Deciding whether to put a $265 million bond measure aimed at alleviating enrollment growth on the June or November ballot is the next step for the Sequoia Union High School District Board of Trustees.
Community members and trustees have been weighing the pros and cons of going out for a measure this spring or in the fall, with some believing it’s too soon for it to be on the ballot since there should be clear public support and a more complete campaigning committee. Most of the school board, and some others, believe the sooner the better and a November ballot measure might be too late since it will take two years to construct the first set of new buildings. The board will make its final decision next week.
“A June election would allow for buildings to be ready in the 2016 year,” said Superintendent Jim Lianides. “We really need to have buildings in place when we feel the growing pains of enrollment. The key thing is each of our campuses today are very close to capacity.”
A facilities task force recommended a $265 million bond that will generate an approximate $16 per $100,000 tax rate based on current interest bonds to allow for two small schools of 300 to 400 students and for adding six additional classrooms to Menlo-Atherton High School. Godbe Research completed a voter survey regarding a potential bond measure to support the district’s four comprehensive high schools and alternative high school programs. The results showed strong support for a potential bond measure, reaching 68.4 percent for a simulated June 2014 election and 70.3 percent in a simulated November election. Support was generally consistent in the school district regions that feed into the high school district.
A demographic study indicates the district is projected to grow starting in the 2014-15 school year, reaching more than 10,000 students by 2020-21. Projections indicate that the district will reach 10,056 students by 2020-21. These projections are based in part on partner elementary district growth. Enrollment in the partner districts started to grow in 2006-07 from 22,893 students and reached 24,653 students in 2012-13.
Some parents and community members support the bond measure, but think there needs to be more time for campaigning and thus support a November measure.
“The overarching thing is we want what’s best for our kids,” said Jennifer Webb, former president of the San Carlos Education Foundation and current member of the Sequoia High School Education Foundation. “You need to show certain jobs are filled to run the kind of campaign I’m accustomed to running.”
Parent and former board candidate Georgia Jack advocated for November as well, noting that the process has been too narrowly focused on facilities, not programming.
“I do not argue against the need for a bond,” she said. “You should allow all the communities between now and August to have authentic discussions about what a gold standard education looks like. A communication process that listens as much as it talks … will go a long way in building trust.”
Terry Thygesen, trustee at Menlo Park City School District, thanked the board for its work on supporting teaching and learning for the benefit of all children. Focusing on needs before politics is important too, she said.
“You’re building on the shoulders of giants who laid the foundation,” she said. “You have a very supportive community — you know this. I believe that this community has been here for you before and will be here for you again, you just have to articulate the facts.”
Board members have mixed feelings about whether to put a measure on the June or November ballot. Trustee Alan Sarver said June is quite doable, but November brings its own challenge.
“It’s not an obvious case one way or another,” said board President Allen Weiner. “The most important thing for us to do is support the effort to go out [for a measure]. … At the end of the day, I come out in favor of June because classrooms can be built sooner. … We’re going to win this thing and it’s going to be great for our district.”
Board Vice President Olivia Martinez said she hasn’t heard a single person say they weren’t in favor of the bond proposal.
“I’m concerned if it doesn't go in June, we won’t be prepared when students arrive at our doorstep,” she said. “There’s no question about the data; the bodies are in the seats right now as we speak.”
Meanwhile, Alice Henderson, Sequoia High School Parent Teacher Association president, supports June as well.
“They’ve been saying ‘this is the biggest class in decades each year,’” she said. “I support June because, one I’m an optimist. ... One reason that June is better is for current high school students, their families will be impacted and it’s much easier to engage and mobilize families that are at the high school. … Seniors can vote in June, not in November.”
Former board member Don Gibson supports a June ballot measure as well.
“I think we can get a very good, strong (campaigning) group together,” he said. “One issue with November is during the summer it’s very hard to get people active. For a June election, there’s more energy there.”
Others think November might be best.
“I recommended November,” said Trustee Carrie Du Bois. “I want to do this very respectfully for the community and taxpayers and make sure there is a lot of communication. This is a lot of money.”
There are some facilities updates already underway. A two-story building with five classrooms is currently being built at Carlmont High School, there will be two science and three regular classrooms. Also, a total of five new classrooms are in final design for Menlo-Atherton High School. These classrooms are planned to be operational for the 2015-16 school year.
A special board meeting will be held 4:30 p.m. Wednesday, March 5 at the district office, 480 James Ave. in Redwood City, to vote on the ballot date. If it chooses a June date, the board needs to also identify two trustee representatives for the campaign committee.
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