The Sacramento City Unified School District is asking voters to approve two school bonds totaling $414 million to address a host of construction projects as well as health and safety issues.
If passed by 55 percent of the voters in the school district, the two bonds would add $54 for every $100,000 of assessed value to a property owner's annual taxes for 20 to 25 years.
Those costs would be in addition to bonds previously approved by voters in 1999 and 2002. Property owners in the school district are currently paying $83 per $100,000. Money from those bonds has been allocated or spent, district Superintendent Jonathan Raymond said.
"Giving our kids the best education we can means providing them with the equipment, technology and learning environments essential to acquiring the skills they need," Raymond said.
The primary bond up for a vote is Measure Q for $346 million in construction, rehabilitation or replacing school facilities, primarily at district high schools. Projects include modernizing classrooms, science labs and computers; fixing leaky roofs and gutters; and replacing heating and air conditioning units.
Measure R for $68 million is focused on student health and safety at all grade schools by fixing old playgrounds and athletic fields, improving physical education facilities and upgrading kitchen facilities.
School bond money cannot be used for operating expenses, including administrator, teacher or janitor salaries.
Opponents of the measure argue that the district already owes more than $500 million in past borrowing and that voters are being asked to pay for the district's lapse in planning ahead for facility needs.
"I want these schools to thrive and be the best in the state, but these bonds aren't the way to do it," said Stephen McCutcheon, a parent of two children attending district elementary schools.
"We are using our bond capacity for things they shouldn't be," McCutcheon said. "When they really need it to build a high school or elementary school, we won't have the bond capacity to do it. We will be obligated to bonds that paid for new computer labs and gutters. We shouldn't spend decades paying for assets that are only good for five years."
Raymond said Sacramento City Unified schools, on average, are 50 years old and badly in need of renovation. School district officials said they will benefit from low interest rates and competitive bidding, which are bringing down construction costs. Sacramento City trustee Patrick Kennedy said the district will also be aggressive about looking for matching grants for money spent.
"We can turn this $400 million into a lot more," Kennedy said. "We have a history of doing that."
Kennedy said several of the improvements proposed with the bond money could help Sacramento City Unified save $2 million annually on energy and water bills. That savings benefits the district's general fund.
"That's music, librarians, teachers with that savings," Raymond added.
The school bonds will be on a crowded November ballot in which there are two statewide tax initiatives to fund education and a vote on whether to raise sales taxes in the city of Sacramento.
"Our dollars are staying local," Raymond said. "These projects touch our kids."
Raymond said the decision to focus the bond funds, if approved, on high schools ensures that the money affects more students.
"We have to start somewhere," Raymond said. "The last thing we want to do is sprinkle it. We want to be transformative."