With a new school already under construction and enrollment skyrocketing, the Santa Maria-Bonita School District this fall will ask voters to approve a bond measure to build another elementary campus and complete various projects at existing school sites.
Measure T, as it’s been dubbed, will ask voters Nov. 4 to approve $45 million in bonds for construction.
The measure comes as the district topped 16,000 students this school year, even though its 15 elementary and four junior high schools were built to serve 11,625 students.
“So if you depend on the numbers, you see we’re five or six schools down,” said Mike Cordero, a retired police lieutenant and former city councilman who is spearheading the committee urging voters to approve Measure T.
His wife, Linda Cordero, serves on the school board.
And the growth is expected to continue. The number of kindergartners in the district exceeds the number of eighth-graders, he said. Projections show the district will get another 1,100 students by 2017. In the past five years, the district reportedly has grown by 2,300 children.
Measure T funds would be used to build a new elementary school campus and conduct various projects at the 19 existing campuses.
“Every campus in the district will receive some sort of the benefit from the $45 million bond,” Cordero said.
These range from repairing plumbing, fixing leaky roofs, upgrading technology and science labs to adding outdoor shaded area for kids to eat outside and improving school safety with fences, lights, alarms and intercom systems.
“There are a laundry list of potential projects,” district spokeswoman Maggie White said, adding that school leaders submitted a lengthy list of projects needed at their campuses. “By no means will all these bullet points be funded.”
Demonstrating the need for the school is the fact that the district is building a new school “that’s going to be full the day it opens and we’re still going to be overcrowded at the other sites,” White added.
The current campus is under construction east of Blosser Road between Carmen Lane and Sonya Lane on property once owned by the pioneering Acquistapace family.
The district funded the new school’s construction through certificates of participation, a form of government mortgage that the district will pay back over several years through general fund revenues.
That yet-to-be-named school should be ready to open in August 2015, and is expected to get its official moniker later this year or early next year.
Recognizing the need for the new classrooms, the district board already agreed to build the expansion now at the new school, instead of at some point in the future.
Due to cramped facilities, the board also approved taking some money leftover from the new school construction to build 12 additional classrooms at Tommie Kunst Junior High School in northwest Santa Maria.
“That will help alleviate some of the junior school strain as well,” White said, adding that those classrooms should be open for students at the start of the 2015-16 school year.
Even with these added classrooms, the district will need even more room.
A few weeks into this school year, Santa Maria-Bonita officials has three schools with enrollments topping 1,000. Four others have more than 850 students, while three each have 900 and 950 students, respectively.
Every bit of possible classroom space is being put to use at existing campuses, district officials said. For instance, at Alvin Elementary School, a former teacher lounge has become a classroom.
But the district also needs room at each school site to conduct small group instruction for special education students or others in need of one-on-one interaction.
“I think we do the best we can with the increasingly limited space that we have,” White said, “Our teachers are fantastic. … Our cooks, our lunch room crews and janitors make it work.”
The funds from the bond won’t be used for wages and benefits, Cordero added.
“This is all for the kids,” he added.
If passed, Measure T would cost $25 for every $100,000 of assessed valuation for a property. With the average home price of $189,000 in the Santa Maria, the bond would add up to less than $50 for a property owner whose home was assessed under $200,000. The bond affects both residential and commercial properties in the Santa Maria-Bonita district.
Other options beyond the bond include reinstituting year-round school or implementing double sessions, meaning one set of students and teachers would be in class from 7 a.m. to noon, while the others would at school in the afternoon and early evening.
Cordero said both options are unviable and would only delay the inevitable.
“We know currently we’re going to have to build schools, and we have to start on it now rather than later,” Cordero said.
Even if the bond is approved, the new campus likely wouldn’t be open to accommodate students until 2017, he added.
Board member Will Smith, who is opposed to the bond measure, contends the fact the new school won’t be ready for students for at least three years is why the district should explore the year-round option to solve its overcrowding.
Additionally, he said, year-round education would be better for migrant students.
“I think this is a win-win situation,” he said.
Smith added that he doesn’t like that bond supporters are making people feel like the Measure T will solve the problems.
A committee of local citizens would provide oversight on the bond spending, Cordero said. As required by law, the committee would be composed of designated representatives from various sectors of the community.
Santa Maria-Bonita hasn’t had much luck in getting voters to approve bonds, with four tries in the 1990s for nearly $33 million to fund one junior high and two elementary schools.
The first request came soon after the district’s office building on Miller Street was completed in the early 1990s. Critics dubbed the new building the “Taj Mahal.”
Later efforts failed in a 1995 special election plus a 1998 general election in November and a June 1999 special election.
While those bonds needed two-thirds of the voters to approve the measures, or 66.66 percent, state law changes mean Measure T requires just 55 percent to pass.
State funding helped pay for the district last major expansion, but that money isn’t available any longer, district officials said.
Santa Maria-Bonita is one of five school district’s in Santa Barbara County asking voters to approve bonds, but the only one in the Santa Maria Valley.
Other school bond measures on the Nov. 4 ballot are Measure Q for the Montecito Union School District; Measure S for the Santa Barbara Community College District; Measure U for the Carpinteria Unified School District; and Measure Y for the College School District in the Santa Ynez Valley.