On Nov. 6 voters in the San Juan Unified School District will decide whether to tax property owners for a $350 million bond measure to repair and renovate some of the oldest schools in the region.
“There are three important reasons to support Measure N,” said San Juan school boardmember and chairman of the Yes on Measure N campaign Larry Miles.
“One of them is to support our students, and the second is to help improve the economy. It will be an economic stimulus for our local economy. The third reason is to protect our property values because schools are really central to the quality of life in our communities.”
Measure N opponents, however, question whether the district has paid off its earlier debts.
“There are no disclosures with the school district, and its’ time for the books to be opened to provide the people with answers to our questions,” parent and Sacramento area Realtor Karen Klinger said. “Our kids will never pay off the debt, or their children. It just continues. It never ends.”
Voters supported two earlier bond measures in 1998 and 2002. Measure J won more than 65 percent of the votes a decade ago, when the economy was still booming and property values were on the rise.
“Look at the economy today. This is not a time to raise people’s taxes more and more and more,” Klinger said, adding that elderly homeowners on fixed incomes could be hit hard by Measure N.
If approved by at least 55 percent of the votes, Measure N would increase property taxes by approximately $60 per $100,000 of assessed valuation.
“I feel sorry for the elderly and for people who have lost their homes, because these are the things that add to people losing their homes. I think it’s unconscionable of the school board to ask for anything more when we’re in a time when people have lost their jobs and their homes,” Klinger said.
Although Measure N may be a tougher sell in a lackluster economy, supporters say it’s an ideal time to take advantage of low interest rates and a competitive bid market.
Back when the economy was hot, not only was it hard to find contractors to bid on projects, but the cost of construction was high. These days, however, the school district has its pick of 14 or 15 bidders for a project, according to Miles.
“We have more contractors who are looking for work,” Miles said. “The financing environment is much more attractive as well. When we put bonds out to market, we’re able to borrow money at a much cheaper interest rate than was the case earlier in the decade.
“…We’ll get a lot bigger bang for our buck.”
The range of work on San Juan’s “to do” list needs a pretty big bang.
Measure N projects include modernizing classrooms as well as portable buildings, improving infrastructure for modern technology, renovating and constructing outdoor learning facilities, installing energy efficient equipment and repairing and upgrading safety alarms at schools.
San Juan Unified encompasses 75 campuses and more than 43,000 students, and in a district that is about to celebrate its centennial next year, most of its schools are between 40 and 60 years old.
At some campuses, particularly ones in Citrus Heights and Fair Oaks, Measure N would provide funding for basic fixes such as replacing old rooftops and upgrading aging water and sewer lines.
“Sylvan Middle School is in desperate need of repair. It dates back to Franklin Roosevelt,” Miles said. “… It’s at least 70 years old. It’s a good school from what’s going on inside the classroom, but from a facilities standpoint it needs help.”
Measure N would also help catapult aging schools into the 21st century from improving server capacity to upgrading wireless technology.
“Teachers standing in front of the classroom at a chalkboard is the way things were done in 1950. In 2012, we need to prepare our students for the 21st century,” Miles said.
Miles added that Measure N will also allow the district to take advantage matching grants from the state or Sacramento Municipal Utilities District for energy efficiency upgrades and equipment.
Measure N supporters are optimistic about the upcoming election.
“We have a broad base of community support,” Miles said, pointing to endorsements from area Chambers of Commerce, local businesses, elected officials including the Sacramento County sheriff as well as Democrats and Republicans.
“If you look at our supporters, it really runs the gamut…There’s a real community consensus.”