Ravenswood school district puts $26 million bond on ballot | News | Palo Alto Online |


Ravenswood school district puts $26 million bond on ballot

Superintendent: Measure H to support 'critical' improvements across schools

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"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.


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7 people like this
Posted by mutti
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on May 20, 2016 at 10:31 am

One minor correction. This will not fund " new furniture, equipment, classroom technology," Bond funds can only be used for capital improvements -- buildings, etc. It cannot be used for anything that is not nailed down. The main objection by the anti-any-tax opposition is using 30 year bonds for short-lived computers. This won't happen. Roofs and electrical systems will last the 30 years needed to pay them all off.

Also, the example of a $700,000 assessed valuation in EPA is not at all realistic. Assessed valuation is usually much, much lower than market value because of Prop 13 limitations. And few homes in EPA even have a market value that high. Most homes in EPA probably have assessed valuations in the $100,000 to $200,000 dollar range at a maximum, so the taxes would be $30-$60 per year. Long-time home-owners could easily have an assessed valuation under $50,000.

I work in Ravenswood, and we need things fixed!! It's a shame to take money from the General Fund that supports classrooms to make these much-needed repairs.

Supporters of Measure H have a website at www.supportravenswoodschools.org

7 people like this
Posted by Seriously?
a resident of Crescent Park
on May 20, 2016 at 10:33 am

I am very saddened that a mistake by Gunn administrators drew the ire and vitriol of the Palo Alto community while the lack of heat and early closure of schools in EPA draws no comment! The schools in EPA are falling apart and the education is substandard as shown by the test scores there. Why don't we take our energy and money to the next town and help. We can show our students that one AP test means nothing in the face of helping our neighbors.

Like this comment
Posted by Mark Dinan
a resident of East Palo Alto
on May 20, 2016 at 12:04 pm

Mark Dinan is a registered user.

Depressed housing prices and low property taxes in EPA are substantial reasons why the Ravenswood School District has these financial issues. Say what you will about increased house prices, but every time a house sells for $900k instead of $200k, that results in dramatically more revenue for the city and school district.

4 people like this
Posted by Mutti
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on May 20, 2016 at 1:02 pm

Anyone who wants to volunteer or donate to Ravenswood can reach out to the Ravenswood Education Foundation. It is a group of mostly west of 101 people supporting more teachers for art, science, etc., and other worthy projects. Www.ravenswoodef.org

Like this comment
Posted by Don't Believe what you Read
a resident of East Palo Alto
on May 21, 2016 at 9:16 am

To Mutti, (Ravenswood Employee, Possibly School Superintendent or another administrator close to her)
I am very saddened and upset to read your post too. But for different reason. Like you said you are an employee of the district and so you have a big interest in getting more $$ because you will probably be the first one to get the benefit as you will have a higher salary especially if you are an administrator. Here is a link where you can educate yourself and do some research before you make an statement like the one you did here: Web Link
This link will give you an idea of the real prices of homes for sales en E.P.A and if you are good at researching you can also take a look at houses recently sold and will see that there is none at the valued prize you stated: Some of these homes belong to prices en Palo Alto, please disregards those, obviously for many reasons including excellent education Palo Alto houses are higher, but E. Palo Alto prices are not as law as the Ravenswood School District want us voters to believe. East Palo alto prices have gone up and down and up again, but the education for our kids continues to be very poor. For these reason I will vote no to this bond. We need better, transparent and accountable administrators. Our school superintendent lives in the Garden Areas I advise the Motti to find the value of this house and how much she paid for it. Houses in this same neighborhood with only 2 bedrooms are selling for no less then 600,000. East Palo Alto homes are continuously being sold because Facebook is in our own backyard, and remember Facebook also donate some millions of dollars to the district. Any reports on how this money was used?
Any real states out there who can back me up on the real houses values) in East Palo ALto, Mutti, please tell me where can I go by a house for the price you mentioned here. I know that if there was one for reals, buyers will be in line to buy it with cash in hands. If Mutti, the school employee is lying about the real value of houses, I cannot believe anything else the district is saying. Ravens wood School District: Please be a good role model for our kids: Speak the true only. I think what we really need is couple of new administrators including school superintndent.
I see that you are also begging for danations, again special interest.

2 people like this
Posted by mutti
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on May 21, 2016 at 10:42 am

I am not an administrator. I'm a classified employee working at one of the lower pay scales in the district at one of the school sites. That's why I want this bond to pass. Classified employees (aides, janitors, maintenance, kitchen workers, etc.) don't have a union labor contract right now, and if this bond fails the district will have to pay for these repairs out of General Funds -- the same pot of money that pays my already-too-low wages. Yes, I will get the benefit. But the main benefit will be for the students who will have good classrooms.

