California has 10,400 public schools, educating 6.2 million students. Maintaining those facilities, and upgrading them to meet contemporary demands, isn’t easy.
It’s no secret that California is no better than middle of the pack when it comes to funding public education and, by some measures, the Golden State is close to the bottom.
In most school districts, once basic operating costs are covered, there isn’t much left over to repair roofs, upgrade heating and air conditioning systems and replace aging portable classrooms. To cover those expenses, they have to borrow, much as a homeowner might take out an equity line or a second mortgage for remodeling.
School districts borrow by selling bonds, which are repaid through property tax assessments. Three Sonoma County districts are seeking voter approval of bond acts in the June 5 election.
Voters traditionally have been generous with local schools, and The Press Democrat traditionally has supported them, too. This year is no exception.
Measure A is a $91 million bond act for the West Sonoma County Union High School District, which operates Analy and El Molino high schools as well as a continuation high school. It would add an estimated $30 per $100,000 of assessed value to annual property tax bills.
Supporters say the money is badly need to upgrade classrooms and facilities, with the only money allocated for new construction going to complete a theater at El Molino.
This is a close call. These are aging schools with maintenance needs. But, as critics, including some district residents, have pointed out, enrollment is declining at Analy and El Molino, and the school board is likely to face some tough decisions about facilities in the years ahead.
The district also has two outstanding bond issues, including one authorized by voters in 2010 that paid for solar panels and improved athletic facilities. To the district’s credit, the 2010 bonds were refinanced this year, saving money for west county taxpayers.
Measure B is a $6 million bond act for the Alexander Valley Union School District, which operates a K-6 school in Healdsburg for about 115 students. The school is almost 70 years old, and the bond money would pay for a multipurpose room to be used for school assemblies and as an alternative to having students eat lunch in their classrooms on rainy days.
There is no organized opposition to Measure B, which would add an estimated $28 per $100,000 of assessed value to property tax bills in the Alexander Valley school district.
Measure C is a $9.6 million bond act in the west county’s Harmony Union School District.
Money from Measure C would pay for improvements to classrooms and other facilities; repair and replacement of heating and air conditioning systems; improved accessibility for the disabled and upgrades to athletic fields at Harmony and Salmon Creek schools. The schools have a combined enrollment of about 725 in grades K-8.
There is no organized opposition to Measure C, which is the district’s first bond since 1997. Those bonds are due to be paid off by 2022, and payments for Measure C are estimated to add $30 per $100,000 of assessed value to property tax bills.
Measure E, the fourth measure on the June 5 ballot, isn’t a bond act. Voters in the Coast Life Support District have approved parcel taxes to provide ambulance service and urgent care in far northwest Sonoma County and southwest Mendocino County. But a quirk of the state constitution requires voters to periodically authorize the district to spend the money raised by the taxes.