ELECTION 2014: Measure I school bond
ELECTION 2014: Measure I school bond
What fixes are planned for your school if the Measure I school bond passes? The school board okayed an implementation plan on June 24.
This fall, Alameda voters will be asked to consider paying higher property taxes to cover $179.5 million in bonds to upgrade the Island’s schools.
About half of the money being requested under Measure I – $89.5 million – is proposed to pay for a list of improvements at Alameda Unified’s elementary and middle schools that includes new classrooms, technology and communication upgrades, new earthquake safety and security measures and critical fixes to schools’ mechanical, electrical and plumbing systems and other infrastructure. The remaining $90 million would be reserved for Alameda’s four high schools, with spending decisions to be made after the fall vote.
Once the bonds come due, property owners will pay up to $60 per $100,000 of the assessed value of their property, which is the value listed on their property tax bills; that’s an annual maximum of $240 for a home assessed at $400,000 – the average value of a single family home in Alameda based on data provided by the Alameda County Assessor’s Office. Unlike parcel taxes, seniors can’t obtain an exemption from paying for the bonds.
The measure will pass if 55 percent of voters say yes.
Proponents of the measure say the need for the money that would be raised by the proposed bonds has been well documented. And they point out that projects won’t move forward without school board approval and also, that a citizen committee will oversee bond spending.
“Safe, modern, and well-equipped schools are essential to the well-being and economic health of Alameda. A ‘yes’ vote on Measure I is simply good stewardship and common sense,” said Bram Briggance, who’s leading the campaign to pass the bond measure.
Opponents say figuring out how much money property owners will be spending to support the measure will be complicated – and that it will effectively double the amount property owners are already paying for schools upgrades. Property owners will begin paying off 2004’s Measure C bonds in earnest this year as larger payments come due.
“It does not specifically commit in advance how much money will be spent where. It does not spell out exactly what voters will get for their money,” said David Howard of Save Our City! Alameda, which is campaigning against Measure I.
The bond language details lists of projects that could be completed at Alameda’s schools; school board members would ultimately decide which projects of the projects in the implementation plan will be undertaken at what schools and when (district spokeswoman Susan Davis said board members can't add new projects to the list). An implementation plan approved by the school board in June lists about $49.8 million for elementary school projects, $11.3 million for middle schools and $3.7 million for charter schools, plus escalation costs and contingency funding for unexpected expenses, with $8.7 million remaining - money Davis said could serve as a "cushion" for other projects and changes in scope or costs.
The plan also lists solar projects, though expenditures to cover them have not yet been set.
Bonds to pay for elementary, middle and charter school projects could be issued in the spring of 2015; a second series, to pay for high school projects, would be issued at an undetermined later date.
Schools leaders released a facilities assessment in June 2012 that detailed $92 million in fixes and upgrades needed at Alameda’s schools, a list that includes a host of basic maintenance issues – floors, windows, lockers, paint and roofing – and the replacement of rotting portables and modular buildings on several of the district’s campuses. Earlier this year, the district completed a master facilities plan that included needs and desires across all of the district’s schools; the total price tag for that list is $585 million, a cost that could be spread over several bond proposals.
In 2012, school district administrators said the district might consider shuttering some of Alameda Unified’s smaller schools and building newer, larger ones, but the bond program approved by the board on June 24 is instead focused on fixing the district’s existing elementary, middle and charter schools. Davis confirmed the district is not now considering closing schools.
The district held a series of mediated sessions to discuss the future of Historic Alameda High School, much of which has been shuttered and fenced off over seismic safety concerns. Those meetings ended with a consensus that the buildings should be saved, but a decision on how they might be used is yet to be made; school board members scrapped a staff-recommended bond program for the district’s existing high schools, saying they needed to engage the community to find out what families want.
Some prominent community members have asked schools leaders to consider consolidating Alameda’s two comprehensive high schools, Alameda and Encinal, into a single school. That topic is expected to be part of a broader conversation about the future of Alameda’s high schools that’s to be held after the bond election.
State bonds issued to help school districts pay for new school construction and facilities upgrades have all but run dry. A proposal from state lawmakers to put a $4.3 billion schools bond on the November ballot – opposed by Governor Jerry Brown – reportedly stalled out in the state Senate.
The school board settled on a $179.5 million request for Measure I because California school districts can only take on debt of up to 2.5 percent of the assessed value of property in the districts, though they can obtain waivers from the State Board of Education. West Contra Costa Unified, which has a $1.2 billion bond program, has requested and received waivers from the state allowing the district to incur bond debt equal to 5 percent of the property value in that district.
Districts seeking bonds under the rules of Proposition 39 – which allows for passage of the bonds with 55 percent of voters’ approval, rather than two-thirds, if elections are held during even-numbered years, when elections are typically held for political offices – must abide by a second cap, limiting them to a request of $60 for every $100,000 of assessed property value for each measure they place on the ballot.
The amount of money property owners would pay to settle the bond would be based on the assessed value of their property, the assessed value of all of the property in Alameda and the bond payment amount owed in a particular year. For example, in 1989, Alameda voters approved a school bond that originally cost taxpayers $103 for every $100,000 in property value, the Oakland Tribune reported in 2004 (the vote predated Proposition 39). But that amount declined to $59 as values rose, the paper reported.
Property owners were slated to make their final payment on a 1989 bond measure this year, and payments on Measure C, approved by voters in 2004, will be due through 2036, bond issuance documents show. School board members who put the 2004 bond on the ballot reportedly structured the payments to avoid increasing property owners’ tax bills, though if the new bond is okayed property owners’ bills will likely increase.
The Yes on Measure I campaign website is here, while opponents’ arguments can be read more fully here. Information on Alameda Unified’s master facilities plan is available on the school district’s website.
Related: The Explainer: School bonds