The clock is winding down for Sequoia Union High School District’s $265 million bond aimed at helping address overcrowding and enrollment growth, as it’s set for a vote in about one week.
A facilities task force recommended the 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 six additional classrooms to Menlo-Atherton High School. Godbe Research completed a voter survey regarding a potential measure to support the district’s four comprehensive high schools and alternative high school programs. The results showed strong support for a measure, reaching 68.4 percent for a simulated June election. Support was generally consistent in the school district regions that feed into the high school district. Measure A requires a 55 percent yes vote on this June 3 ballot item.
The Daily Journal sat down with those for and against Measure A last week.
The argument in favor states “to ensure that our local schools continue offering a challenging, varied and top-quality curriculum as student enrollment grows, Measure A is critical now.” It’s signed by bond co-chair Julia Horak; Redwood City Councilwoman Alicia Aguirre; Belmont City Treasurer John Violet; San Carlos resident Linda Teutschel; Deborah Stipek, dean of the Graduate School of Education at Stanford University; and district alumnus Steve Westly, former California controller.
The rebuttal, written by Mark Hinkle, president of the Silicon Valley Taxpayers Association, states the district is spending irresponsibly.
“When school boards put bond measures like Measure A before the voters, they are admitting that everything they are spending your tax dollars on now is more important than the projects for which this tax increase is being sought,” he wrote. “Budgets show us priorities. The Sequoia Union High School District says they want ‘to avoid overcrowding, provide updated classroom technology, labs,’ etc., but are those priorities in their current budget? … No.”
It goes on to state the district already had a $165 million bond measure in 2008 that was supposed to take care of technology funds for 10 years. Additionally, it notes most people would not pay for a computer class or laptop with a 25-year loan. It states buildings shouldn’t be updated every 10 years with a 25-year bond and that the district’s spending is 141 percent more per student than the statewide average. Teachers in the district make an average of $81,674 per year versus the statewide average of $72,962 per year, it states.
“Anything that has to do with technology is obsolete in three to five years — it’s going to be in the land or recycling in that time,” Hinkle said. “It’s a very bad deal for the taxpayers. Why go out to take out a loan for improvements when there should be money in the budget?”
The uncertainty about the interest rate available at the time bonds are issued is another problem bonds pose, he said. The bond could cost up to $500 million with interest rates, he added.
“We also don’t know the cost today versus five years down the road given inflation,” he said. “Down the road costs will be higher. … They say it can’t be used on administrative costs, but if they use part of the bond money on the part of the budget that’s used for repairs, that frees up a lot of money for teacher salaries.”
Overcrowding is not something schools should worry about, Hinkle said. The district should be putting more money into hiring high quality teachers and buying educational materials rather than administrative costs and new facilities, he added.
“Study after study has indicated class sizes after kindergarten, first-, second- and third-grade makes no difference,” he said. “There’s no justification [for the bond measure] other than to hire more teachers. If this is supposed to be for the kids, than you might want to spend the money elsewhere. … If you put a dollar into a new building, what does that do for the education of the child? Nothing.”
Proponents of the measure cite a demographic study that 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. Getting classrooms in place is the district’s priority, said bond co-chair Julie Quinlan.
“You see them (the students) coming up and we’re concerned what the quality academics might face with the enrollment issue,” Quinlan said. “The writing is on the wall in my view and they have to be ready.”
“Our high-performing high schools have drawn families to our communities, causing a surge in student enrollment,” the argument goes on to state. “Measure A will avoid school overcrowding, help protect our high schools’ diverse curriculum and ensure students can enroll in the classes they require.”
“Over the last 12 to 14 years we’ve absorbed the additional students through good planning and tax stewardship,” said Horak, who lives in San Carlos and has a seventh- and eighth-grader. “But now it’s (the measure) the right thing to do. We have to give our kids a strong education since we’re right next to Silicon Valley.”
Quinlan notes that the demographic study conducted doesn’t even include a potential housing development in Menlo Park that could add even more students to the district.
Change in school borders
Another reason for needing to add more classrooms is the district’s recent change in borders to focus on making sure students are able to attend neighborhood schools, a key to equity, Trustee Alan Sarver said.
“It strengthens community connections to keep cohorts together,” Sarver said. “It sets a stable background for the population pressure.”
In rebuttal to Hinkle’s statements, the pro side wrote “this rigid ideologue — who doesn’t even live in our community — has filed an argument against every school measure on the ballot in every recent major election.” It goes on to state that currently each of the comprehensive high schools is at or near capacity.
“Science and 21st-century technological skills are essential for success in today’s competitive economy,” it states. “Measure A provides additional science labs and updated technology to prepare students for the modern workplace. … By making our local high schools a priority, our entire community benefits. Good schools improve neighborhood safety and strengthen property values.”
The argument in favor also addresses fiscal accountability, noting the funds can’t be taken by the state; no funds can be used for administrators’ salaries; and the measure would qualify the district’s schools for future state matching funds and citizen oversight and annual audits are required to ensure all funds are used for voter-approved purposes.
For more of the measure visit shapethefuture.org.
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