"Warm, safe and dry."
That's the slogan of a $26 million bond the Ravenswood City School District is asking voters to approve on June 7 to fund capital improvements at the district's eight school sites improvements district officials say are critical to help fulfill the basic tenets of keeping students and teachers warm, safe and dry.
Measure H would provide the funding necessary for significant repairs and upgrades needed at all eight of the district's school sites, which are more than 50 years old.
The bond, which requires 55 percent of the vote to pass, would pay for an array of improvements, including new roofs at all the schools; upgraded heating, ventilating, air conditioning, climate-control, electrical and fire-safety systems; updated plumbing and parking facilities; modernized classrooms that will help accommodate higher-quality science, technology, engineering, math and language programs; new furniture, equipment, classroom technology, landscaping and more.
An eye toward building more energy-efficient facilities would also help the district save money and redirect it into classrooms, Superintendent Gloria Hernandez-Goff wrote in a recent letter to families in the district.
Despite the significant upgrades, this is only a fraction of the $100 million in "critical" districtwide repairs identified through a comprehensive facilities master plan process, Hernandez-Goff said in an interview with the Weekly. The master plan itself will cost more than $300 million over several years.
Measure H, which the Board of Trustees unanimously approved in March, "will help with some of the most critical needs for the classrooms," Hernandez-Goff said.
In meetings with district officials, parents, teachers and staff have expressed some of their top facilities priorities, Hernandez-Goff said: new roofs to keep rain from leaking in, new central air and heating systems, improved parking lots and school entries to increase safety and modernized classrooms.
The need for new gas lines and a heating system was evident this past winter, when Costaño Elementary School lost heat due to a gas leak and had to close early for winter break. Before the school closed, the district brought in portable, electric space heaters to affected classrooms to help maintain appropriate temperatures. But the school's "aging" electrical system could not support the number of space heaters "required to keep the classrooms warm enough to provide a safe, healthy classroom environment," Hernandez-Goff wrote in a December message to parents about the closure.
The school district has done other repairs and upgrades on a piecemeal, emergency basis. Some roof repairs were done last year to prepare for an anticipated rainy winter. A sewer line under Brentwood Elementary School recently cracked and had to be immediately repaired, Hernandez-Goff said. Costaño's parking lot was resurfaced last summer, but that "wiped out" the district's capital outlay budget, she said. Other "critical and long overdue" upgrades were done last summer at a cost $2 million, Hernandez-Goff wrote in her letter to the school community.
The bond is also about educational equity, said board President Ana Pulido.
The district, for example, has been unable to provide the set-up necessary, a sink with flowing water, for certain science labs, so students have been using portable labs that limit the number of activities they can do.
"Every parent wants to feel like wherever their student is at, they're receiving the same kind of quality programming and opportunities as anybody in another school versus having to feel like 'this school is not meeting my child's needs; I have to take them somewhere else,'" Pulido said. "Currently, because of the way the schools were built, not every school is able to provide the same offerings. That's what we're trying to address in this as well, as much as possible."
Pulido and Hernandez-Goff said the bond is a first step toward long-term improvements for Ravenswood, envisioned in the district's new facilities master plan.
The bond's projected annual tax rate is $30 per $100,000 of taxable value. A property assessed at $700,000, for example, would likely have an annual tax obligation of $210 under this measure.
Measure H is a general obligation bond, meaning it will be repaid over approximately 30 years through a tax on all taxable property residential, commercial and industrial located within the school district's boundaries.
The district estimates that the total amount repayable during the life of the bond, including principal and interest, is approximately $44 million.
The bond, if approved, would only be used for capital improvements. Pulido and Hernandez-Goff hope voters differentiate between the purpose of a facilities bond and the most recent parcel tax voters approved in 2011. (The 2011 tax, Measure B, renewed a previous $98-per-parcel-per-year tax with an increase to $196 per parcel per year. It was billed as a means to help lift a strapped school district facing significant state and federal cuts.)
State law requires that the district establish an independent citizens' oversight committee and conduct annual audits to ensure funds are only spent on voter-approved projects improving classrooms and facilities and not
for administration or salaries.
The only official opposition to Measure H has been filed by the Silicon Valley Taxpayer's Association, a Cupertino organization "dedicated to protecting the rights and interests of the taxpayers of Silicon Valley against the overreaching and overspending of government," according to the group's website.
Mark Hinkle, president of the Silicon Valley Taxpayer's Association, said while he is not very familiar with the Ravenswood school district, he opposes Measure H from a more philosophical standpoint. It is unfair and unjustified, he said, to saddle taxpayers with the cost of something that should be covered by the district's own budget.
"Every time a governmental body puts a bond measure or parcel tax on the ballot, what they're in fact saying is, 'Everything we're currently spending money on is more important than this measure,'" he told the Weekly. "If it's important, why isn't it in the current budget?"
Hinkle also voiced concern about the general obligation bond's 30-year lifespan and the prospect of potentially high bond interest rates.
The Silicon Valley Taxpayer's Association's website includes official opposition statements to several other school measures on the June 7 ballot three school parcel taxes and three bond measures.
Ravenswood serves more than 3,400 students from preschool through eighth grade at campuses in both East Palo Alto and Menlo Park.
The first time the school district put a bond on the ballot, in 1996, voters overwhelmingly approved the $6 million measure to pay for repairs and renovation. Four years later, the district mounted a second $10 million bond, Measure C, to help finish projects started under the 1996 measure and to build a new high school, which is now Aspire East Palo Alto Charter School.(Ravenswood still owns the site, but it is not a district school). Measure C passed with 86 percent of the vote.
The school district recently polled voters about the bond measure; 84 percent said they would support it, according to Ravenswood.
Voters can vote by mail, online or in-person at local voting centers from May 9 through June 7. For more information, go to San Mateo County's official election website at shapethefuture.org.