The Pleasanton Unified School District plans to gauge the community’s interest and support this summer with a poll concerning a potential new $120 million school facilities bond measure for the March 2020 primary election ballot.
The school board has been considering another bond measure for almost a year, since staff first suggested it, as well as debating whether PUSD voters would approve another bond measure less than four years after passing the $270 million Measure I1 bond.
Currently a number of marquee Measure I1 projects remain unfinished, including the Lydiksen Elementary School rebuild and modernization. Another $145.5 million remains to be allocated for the Measure I1 projects lists, but officials say the district’s ongoing facilities needs are much higher.
District leaders have been equating the possible new bond measure to a tax extension because the overall tax rate for property owners ($20 per $100,000 of assessed valuation) would be the same as the rate owners are paying now related to previous bond measures in 1988 and 1997, which is set to wane after 2020.
The district has said before that unfunded projects like upgrading the science labs at all three high schools would be covered by a new $120 million bond.
Last month, staff at all 15 PUSD schools were surveyed about what school site projects should be prioritized, including replacing the gyms at Amador and Foothill high schools and remodeling Vintage Hills Elementary. More than 200 faculty members participated in the survey, which presented a list of unfunded projects pulled last year from the Facilities Master Plan, as well as multiple-choice questions and write-in options for specific feedback.
Certain infrastructure improvements like upgrading the wireless network and HVAC units were highly favored across the whole district, and others like adding covered lunch shelters and traffic mitigation at some schools were also selected. Following a staff presentation at last week’s board meeting, the PUSD trustees were supportive of gathering public input but had some of their own thoughts on how to improve the polling process.
Trustee Joan Laursen agreed with one survey respondent who, according to district documents, said that not knowing about the needs of other schools seemed like “an effort to collect data that provides little value at best and is inaccurate at worst.”
“I do think that this is a problem with asking questions this way,” Laursen said during the June 25 discussion. “If you’re a staff person who doesn't have kids in our school, perhaps, and you’re at an elementary school, you really aren't in a position to judge the addition of the Amador gym, for example, or some other need at another school. That kind of bothered me a little bit in terms of people being able to assess the need.”
Trustee Mark Miller wondered whether the district should form a list of specific proposed bond measure projects for the survey or “present a broad list of things and let the public weigh in.” Noting that not all families in the district will want or support the same things, Trustee Jamie Yee said presenting a list of specific projects for everyone to agree on could be difficult.
“If you’re asking elementary parents, they’re not going to prioritize something over at Amador High School because they’re not really there,” Yee said. “Unless there’s a way to get everybody to see everything around the whole district and understand everything, they really can’t fairly weigh in. That’s the problem you run into with providing a list like this.”
Miller stated that the list should “be a little more specific this time” about exactly which projects would be funded by the potential bond, instead of proposing general purposes such as security and safety.
“As a bond taxpayer, I would want to know what the real plan was more tangibly,” Miller said. Although a less generalized list of projects “gives people less choices,” ultimately Yee said she agreed that “this time around it would be better to be more specific.”
Recently, a consultant advised the Board of Trustees that waiting to place a bond measure on the November 2020 ballot was feasible but noted that “a lot of noise” is expected for the presidential election. Community polling will take place between Aug. 23 and Sept. 6; the school board has until early December to vote on the measure for next year’s primary election.
In other business last week, the board unanimously adopted next year’s annual district budget. The district is projected to have more than $165.8 million in restricted and unrestricted local, state, federal and Local Control Funding Formula revenue; about $171.8 million in total expenditures are projected to exceed that number.
The new budget also “assumes a 3.26% increase to the base LCFF calculation,” according to district documents, as well as tripling the state-required 3% minimum reserve to 9%. The new level will be reached by saving up to 20% of the undesignated reserve at the end of each fiscal year. There are no salary increases listed to faculty or administrative staff, nor any expenditures for next year’s election.
After some recent changes based on Gov. Gavin Newsom’s proposed state budget, PUSD has fully funded its gap-funding rate, meaning all revenue increases in the future will be just for cost of living adjustments.
The biggest change might be both CalSTRS and CalPERS retirement costs, which the district said are “projected to increase significantly over the next several years.” Employer contribution rates for both during the past fiscal year 2018-19 was 16.28% for CalSTRS and 18.06% for CalPERS.
Between now and fiscal year 2021-22, those numbers are expected to climb to 17.8% for CalSTARS and 24.9% for CalPERS. The district’s current CalPERS and CalSTRS costs in real dollars are a combined $17,431,334; those retirement benefits are forecast to reach a total $21,440,752 by the year 2022.