Board considers broader focus for schools bond

Board considers broader focus for schools bond

Michele Ellson

School board members may be shifting direction on plans for a new schools bond, with some saying at Tuesday’s board meeting that they think a bond should fund projects benefiting all of Alameda’s schools.

In June, board members said they wanted to move forward with a bond that would pay to renovate Historic Alameda High School so that it can once again become an active school campus, along with money to renovate Kofman Auditorium and the district’s two high school pools and also, make unspecified upgrades at Encinal High. But some board members said Tuesday that they think the district should also ask for money to fully upgrade some of the district’s oldest schools and for projects everywhere else.

“I like the focus of our high school, but I think we need to include all our schools,” board member Margie Sherratt said.

Board member Barbara Kahn said she agreed with Sherratt’s comments, saying she doesn’t think voters will approve a bond that doesn’t offer money for projects at all of Alameda’s schools.

“I would like to appeal to the better nature of this community. No matter what we do, there will be naysayers,” Kahn said.

Sherratt said a bond should fund fixes at Alameda’s high schools and also, total overhauls of the districts four or five oldest schools. Six of the district’s 10 elementary schools were built before 1960, with Edison built in 1940 and Franklin, Otis, Paden and Maya Lin built between 1950 and 1955.

She said the bond could also include projects across all the district’s schools, including items like enhanced safety and security features.

Board member Mike McMahon said his position that a bond effort should focus on the high schools hasn’t changed, though he said he’s willing to consider the input of other board members. McMahon has raised concerns that the last bond voters approved included projects for everyone but that the district had little to show for the money that was spent.

More that a half-dozen prior efforts to win approval of a bond to fully retrofit Historic Alameda High failed. But the district also ran out of money before completing retrofits that were supposed to be paid for by its last two bond issues.

Board members also offered a range of opinions on engaging the community on what a bond proposal should look like, with member Trish Spencer saying she thinks the board should ask employees and the PTA Council whether to move forward and McMahon saying the board should frame out options and present those to the community for their consideration.

He said an earlier study that showed the district’s schools needed $92 million in fixes doesn’t address replacement costs or other fixes board members may seek to make – along with cost reductions that could be realized elsewhere.

Board members have talked about a bond of $140 million that would cost property owners $60 per $100,000 of assessed value and be paid off over anywhere between 25 and 40 years, though definitive numbers have not yet been set.

Board president Niel Tam said the board needs to decide on strategies for moving forward that every member can agree on.

“Our challenge as a board is to declare our values and work together in meeting the needs of the children of the future, five, 10, 15 years from now,” Tam said.

Most board members seemed to agree that a bond proposal should hit the November 2014 ballot – when the board would be able to win a ballot measure with the approval of 55 percent of voters, instead of the two-thirds needed in an odd-numbered year. It would also put the request well ahead of the 2018 expiration of the Measure A parcel tax.

That means the board will need to have a plan ready to go by next spring.

One other thing board members will need to reach agreement on is what if any outside experts they’ll bring in to help plan facilities fixes and put together a proposed bond.

“We have had these conversations and had these conversations. In order to plan and move forward, we need some expert help,” Superintendent Kirsten Vital said.

Vital said district staffers will present recommendations for moving forward on August 27.