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Santa Barbara School Board Moves Ahead with $110 Million Bond Proposal

Trustees act quickly to get capital improvement measures on November ballot

Two days before the deadline, Santa Barbara School District trustees approved a resolution to put two bond measures on the November ballot. If approved, the bonds would garner a maximum of $110 million for capital improvements.

After two hours of rewording and reordering the lists of possible improvement projects, the Board of Education unanimously voted to send the potential ballot measures to the county, where the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors must approve the request to add to its Nov. 2 ballot by July 13.

The prospect of $110 million would be mouth-watering to any school district right now, and it seems a strange decision to procrastinate — but Deputy Superintendent Eric Smith said the county is requiring a shorter notification time than is typical for Proposition 39-related bond measures.

There is an assumption in the measures that the existing tax rates would stay that way for the 40-year life of the term — at about $13.98 and $12.48 per $100,000 of assessed value for the elementary and secondary districts, respectively.

“Technically, every attempt would be made to stay consistent,” Smith said. However, in the extremely unlikely case of a natural disaster wiping out half the properties within the district, for example, it’s possible the district would re-evaluate the tax rate.

“At the point voters approve it, they expect it to stay the same for the life of the term,” he said.

The average assessed value of properties is $529,435 in the elementary district and $683,200 in the secondary district.

With the existing rates, the maximum amount of general obligation bonds the districts can issue are $35 million for the elementary district and $75 million for the secondary level.

Funds would be used for mostly school capital improvement projects, such as repairing and renovating infrastructure, classrooms and restrooms, and updating equipment and utility systems.

Despite the fact many projects have particular sites in mind, it was decided not to list particular schools so voters don’t perceive an inequality in funding allocation. Additionally, several schools that are located in portable buildings create a logistical issue since they house elementary school students but are housed on secondary sites. The board decided to split them up according to what students the schools serve, instead of merely basing it on location. Superintendent Brian Sarvis and David Hetyonk, the facilities and operation director, said the issue has been dealt with both ways in the past.

Although every school will benefit from the bond measure, some big-ticket items are replacing portable classrooms with permanent classrooms, renovating or constructing a cafeteria/kitchen for Dos Pueblos High School, renovating school theaters that were built before World War II and working to give the elementary schools adequate libraries.

Parents and principals spoke in favor of the measures at Tuesday’s board meeting and an opinion poll conducted by Godbe Research has shown strong community support, as well. The research firm also said people were generally more supportive of repairing/renovating existing facilities than constructing new ones.

Mark Capritto, principal of Santa Barbara High, spoke to the board about the school’s difficulty keeping students on campus during lunch hour and the staff’s frustration with no longer having a meeting place given the lack of a cafeteria.

San Marcos High’s principal, Norm Clevenger, said the very visible portable classrooms create a bad image of the school, given the view from the busy Hollister Avenue and Turnpike Road intersection.

Many elementary schools are still without libraries, and look forward to the much-needed improvements the millions of dollars could bring to the district, Washington School Principal Demian Barnett said.

It will cost the districts $80,000 to put the measures on the ballot — which was already budgeted for that purpose — and the measures need 55 percent approval to pass. Before Proposition 39 was approved by voters in 2000, bond measures needed a two-thirds majority to pass. Districts are mandated to release annual audits on the use of bond monies, as well, and a citizens’ oversight committee will be created to ensure funds are used appropriately on local school improvements.

Two years ago, voters overwhelmingly approved Measures H and I, which dedicate funding to music, theater and foreign language in schools. The taxes, which will be collected through 2012, generate about $520,000 annually for the elementary district and about $1.1 million a year for the secondary district.

Board members nitpicked the wording of the November 2010 measure to make sure it was accurate and voter-friendly, and board president Ed Heron emphasized that the included lists of possible projects are just that — not a listing of priorities or definite funding decisions.

“I know we spent a lot of time on this, but this may be the most important thing we do tonight — or this month,” said board member Susan Deacon, who put forward a rewritten measure summary and project list at the start of the discussion.

To keep the most flexibility with funding options, members added facility or program-specific items to the list, such as repairing or construction a kitchen/cafeteria and career technical education technology needs.

Administrative salaries and portable furniture — including computers — are not allowed to be funded under the bonds.

If placed on the ballot, only voters living within district boundaries would have a say on the bond measures. The elementary district exists within the boundaries of the city of Santa Barbara while the seventh-through-12th grade secondary district stretches from Goleta to Montecito.

Click here for a list of school facilities projects previously under consideration for school board approval, prior to Tuesday’s vote.

Noozhawk staff writer Giana Magnoli can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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