Major school construction projects require vision and patience to plan and appropriately budget, but pay off in student performance and teacher job satisfaction. Typically, school districts invest years in planning and in raising the funds to pay for them.
So the state’s decision to sell a minimal amount this fall of school bonds – which provide a significant portion of funding for most school construction projects – is disappointing.
Our associations will be joining education officials and organizations at the state Capitol on Wednesday to urge the state to increase the size of school bond sales going forward to reflect current needs of school districts.
For more than two decades, school districts partnered with the state to pay for major school renovations or to build new campuses. After raising local funds, a district must comply with regulatory requirements to apply for state-matching grant funds. Voters periodically replenish the state grant fund by passing statewide school bonds.
In 2012, the fund was effectively depleted. Fortunately, 55 percent of voters passed Proposition 51 last November, authorizing the state to sell $9 billion in school construction bonds. Proposition 51 doesn’t cover the entire need, but does eliminate a $2 billion-plus backlog of projects waiting for state funding.
However, the state has only authorized a bond sale for about $400 million in 2017. That’s just 4.5 percent of what voters authorized and is woefully inadequate. The last time voters passed a statewide school bond, state matching funds were available within 30 days. On average, more than 90 percent of bond funds were committed within four years of the passage of previous statewide school bonds.
Today’s need is real: 70 percent of California classrooms are more than 25 years old, and 40 percent are more than 50 years old. Most campuses this old need massive repair work – electrical systems, security and infrastructure for personalized learning and technology, and career technical education. An estimated $20 billion in school facilities are needed over the next decade.
Communities have done their part in raising funds through local bonds, and now need the Legislature and the governor to do their part. If the state doesn’t accelerate bond sales, districts will end up paying more for less since construction costs typically rise by 6 percent annually.
Local districts have been patient, but they have waited long enough. The next authorized bond sale is expected in the spring. An adequate amount of bonds must be sold so districts receive the money promised in Proposition 51. Making districts wait longer will shortchange students and violate the will of voters.
Don Ulrich, deputy superintendent of the Clovis Unified School District, is chairman of the Coalition for Adequate School Housing and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Lisa Gonzales, an assistant superintendent of the Dublin Unified School District, is president of the Association of California School Administrators and can be contacted at email@example.com.