On summer and fall days when smoke from California wildfires cause poor air quality, Ravenswood City School District officials have no choice but to send elementary school students home. Unlike nearby districts, the schools lack ventilation systems that can filter and clean the air.
This is one of the reasons the district is seeking to pass a $110 million bond on the June 7 ballot to bring classrooms into the 21st century.
The funds would also go toward replacing aging portables, upgrading classroom technology, school security and accessibility for disabled students, providing sports fields and recreation space for after school programs, creating preschool classrooms, and replacing aging water pipes and drinking fountains.
"We've seen districts around us update to the 21st century," said Trustee Jenny Varghese Bloom. "We want our buildings to be as great as our education. ... As a homeowner, of course I will invest in this; it's an investment into our future."
The district's 2015 facilities master plan identified $300 million in facilities needs.
The district began construction earlier this year on a $50 million project to bring its middle school facilities at Cesar Chavez Ravenswood Middle School up to modern standards, with air conditioning and flexible working spaces for students. This project, paid for with past bond money, is set to be completed at the end of 2023.
The district's $26 million Measure H bond measure, passed in 2016, is intended to "maintain warm, safe and dry" schools and essentially ensured roofs weren't caving in. It also upgraded school safety; improved technology, computer and science labs; increased energy efficiency; and retrofitted school facilities, mostly at the district's middle school.
District elementary schools still have uneven sidewalks and classrooms that haven't been updated since the 1950s, with some 20 to 30 years past their useful lives, said Chief Business Official Will Eger. Last year, for example, the district had to remove a building that was condemned by the county health department, he said.
There are other structural issues on the district's elementary school campuses, according to a January district facilities update. At Los Robles-Ronald McNair Academy, the gym is too small to host a basketball game and or school assembly, said Superintendent Gina Sudaria. Termites have destroyed door frames. Clay pipes at Belle Haven Elementary School have had to be replaced on campus. Some classroom walls are so weak they can't hold up a whiteboard.
Voters passed the $70 million Measure S in 2018 to continue Measure H's work.
When asked if there could be voter fatigue from recently passing two other bond measures, Eger explained that these have been modest measures and the district hadn't gone out for a bond measure for decades prior to Measure H in 2016.
The district's financial outlook has also improved. In April, its credit rating upgraded from stable to positive, according to the credit rating agency Fitch Ratings.
The school board has yet to determine which elementary school it would begin upgrading if the measure passes.
Some 71% of respondents to a recent district survey say they will support a bond for the amount of $110 million, Eger said.
The opposition argument to the ballot measure said that the district doesn't need more tax funding to construct classrooms with enrollment declining. Eger noted that even if enrollment is decreasing in its schools, it hosts charter schools on its campuses. The spaces, such as multipurpose rooms, are also used by the community at large, for events and after school programs.
The authors of the opposition argument for Measure I could not be reached for an interview.
The district is also working with philanthropists and is seeking state funding for other projects at its schools, like outdoor play spaces, Sudaria said. Measure I would focus on indoor spaces.
The district is hoping to bring in tens of millions of dollars to improve its outdoor spaces, Eger said.
The school district is also partnering with Palo Alto's Magical Bridge Foundation to build multiuse courts, a track and a walking path at the middle school site. The nonprofit creates and develops outdoor spaces for people of all abilities.
The district will share updates on other partnerships as they are finalized.
For more information on the district's facilities, go to ravenswoodschools.org.
For more information on the ballot measure, go to smcacre.org.
Mail-in ballots will be mailed out starting Monday, May 9. Read our story for more information on voting in the primary election.