Results from a recent survey gauging local voters about a potential new $150 million bond measure were presented at the Pleasanton school board meeting Tuesday.
Pleasanton Unified School District officials first raised the idea last year of placing a proposed bond measure on the 2020 primary election ballot that would extend the existing district tax rate when two other bond measures from 1998 and 1997 expire during next year.
"It's not just that we have to believe there's a need and there's great things we want to do for kids, we have to be able to pass it," Board President Valerie Arkin said as the board discussed the voter survey results Tuesday night. "I want to have confidence and less stress in going forward and making sure we can get something passed."
Properties within the district are taxed at a rate of $49 per $100,00 of assessed value under the current $270 million Measure I1 bond approved by Pleasanton voters in 2016.
Approximately $145.5 million still has yet to be allocated for the Measure I1 projects list, which includes plans to reconfigure and modernize Donlon Elementary School. The district has previously stated that all three high schools would have major science lab upgrades funded by the proposed bond.
The tax rate originally suggested for a new bond measure was $120 million overall, but the survey polled participants about two possible amounts of $150 million and $393 million.
A total of 619 interviews were completed for the hybrid telephone and email-to-web survey, which was conducted by a private consulting group between Aug. 23 and Sept. 6.
The resulting 23-page report on the survey stated that "nearly three-quarters of voters believe it is crucial for Pleasanton to have excellent schools even if that means raising taxes," and "support for a bond measure today hovers around the 55% threshold required to pass; with a slight difference in support between the two amounts tested."
Three-quarters of respondents rated the statement, "The job Pleasanton Unified School District is doing overall,'' as either "Good" (49%) or "Excellent" (26%), but ranked the district's management of their budget and voter-approved bond monies less favorably.
Opinions on the district's budget management skills were nearly split, with 39% answering either "Excellent" or "Good," and 34% categorizing the district's job as either "Only Fair" (21%) or "Poor" (13%); the remaining 27% selected "Don't Know."
Survey contributors were also divided about PUSD's performance of bond revenue management; 33% rated the district as either "Good" (28%) or "Excellent" (5%), while 30% selected "Only Fair" (19%) or "Poor" (11%). However, 37% of respondents selected "Don't Know," outnumbering either group.
Last month the district completed its second issuance for $90 million of Measure I1 bonds, which almost sold out within hours. The district said the quick transactions and low interest rates were helped by their credit rating and the community's overall stability and growth of assessed property values.
Most of the board on Tuesday voiced optimism that voters would support a new bond measure.
"Most people know we have a hard time cutting our grass," Trustee Steve Maher said during discussion. "We're behind and we need to do something about it. And if we don't do it now, I'm not sure what's going to happen a few years down the road."
Arkin said there's "absolutely a need, there's no question" for more funding but had "concerns" about the responses to sample opposition statements. The report found that "opposition messaging impacts support for a measure; however, support does not fall below 55%" for either proposed amount that was surveyed.
"Some of these numbers just make me a little uncomfortable, and it's all about risk-taking, and I'm not going to risk that," Arkin said. "What concerns me are some of the opposition statements."
Arkin said the amount of respondents who rated a sample opposition statement that "developers are responsible for more families moving to Pleasanton and should cover the costs of expanding schools to accommodate growing student enrollment" as either "somewhat" or "very" convincing was "compelling." Other similar sample language also gave Arkin momentary pause.
"That's a pretty compelling number, as are some of the other ones," Arkin said. "I'm more comfortable going with -- I don't want to call it an extension but we have a bond expiring, but it's a net increase of people's taxes -- but I would be in favor of that."
The trustees have until early December to decide if another bond measure will be on the March 2020 primary election ballot.
In other business
* A couple major school site projects on the consent calendar using Measure I1 funds received the green light that night.
The trustees approved amendments to two contracts to replace the portables and renovate the science labs at both Foothill and Amador Valley high schools. The contracts cover $58,254 at Foothill and $58,191 at Amador, according to district records.
The Division of the State Architect, which approves building plans for all California public schools, found at Amador that "the positioning of the new building eliminated an open area that could be used to fight fires" and that "the existing buildings adjacent to the new building ... did not comply with current code for fire department access." Because of this, a mandatory fire sprinkler will be added to the existing building, increasing costs by $58,191.
Adding a new structure also triggered a similar fire sprinkler requirement at Foothill, where an existing building's "allowable area now has to meet current code since the new building impacts it." The new fire sprinkler raises costs for Foothill construction by $58,254.
The portable replacements and new science labs at both schools will cost around a total of $15.7 million. Construction is set to begin next summer and finish by the end of 2021.
* The board installed Carole Strothers as the new vice principal at Donlon Elementary School at the start of the meeting, one of two administrative roles filled that evening. Former vice principal Alex Ramirez departed from the school in late July to become vice principal at Hart Middle School, where he taught at one point before moving to Donlon.
The board also named an assistant superintendent of business services on Tuesday; Ahmad Sheikholeslami is stepping into the renamed job title that was previously held by former deputy superintendent of business services Micaela Ochoa, who resigned in late June for a new job at the College of San Mateo.
Sheikholeslami has been the chief business and operations officer for the Menlo Park City School District since 2014. Before then, he worked in construction management and spent a year as an assistant engineer for Marin Municipal Water District.
* At one point on Tuesday, the meeting went to the dogs -- literally. Four very furry therapy dogs received the Purveyor of Hope award for giving comfort and companionship to PUSD students. Superintendent David Haglund commended the Canine Comfort Teams for their regular visits to local schools, including lunchtime at Amador Valley High for Furry Friend Fridays, and "inspiring results for our students who need that extra connection to be comfortable and open up."
"The impact of these, and other efforts and supports provided by Valley Humane is immeasurable," Haglund said. Valley Humane Society president Melanie Sadek accepted the award on behalf of the four-legged friends, who seemed even happier with the decorated bags of dog treats they were given.