The Pleasanton Unified School District board discussed next steps for financing of the Measure I1 facilities bond at its first regular meeting of October on Tuesday night, particularly honing in on the possibility of asking voters to pass another $124 million bond in 2020.
The conversation around the new bond came as district officials started looking to their next issuance of the $270 million bond approved by voters in November 2016, and as they look forward to 2020 elections. Much of the discussion revolved around whether it was fair to ask voters for an additional bond, just a few years after Measure I1 passed and when crucial projects like the new elementary school hadn't yet materialized.
"We have to have something more to show to get the community to support this," Trustee Valerie Arkin said when discussing this item at the 3-1/2 -hour-long meeting.
PUSD staff had presented to the board the concept of moving forward with voter polling, not only on the concept of a new bond, but also on a potential project list for the ballot. They decided to wait until after their upcoming Dec. 18 workshop to move ahead with any such polling, however -- board president Mark Miller especially wanted to wait and see what is being decided regarding a new district elementary school, which is the subject of that particular meeting.
Currently, $199.3 million remains in unissued authorization, after the district issued its first bond series in October 2017, to be used for facilities, technology and to prepay the district's 2010 certificates of participation (COPs).
Adam Bauer, the consultant who presented the bond-financing item, said that right now the district has debt outstanding from bonds passed in the 1988 and 1997 elections. But this debt is set to be paid off by 2023, meaning that after this time, Pleasanton homeowners would only be paying for the Measure I1 bond, which is $49 per $100,000 of their property's assessed value per year.
However, if a new bond were to be issued and the existing tax rate extended, taxpayers would continue paying their current rate of $69 per $100,000 of assessed valuation, which would allow $124 million in bonds to be issued in four series.
Trustees were conflicted on the proposal, as they weighed its pros and cons and considered how the community would react to a new bond so soon after they had approved another one. The fact some of their prioritized projects were not further along could cause voters reluctance, the board acknowledged; however, with rising costs market-wide, the $270 million from Measure I1 was no longer sufficient to finish the projects listed on the ballot in 2016.
Miller said that as a taxpayer, the prospective new bond should not be taken lightly.
"At the same time, I think what we're seeing right now is unprecedented, skyrocketing costs to projects that even two years ago seemed feasible," Miller said. "And may now literally be impossible at the $270 million level."
Superintendent David Haglund added, "With a 40% escalation cost, we already know we can't do for $35 million what we thought we could do for $35 million in 2016."
"But we also know from the community, they want to see these projects completed," he continued later. "And so what we're doing is saying: OK, if we want to have these projects completed, then we need these additional resources, and here's an opportunity that we see that's not going to cause additional pain. People aren't going to be writing a larger check -- they may be writing a check for a longer period of time."
The lone public speaker on this item was Kathleen Ruegsegger, a former PUSD board member, who sharply criticized the proposal for a new bond.
"The plan is, people are used to paying it, keep paying the same amount," she said. "That's kind of an insult."
"When talking about bond capacity and assessed valuations, these are more than just numbers. The funds you seek come from families. Some with some of the 200 students that you are sending all over this district. Some who still have their kids in portables because we have not built a new school. Before another dime is spent on this plan, do whatever is necessary to move more swiftly to build a new school," Ruegsegger added.
Editor's note: PUSD spokesman Patrick Gannon elaborated on Haglund's escalation comment Wednesday afternoon, telling the Weekly: "The 40% escalation cost that was referenced in the board meeting last evening was looking at the escalation of construction costs related to any proposed solution to the enrollment issues in the Northern Pleasanton area. The architect who is working with us on the conceptual design process shared that the escalation is approaching 7% annually."
In other business
* Trustees received an actuarial report regarding the district's long-term debt associated with other post employment benefits (OPEB), for the fiscal year ending June 30, 2018.
Actuaries who conducted the report updated the board on the district's liabilities accrued through employees' OPEB costs, such as health care costs for retirees, and on various options the district has to mitigate their unfunded liabilities.
* The board received an update on the district's Advancement Via Individual Determination program, more commonly known as AVID, from program teachers and students.
AVID is a nationwide program that supports students academically and aims to close the opportunity gap in college graduation rates among underrepresented demographics. In PUSD, AVID is offered as an elective at all five major secondary sites -- 3% of secondary students are enrolled in an AVID elective.
In the 2017-18 school year, of graduating AVID seniors in the district, 29% did not have parents who graduated from college, 12% were enrolled in the free or reduced price lunch program and 6% were English language learners.
* The board unanimously approved the adult and career education services' intent to apply for state grant money to be used for new career technical education (CTE) facilities at Foothill High School.
The Measure I1 facilities bond already provides for the construction of a new two-story building near the main entrance of the school that would replace six portable classrooms currently in use, along with funds for two new science classrooms. But staff wanted to apply for an additional $6 million to enhance these projects, using an equal sum of Measure I1 funds as a matching amount for the application.
"We have an opportunity to grab some money and really make these cutting-edge, 21st century classrooms," said Glen Sparks, director of adult and career education.
The state's Career Technical Education Facilities Program provides California schools matching funds for the "purposes of CTE specific new construction, modernization, and/or equipment," according to the program website. The deadline for this funding cycle is Oct. 19.
At this point, the building is expected to serve the engineering, information and communications technology, and health sciences industry sectors.
"CTE is not just for students that are going into the trades, or home economics or the culinary arts," said Beth Cutter, assistant director of adult and career education.
"It includes engineering and biomedical sciences," and many of the areas that are growing in the Tri-Valley, she added.
The estimated start time of construction for the new project is fall or winter 2019, regardless of whether or not PUSD receives additional grant funds.
* Board members received a report and update on the extended day academic intervention program, which targets students in need of additional support.
About 750 students across the district were served by these interventions during the 2017-18 school year, according to staff.
* Trustees approved a waiver application for Bradley Dennis so that he can serve as a teacher for deaf and hard of hearing students while he works toward his credential.
* The board had been set to receive an annual report on ninth grade math placement, but they moved that item to the agenda of their Nov. 13 meeting.