Endorsements: Sacramento City Unified school bonds are a smart investment for students

Published: Sunday, Oct. 14, 2012 - 12:00 am | Page 6E

In California, as in most states, funding for construction and repair of school facilities is separate from funding for classroom operations.

The bulk of construction and repair costs are paid for through long-term bonds, which are repaid through property taxes – if 55 percent of voters approve.

It has been 10 years since voters in Sacramento City Unified approved school bonds. The 1999 and 2002 bonds have brought steady progress in upgrading schools. Those bonds have been spent or allocated for specific projects; it is time for the next era of improvement.

We urge voters to support Measures Q and R on Nov. 6.

The district has done the right groundwork, preparing a 100-plus-page report on each school, outlining specific needs.

Measure Q would allow the district to sell $346 million in bonds to upgrade two middle schools (Kit Carson and Albert Einstein) and seven high schools (McClatchy, Kennedy, Hiram Johnson, Luther Burbank, West Campus, Sacramento High and the American Legion Continuation School).

Measure Q's annual cost to property owners would be $44 per $100,000 of assessed valuation.

As Superintendent Jonathan Raymond has said, while the earlier bonds allowed basic improvements, Measure Q would allow the district to "radically transform our high schools into 21st century plants."

For example, at McClatchy High School, which was built in 1936, the earlier bonds allowed for roofing, plumbing and heating/cooling improvements in 2004 and 2005, so the buildings are in good condition.

But the auditorium, media center, science labs and culinary classroom are in need of upgrades. The school needs greater bandwidth and wiring, plus data and electrical outlets, so teachers and students can do Internet research and use digital media in classrooms.

The picture is similar at the other schools.

Measure R would allow the district to sell $68 million in bonds to continue the work of removing unsafe conditions at all schools (from repairing playgrounds to replacing leaky fixtures) and upgrading kitchen facilities to allow more scratch cooking of local foods to improve nutrition.

Measure R's annual cost to property owners would be $10 per $100,000 of assessed valuation.

The district estimates the two measures together would cost the average homeowner $7 a month over the life of the bonds, usually 20 years.

Now is a good time to borrow and build. As School Services of California has pointed out, "interest rates offered today make long-term bonds the best value in decades" and the slump in the construction industry "has resulted in very competitive bidding."

The district is well within its bonding capacity, having refinanced the earlier bonds twice, saving taxpayers millions.

Opponents object to the district's use of project labor agreements for large projects – as has this editorial board. But the district points out that only 14 of 74 projects since 2005 have had project labor agreements. Union and nonunion shops get a chance to bid on the vast majority of projects under $1 million.

Sacramento City Unified still has too many schools – particularly elementary schools with fewer than 400 students – for its enrollment. The superintendent and school board need to assure voters that as they upgrade facilities, they will make progress in consolidating schools to match enrollment.

For the 74 percent of households who don't have children in school, good schools – including good facilities – are key to strong neighborhoods and future prosperity.

With a crowded ballot and a fragile economy, School Services of California predicts that "when times get tough, voters are much more likely to take matters in their own hands and turn to the local ballot box, not the state, for support for their children."

Support Measures Q and R.

For more information

To see the needs assessment for each school and a project list, go to: www.scusd.edu/measuresqandr

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