Six Sonoma County school districts are turning to voters in November to prop up their flagging budgets with general obligation bonds and parcel taxes.
Three districts -- West Sonoma County, Fort Ross and Sebastopol -- are asking for parcel taxes, a move that requires two-thirds voter approval for passage but which gives districts more flexibility in how the revenues are used.
The other three -- Gravenstein, Roseland and Wilmar -- are pursuing general obligation bonds from which revenues are limited to brick-and-mortar projects and cannot be used to pay for teacher or administrator salaries. Passage requires approval by 55 percent of voters within each district. Bonds are repaid through higher property taxes.
"We have painted when we needed to, we have patched when we needed to, but there has never been any money for the big fix," said Eric Hoppes, principal of Wilson School and superintendent of Wilmar School District, which is asking for $4 million in bonds.
The district has eyed window replacement and water and sewer pipe replacement as priority projects.
"The state budget has been cut so much that the only thing we are doing is providing a great education for kids. We don't have the funds to do other things, so you watch the buildings fall into disrepair," he said.
Roseland School District is asking for a $7 million bond, and Gravenstein is asking for $6 million.
West Sonoma County High School is asking for the renewal of an existing $26 per parcel tax passed in 2005 to be extended for eight years and increased to $48 per parcel per year.
Fort Ross is asking for $48 per parcel per year for eight years, and Sebastopol, like West Sonoma County, is asking for its $26 per parcel tax passed in 2005 to be extended for eight years and increased to $48 per parcel annually.
Of the six proposals on the Nov. 6 ballot, only Gravenstein's bond measure earned the endorsement of the Sonoma County Taxpayers Association. Of the 17 local measures on the November ballot in Sonoma County, the 400-member group is opposed to five, backing four and taking no position on eight, Executive Director Dan Drummond said.
"I don't see any justification for using 40-year bonds for short-term items," he said. "The computers, they have a useful life of five years or maybe seven or eight years but the bond goes on for potentially 40 years which means our children and grandchildren will be left paying."
Gravenstein earned the group's endorsement because the district has in the past constructed buildings on its own dime and without turning to voters, Drummond said.
"We don't always say no," he said.
Gravenstein is asking for $6 million, primarily to build a science lab and performing arts facility at Hillcrest Middle School and modernize Gravenstein Elementary School, according to Superintendent Linda LaMarre.
The band program -- 85 percent of Hillcrest's 300 students are in band -- has outgrown the practice room and the stage in Hillcrest Hall, she said.
"It's a good problem to have," she said.
The six items on the Nov. 6 ballot come on the heels of a sweep for school districts that turned to voters for financial support in June.
Last spring, voters in six Sonoma County school districts said yes to five bond measures totalling $90 million dollars and one parcel tax that is expected to bring in $5.3 million for Cotati-Rohnert Park School District over the five-year life of the tax.