And market price has nothing to do with assessed value, unless the property was sold recently. For the seniors who've lived in their homes for years, the assessed valuation will be low. I only live in this area because we've owned our home for 40 years, and I pay peanuts in property taxes compared to those who've bought their homes recently. Even those who bought a house 5 years ago will have an assessed valuation way less than what market rate is now.

5 people like this
Posted by Train Fan
a resident of Atherton
on May 21, 2016 at 11:20 am

Some of the scope-of-work assigned to this bond is HIGHLY illegal for a GO bond.

From the San Mateo County Elections site, this quote is directly from the bond measure:

"Furniture and equipment acquisition and replacement."

(source: Web Link )

You cannot use GO bonds in this manner, yet the measure SAYS this is one of the ways the money would be used.

Here's a description of how GO bonds can be used: "G.O. bonds are commonly used to finance schools, libraries, jails and other large capital projects. Bond proceeds cannot be used for equipment purchases or to pay for operations and maintenance." (source: Web Link )

There are other items listed in the scope-of-work that looks highly questionable and unlikely to be a legal use of GO bond money. Thing like "computer systems...basic repairs...networking equipment"...etc. The work "repairs" is used in many cases where the work described looks much more like maintenance, which is an illegal use of GO bond funds.

Even if this measure passes, I think Ravenswood School District is at risk of getting the results nullified, as many of the items listed in the scope-of-work are an illegal use of funds. This measure should have been a parcel tax, but of course they asked for a GO bond because that only requires 55% approval (vs 66.7% for a parcel tax) and GO bonds are off-the-books when it comes to typical expense-per-student calculations.

I support infrastructure improvements in Ravenswood, but the way they're attempting to do it is illegal.

Like this comment
Posted by Don't Believe what you Read
a resident of East Palo Alto
on May 21, 2016 at 11:53 am

Do you have an idea how much money has this district pay to defend themselves, ask Ms. Hernandes, the worst thing is that the money was taken out of the students funds, when they do this they take $$ away from our students. I do want this district to improve the poor education they have been giving to our students, but what they should do first is pay more money to teacher. The good teachers come get their experience and sadly they leave. The ones who are staying or are loyal to this district are those who can't even speak English well, mistreat the students, and cover the injustice that go on in this district. I believe kicking the bad teachers out when parents complain is what will improve our district, but they do not do this because those teachers have worked for years. Yes also teacher aides who have been here long are running in control of the district and Ms. Hernandez covers for them, in fact she pretends not to hear and not to see. She would rather pay money to lawyers to defend themselves than face the problem. She is afraid of other administrators who are not doing their jobs but since she needs them an her side, she pretends not to see or hearl, and our kids continue to get the lowest education, some students are very lucky to go to other schools through the Tinsley Transfer, but what happened to the rest? they move to high school not ready to face the challenge, drop out, end up in jail, or are put in special education which is also failing many of our students. It is time to change administrators and get a honest and accountable one, only then the students will benefit with a bond. If you have been working for the school district long enough or are almost full time, I know you have a union. The main reason to pass a bond is for the benefit of our students not the employees. At this time our students need good teachers and administrators. What good can a new or remodeled classroom be if the teachers do not know even like to teach, or are not effective at their work,have support when they have students with behavior or emotional issues and all they can do is kick out students from their classroom, lock the classrooms, and they end up spending all day outside of the classroom doing nothing, and in same cases they spend time outside crying. We need to solve this
Going back to the value of E. PA homes, our real-state has advised us to buy a home in San Jose because they are cheaper than here. E PA is developing city and prizes have gone up and out of control. There are to many buyers looking for homes in EPA which leaves no room for negociation. Houses are usually sold at higher prices than what the seller asked, and in many occasions where rich people come and offer cash for them and sometimes do a quick remodeled, sell them at higher prices, or rent them at very high price. There are very little owners who have lived here for more than 25 years, the time the houses sold for the amount you stated in your first posting. The real house value is the one that people are paying for them. Please give as the addresses of those houses that you said are valued between 100K and 200K if what you said is true and that have been sold for that price after the 1990's and if you can please show me proof that what I am saying about real values of homes are now is not true!
Link to homes recently sold: Web Link

Like this comment
Posted by Don't Believe what you Read
a resident of East Palo Alto
on May 21, 2016 at 12:16 pm

To Train Fan,
Thank you so much, for opening our eyes. You are so educated and give real proof of where you got your info. You are a credible person. I knew that something was not right when they were putting this bond on the June vote, and not on the November, but I did not know what, There was something fishy about it.
Now I have real profof that the board, and superintendents are in fact shady and are not acting in the best interest or our students. For sure this is not how our E.PA student's education is going to improve. First we need transparency from our superintendent and the school board. What can we residents living here in EPA can do to stop this illegal action from the school district? Do we have any options? Very little people come and vote during the primaries, so it is almost a win for the district? Is there any way we can asked that this bond be presented during the November elections? Perhaps a petition? but to who?

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