Santa Rosa’s Montgomery High School students object to hazardous, gross conditions
Montgomery High School senior Caidyn Peterson was glad she wore platform shoes.
When the bell rang Jan. 31, students heading to their last class had to dodge what looked like water flooding the hallways.
When sports practices were suddenly canceled after school, they learned it was actually raw sewage that was seeping up through the grates in the bathrooms and in science classrooms and spilling into the halls.
The backup is the most recent example of hazards, code violations and unpleasant conditions at Santa Rosa City Schools’ second-largest and second-oldest campus, which district officials admit needs more repairs than any other school.
The wooden skirting around the foundations of old portable classrooms is warped and rotting.
Students sometimes wait all day to go to the bathroom because there are not enough available, according to state standards.
The boys bathrooms, which are frequently vandalized, don’t have urinal dividers and are foul-smelling.
Exposed wires hang from the rafters in hallways.
Around every corner, there’s something in need of repair.
“It’s inhumane,” Peterson said. “It’s frustrating.”
‘There’s not enough money’
Built in 1958, Montgomery needs more repairs because of its age, but the district has failed to fund some projects over the years, and others have been put on hold because of more urgent needs.
In addition, constant vandalism diverts the money that does get allocated for repairs, according to Lisa Cavin, associate superintendent of business services for the Santa Rosa City Schools district.
Montgomery High is in a Bennett Valley neighborhood where the median income is $83,750, according to Sonoma County’s median income map.
In November 2014, Santa Rosa voters approved two Proposition 39 general obligation bond measures for Santa Rosa City Schools: Measure I, which provided $175 million for high schools, and Measure L, which allocated $54 million for elementary schools.
The intent of both propositions was to provide a safe and modern learning environment, current and reliable technology, labs, and school repairs.
The district’s 2016 master plan for that money called for areas of Montgomery that were out of compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act to be brought up to standard. It also called for remediation of leaks and rot, upgrades of substandard student and staff restrooms, and repairs of mechanical and electrical systems that were not functioning.
The total cost for repairs and remodeling was projected to be $98.5 million.
But much of that bond money was diverted for costly HVAC repairs and roof replacements among the district’s 20 schools. Some of the money was also used for the transition to virtual learning when COVID-19 hit, Cavin said.
A state-approved plan also called for $19 million in bonds money for a new two-story building to replace the aging portable classrooms at Montgomery, but it was never completed because replacing the school’s leaking roof cost $18.6 million.
In all, the district spent $22 million at Montgomery, more than any individual school site. In addition to the roof repairs, $3.8 million was spent on other improvements. That figure was $2.3 million less than the amount spent at Maria Carrillo High School, the district’s newest high school.
Students and teachers are hoping the next round of bond money, which was approved by voters last year, will go toward high-priority items, such as creating enough bathrooms or at least fixing them; repairing the sewage system; and replacing the portable classrooms.
Cavin said district officials have not finished a master plan for the new money and don’t have cost estimates. During upcoming board meetings, they will give community members, including the Montgomery High student body leaders, an opportunity to say how they think the bond money should be spent.
Adam Paulson, the school’s principal, was unavailable for an interview, but in a written response to questions from The Press Democrat, he said a lack of state support has been the key issue.
“While this is not typically a principal’s area of expertise, it is commonly known that there is a lack of funding in general for California school districts in relation to facilities as well as other needs,” he said. “The state no longer provides facility specific funding, whereas they used to match 3% of the district budget.”
District maintenance and custodial staff work to make repairs and provide upkeep, he said. But they do not have the resources to complete major repairs at all 27 district sites, he said, adding that major projects are handled by the district.
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