PUSD survey finds support for new bond measure 'hovers' at 55% among voters

Also: Cost increase for Foothill and Amador portables, science labs

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.

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4 people like this
Posted by judy
a resident of Pleasanton Valley
on Sep 26, 2019 at 12:59 pm

No new taxes! Please consider people on fixed incomes! One year they excepted seniors in new taxes and that should be the case again. Everything goes up except for Social Security!

4 people like this
Posted by Kathleen Ruegsegger
a resident of Vintage Hills
on Sep 26, 2019 at 1:51 pm

Kathleen Ruegsegger is a registered user.

Judy, seniors can be exempted from parcel taxes (two attempts; neither passed). They cannot, as far as I know, be exempted from a property tax. If you own a property you will pay. If you rent a property/apartment, you may see your costs increase.

11 people like this
Posted by Map
a resident of Del Prado
on Sep 27, 2019 at 7:34 am

No new taxes! Where is our new school, what happens to “our” money every time school property is sold?? Way past due for a full accounting of where the money is going and why the PUSD keeps coming back for more money with little results and unkept promises.

7 people like this
Posted by Kathleen Ruegsegger
a resident of Vintage Hills
on Sep 27, 2019 at 8:52 am

Kathleen Ruegsegger is a registered user.

Map, I said this on the other thread about this topic . . . there is bonding capacity (ability to add bonds because two old bonds are phasing out and the community’s “value” has increased) and they asked every school to make a list of needs/wants. That list is near $900MM. And much of it is for things we shouldn’t use bond money to pay for—routine maintenance that’s been ignored and technology. There are, and should be, other funds for those expenses (deferred maintenance set asides from the general fund and the interest from the Sycamore fund for technology refreshes).

I believe Ms. Arkin, at least, realizes that trying to sell this attempt for a bond as “still paying the same amount” isn’t going to work as a marketing ploy. It is, and I’m just going flat out here, a money grab. They are hoping (they being the consultants and staff saying this will work) people will vote yes because, hey, it’s not a big deal.

What voters should really be looking at is the initial conversations were for $120MM; then they tested for $150MM . . . AND then nearly $400MM. Where the heck did that last figure come from? They certainly can’t say our taxes will remain the same with that amount. My guess is they made the second choice so aggressive, the $150MM figure seemed reasonable.

As some have pointed out, there is little to show for the $270MM we provided PUSD in 2016 (I’m glad teachers got new laptops, but not from bond money; and the Chromebooks for all students were an unnecessary overreach—many students already have laptops or tablets). They have not spent most of the money. Lydiksen’s set aside is $30MM; the “new” school set aside is $35MM.

There is time to finish current commitments. The board can come back to the community in the future for the next round (the previous bonds were done in 1988 and 1995—seven years apart), after they have accounted for $270MM and have something other than fences to show for it.

There is no rush for this bond other than the aforementioned marketing ploy. Let the new head of the business department dig in and straighten out what has been a Keystone Cops start. It appears he has experience with construction; let’s give him time to right the ship.

12 people like this
Posted by Jack
a resident of Downtown
on Sep 27, 2019 at 9:32 am

Jack is a registered user.

"Most people know we have a hard time cutting our grass," Trustee Steve Maher said.

Steve, you and the other four Trustees are the boss... You know how to get the grass cut? Tell the Superintendent and his staff to get the damned grass cut. If they can't figure it out, fire them and find someone who can... And if they can't cut grass, how in the hell can we have confidence in them to educate our students?

6 people like this
Posted by Kathleen Ruegsegger
a resident of Vintage Hills
on Sep 27, 2019 at 10:04 am

Kathleen Ruegsegger is a registered user.

Jack, Steve Maher may have been talking about how schools are funded, because PUSD cannot pay for people (period) to mow lawns from bond funds; personnel expenses come from the General Fund. And I put the finer point on this, the people who are always (always) cut are the classified staff (and generally right after someone says classified staff are the backbone of the district). It's how they pay for the raises and pension impacts of those raises. So librarians, secretaries, and custodial staff lose hours or jobs. I don't like when staff, administration, or board members make statements like this, because they caused the problem with the decisions they made.

I certainly believe raises are deserved, but the true costs are becoming more and more obvious.

9 people like this
Posted by Naveed Khan
a resident of Stoneridge Park
on Sep 27, 2019 at 10:47 am

PUSD should be better advised to abandon its $150 Million Tax on residents of Pleasanton. Its not justified. PUSD is getting enormous amount of funds from Property Taxes and State and Federal Government. It is waste of people's money.

14 people like this
Posted by Enough
a resident of Del Prado
on Sep 30, 2019 at 10:10 am

PUSD consistently fails our kids. I'd rather spend the bond money on private lessons.

5 people like this
Posted by Jack
a resident of Downtown
on Sep 30, 2019 at 12:12 pm

Jack is a registered user.

Kathleen I realize we can't use bond monies to mow lawns... But a school district is supposed to take care of itself, as if there were no bond monies... But since we've forever had bond money, the district has never budgeted to build nor maintain it facilities, so we've gotten fat on the other side... The more things the District slides to the bond side, the more they get to play with General Fund dollars.
The voters get sold on a bond to "Build better, bigger, more grand buildings and facilities," and we end up getting Chrome Books...
We've got a well funded District, AND bond monies... Now, why can't we mow our lawns?

1 person likes this
Posted by Kathleen Ruegsegger
a resident of Vintage Hills
on Sep 30, 2019 at 1:48 pm

Kathleen Ruegsegger is a registered user.

Jack, you probably know this too. With each new student, the district gets additional funds. And sometimes the state kicks in some new money. And then the district gives raises and that causes pensions costs to rise and suddenly there’s not enough money to pay the people mowing the lawn and those employees are cut, instead of the lawns.

3 people like this
Posted by James Michael
a resident of Val Vista
on Sep 30, 2019 at 4:17 pm

James Michael is a registered user.

Reminds me of the old story about the guy on his way to work with his lunch money in one pocket and his bridge fare in the other. But when he got to the bridge he realized that he forgot his bridge money, but still had his lunch money. So, what does he do? Use his lunch money and get the job done or turn around and forget the job?

Fix the laws...use the money where it is needed and quit asking the taxpayers for more and more. Make sure every pocket has the right amount of money before you ask for more.

Like this comment
Posted by Barry
a resident of Alisal Elementary School
on Oct 2, 2019 at 11:59 am

Barry is a registered user.

The cost of living and now taxes are driving us as 30 year residents to consider re-locating elsewhere. It’s just getting too much for us to handle. If the bond measure excluded senior citizens, especially those not qualified for Prop 13, I’d prefer it. And parents should pay a user fee of some sort or volunteer time to help teachers or mow the lawn in lieu of the fee.

1 person likes this
Posted by Pleasanton Parent
a resident of Pleasanton Meadows
on Oct 2, 2019 at 9:27 pm

Pleasanton Parent is a registered user.

Our schools need funding, and in think this community would provide that funding if it thought the money was actually used responsibly. But it's not. It's a shell to allow other non education items get paid.

How many properties does the district have? How many were used for schools/education bldgs, how many sold to developers.


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