Looking For A Fix
Measure F would raise $52 million to repair buildings and buy equipment for Salinas schools.
Thursday, February 21, 2002
Photo:Having completed the restoration of Salinas High, the Board of Trustees of the Salinas Union High School District want to repair and equip the district''s seven other schools.
As election day looms, roofs of many schools within the Salinas Union High School District drip. Decaying walls swell beyond their square-foot capacity with overcrowding. Temporary portables exist where classrooms do not. Asbestos permeates the air at unsafe levels. Security lacks. Antiquated rest rooms and plumbing work sporadically. Nonexistent fire safety equipment sits unused on store shelves.
Though Everett Alvarez High School opened some five years ago, it''s still not complete. That''s the undisputed reality.
How those and other countless deficiencies and ailments that plague the city''s schools should be financed, however, is at the crux of a debate.
The answer, say bond proponents, is a "Yes" vote on Measure F and its imposition of a property tax hike, being submitted to voters on March 5 by the Board of Trustees of the Salinas Union High School District.
Superintendent Fernando Elizondo estimates the tax increase as roughly $22 per $100,000 of assessed valuation for the bond''s first year, with an estimated high of $28.30 per $100,000 in the fiscal year 2010-''11, but stresses that the figures aren''t set in stone and are based strictly on projections and estimates. That''s reiterated by the language of Measure F itself, which says that the exact amount of the tax increase can be determined only after the bonds themselves are sold.
Supporters say that when state matching funds are available, the community''s financial share will be reduced, and thus the overall cost to property owners will decline.
But not everyone is convinced that the plan can work. And certainly not everyone is in favor of the tax hike.
The Salinas Valley Taxpayers Union is, predictably, outraged. A statement issued by the Union says that "only an out-of-control beauracracy would raise taxes during a recession."
John Tresch of the Taxpayers Union think the District should find alternative ways to raise the necessary funds besides the tax hike, and says that the school district is perfectly capable of raising the funds through donations, grants and developer fees. Tresch says the district has frittered away money on elections and consulting fees that they say "could have bought a lifetime of books for children."
He has no statistics to back up this claim.
But community heavy hitters, like Salinas Police Chief Dan Ortega and Mayor Anna Caballero, insist that the schools need more than just books. They and other supporters say the funds they''ve been granted have been expended, and there''s still much to be done. Ortega expresses concerns about urgent safety concerns, not to mention things like computers and other tools that are necessary in today''s learning environment.
Regardless of the schools'' needs, the Taxpayers'' group attacks any charges to homeowners as "duplicative fees," which have been included previously in homeowners'' purchase prices, reflected as impact fees. Tresch, a homeowner, says he is worried that the impact will be felt most by those on fixed incomes, "the most vulnerable" in the community: senior citizens and low-income renters who pay their portion through what the Union calls "hidden costs."
The Taxpayers'' Union also raises the specter of corruption, claiming that administrators will simply hike their wages and divert it away from maintenance and repairs.
Bond proponents point out that Measure F''s language mandates that every last dime will be spent on the fund''s intended recipients: repairs, maintenance, construction and renovation. As part of the process, the fund will be audited annually by an oversight committee.
Parents like Don Gampell say the bond is necessary.
"No, I don''t want to pay more taxes," he says. "But what choice do we have exactly?"
Gampell says Salinas needs to invest in its children and their futures.
"They have to be able to compete out there," he says. "And some of those schools are a disgrace. So if that means cleaning the schools up and getting those kids out of trailers and providing them with the equipment they can''t do without, and as long as it''s really going to go to the schools for the kids, that''s exactly how it needs to be."
The school bond, set not to exceed $52 million, will need fewer votes than school bond measures of years past. Proposition 39, passed by voters in 2000, mandates that the bond can pass with close to a simple majority of votes--55 percent, versus the 67 percent needed in years past.