San Juan voters asked to approve $350 million bond for school improvements

Published: Friday, Sep. 21, 2012 - 12:00 am | Page 1B

San Juan Unified needs money to fix leaky windows, replace aging portables and make schools more energy efficient, according to school district officials.

They are asking voters to approve Measure N – a $350 million bond – on the Nov. 6 ballot.

The district has 75 schools, most built in the 1960s and 1970s, that need more up-to-date classrooms, energy-efficient upgrades and other improvements, said Larry Miles, a school board member and chairman of the Measure N Committee.

"There is a tremendous amount of work that needs to be done," he said.

If passed by 55 percent of the voters in the school district, the bond will add $60 for every $100,000 of assessed value to a property owner's annual taxes for 20 to 25 years – depending on market conditions.

A poll commissioned by the school district showed "a high level of support for a bond in the amount of $350 million," said district officials.

San Juan Unified was successful in 2002 with Measure J, a bond of the same amount to upgrade school facilities.

District property owners are still paying on that bond, as well as on Measure S – a $157 million bond passed in 1998.

Passing a bond this year could be more difficult than in years past, however. Not only will Measure N be in competition with two statewide tax initiatives to fund education, but district residents who live in the city of Sacramento also will be voting on a sales tax hike.

But there appears to be little organized opposition to the general obligation bond.

The ballot argument opposing Measure N was written by Merrillyn Carson, who served on the San Juan school board for one year. Carson said those who signed the ballot argument against Measure N are people "who are worried about the debt, people who are fiscally conservative, but sensible."

The statement cites declining enrollment and the closure of 10 percent of the schools as reasons not to pass the bond.

"The good times no longer roll," said the ballot statement. In "the last five years, property values have dropped by at least one-third. Bankruptcies and foreclosures abound, and yet, taxes continue to rise."

The bond, say district officials, will continue the work of Measure J funds, which fixed roofs, replaced portables and paid for other improvements.

The money also helped to build a library and gym at Mesa Verde High School and a gym at Del Campo High School and renovate a gym at El Camino High School, Miles said. It also added science labs at a number of the districts' schools, he said.

The new bond will fund the next 10 years of projects, Miles said.

"Without it we won't have any ability to make the kinds of improvement and facility improvements we need," he said.

Miles could not say whether the district would need another bond in 2022.

"I'll leave it for the school board in that era," he said. "In order to continue to have decent schools we have to make an investment."

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Read more articles by Diana Lambert

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