Thursday, February 22 , 2018, 7:20 am | Fair 36º


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Montecito Association Supports School Bond Measure But Stops Short of Endorsement

Board members vote in favor of Measure Q's basic improvement projects, while the initiative's proposed new buildings cause concern

The Montecito Association board voted Tuesday to support the improvement projects pitched for the Montecito Union School District as part of the Measure Q bond measure but avoided endorsing the initiative itself.

Directors on the board were conflicted about what to do, since they support the more basic improvements pitched with the initiative but have concerns about some of the larger, new construction projects.

The single K-6 school has many old buildings on its campus, some original from the 1920s, and the $27,150,000 bond aims to fund upgrades to meet health and safety codes, accessibility improvements and upgrade infrastructure such as electrical and plumbing systems.

Bond money would also fund traffic improvements at the campus, which is located at 385 San Ysidro Road, to help relieve congestion from parents dropping off and picking up students.

The hot-button issues are the new buildings proposed, which have caused a lot of concern among neighbors and surrounding community members.

Measure Q would fund “The Common,” a 6,000-square-foot cafeteria/multipurpose building and amphitheater area intended to let all of the 460-plus students and staff meet in one place. A new five-classroom building is also planned if the initiative passes.

The district has already started environmental review for these projects even though the bond hasn’t passed since this school, as one Montecito Association director put it, “isn’t broke.”

Many people spoke in favor of the bond at Tuesday’s meeting, saying the school was a gem in the community and needs improvements to the very old buildings. Superintendent Tammy Murphy said the school spends $350,000 in maintenance per year but it's not enough to handle all the necessary projects. 

Current and former teachers said the old classrooms only have a few electrical sockets, bad heating and need overall upgrades to make them appropriate for today’s teaching environment.

The bond is estimated to cost property owners $12 per $100,000 of assessed valuation.

Parent Abe Powell said the upgrades are a bare minimum needed to keep the school safe and the community shouldn’t wait until it gets worse.

The “if it’s not broken, don’t fix it” mentality shouldn’t be applied here, he said. “It’s not broken yet, but it will be if we keep waiting.”

Several neighbors spoke in opposition to “The Common” building.

One woman who shares a property line with the campus said the new building's impacts would be "devastating" so close to her home. 

Judy Blankenship, who lives near the school, said the district should fund the necessary upgrades first in case they come in above estimated costs. Echoing other neighbors who spoke up, she said she supported the upgrades but had concerns about the new buildings.

The school plans to build the new classroom building and "The Common" next year with the safety and infrastructure upgrades starting several years later. Murphy said the timeline for construction is based on a number of factors such as avoiding displacement of students. 

The necessity of a cafeteria is a point of contention, since advocates say it’s legally required while critics say the school only needs to provide food service — which it does by contracting with the Santa Barbara Unified School District

A few school board members said the district has tried to compromise with neighborhood concerns already and repeatedly reduced the size of the proposed buildings.

The Montecito Association’s board voted to support the proposed projects but put two conditions on its support: that the district continue getting input from neighbors and other concerned community members and that “The Common” building, if built, be restricted to school uses only.

Board members changed the wording around so the vote of support is for the projects themselves, not explicitly for Measure Q.

Directors said the school needed improvements for the betterment of the community and it could improve property values in the area. Of the 11 directors present for the vote of support, 7 approved it, two opposed it and two abstained.

Director Charlene Nagel, who abstained, said the bond information sent to voters has been “misrepresentative” and has left out concerns over the proposed buildings. She was also worried that the “hot-button issue” would be funded before the broadly-supported facility improvements.

Board president Ted Urschel spoke last and didn’t mince words.

“I get the sense there’s not an off switch on Montecito Union’s appetite to spend,” he said. “I don’t think you need a facility that seats the whole school — you’ve never had it and you’ve done just fine.”

Montecito Union is funded from local property taxes and spends far more per pupil per year than neighboring districts, he pointed out. When his children graduated from Montecito Union and moved on to the Santa Barbara Unified School District, it was a switch from attending a school that spends about $23,000 per pupil per year to a district that spends about $7,000 per pupil per year, he said. 

Noozhawk news editor Giana Magnoli can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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