boasts multimillion dollar homes, world-renowned golf courses, and incredible tourist attractions, the students are educated inside structures that are sliding into disrepair.
Enter science teacher Richard Fletcher''s classroom, for example. "We have the Winchester Mystery House," he says, raising a window shade. "Look out this window at the roof line outside." Fletcher raises another shade. "Now look--the roof slants the other way." A trick with mirrors? Nope. Just thank the rolling classroom floor.
Repairs in excess of $17 million are needed simply to bring the 10 schools in the district--which sprawls from Cachagua to south of Big Sur and parts of Pebble Beach--up to safe standards. Some schools need rewiring, smoke alarms, handicapped access and asbestos removal. In other cases the needs are more cosmetic: repainting, new windows, new lighting. At Carmel River School, teachers catch rain in buckets inside the classrooms. During an athletic banquet in the gymnasium at Carmel High last year, families had to dodge falling ceiling tiles.
Want to make a difference? On May 23, a special election will be held for Measure A, which will designate $20 million to repair the Carmel District''s schools. Up to $5 million in additional state funding will be available only if the measure passes. It requires a two-thirds majority.
"The schools have been maintained to the best ability of the district with the funding we have, but the schools are so old, it''s time," says Jeanne Hale, a concerned parent who''s working to promote the bond. "Carmel High is 60 years old, and the youngest school, Carmel Middle, is 40 years old. We''re not asking for frills, we''re not trying to build fancy facilities, but we are trying to upgrade to a safe standard."
That the schools need fixing is a no-brainer. The cost to property owners is minimal--$19.43 per $100,000 assessed value. This averages out to $40-60 year for property owners. But the last time Carmel Unified tried to pass a school bond, in 1991, it failed.
It makes you wonder--do retirees and second-home owners care about local schools when their kids aren''t in them? Pacific Grove just passed a $12 million bond measure. But this past March, California voters said no to Proposition 26, which would have allowed individual schools to issue bonds to upgrade school facilities and lowered the two-thirds supermajority required to pass bonds to a simple majority.
Jeanne Hale remains optimistic that her community will recognize the blatant disrepair at the schools. "We''ve encountered a tremendous amount of support during our presentations to local clubs and during our phone banking," she says. "Academically we''re in great shape. We just need to bring our schools up to the 21st century."