The $323 million bond measure for the Pleasanton Unified School District, on the March primary election ballot as local Measure M, is vital for the short- and long-term future of district facilities -- and by direct extension, the success of Pleasanton's students.
The proposed general obligation bond, and associated property tax ($43.10 per $100,000 of assessed valuation), are necessary funding sources to help the district retain the financial means to continue facility upgrades sorely needed at public schools across Pleasanton.
The need has certainly been demonstrated.
The district's 2018 Facilities Master Plan identifies an estimated $1.1 billion worth of projects to carry all school sites into and through the 21st century. Take a tour of many Pleasanton schools and the needs become distinctly apparent, from small issues in individual classrooms to unsafe student dropoff and pickup areas to deteriorating buildings at Amador Valley High or Vintage Hills Elementary -- to name just a few.
Unfortunately, in California, local bond measures are almost the only funding solution available to school districts for comprehensive facility upgrades.
Between the way California's revenue limit funding system functions, the cap that the state sets on district budget reserves and the large percentage of the general fund spent on employee salaries, benefits and pensions (in PUSD, 81.1% last year), there really isn't a mechanism for a district like Pleasanton to just save up for large facility projects.
Not to mention the developer fees paid to local districts at levels set by the state are barely a drop in the bucket to address the facility needs that result from enrollment growth.
That's where bond measures come in, a funding source with local control and local oversight for locally identified facility projects after receiving local voter support.
If a district makes a strong case to its citizenry, that is.
Superintendent David Haglund, PUSD trustees and the Yes on M campaign have each made a good pitch during the process.
The types of projects earmarked for Measure M funding are pulled from needs in the Facilities Master Plan, such as modernizing existing science labs, upgrading the wireless network, additional capacity to accommodate enrollment growth, and new or upgraded gyms and theaters.
The Measure M list is a carefully worded catalog of project types, descriptive catch-all phrases in line with district and resident priorities.
While we would have liked to see a few marquee school site projects specifically called out in the Measure M resolution, like we saw with Measure I1 and other Tri-Valley bond measures (i.e. "upgrading Amador Valley and Foothill high school gyms" instead of the actual wording, "modernize, renovate, replace, re-configure, upgrade and/or construct gymnasiums or related facilities,"), we are confident the individual school projects will reflect the letter and spirit of the board's resolution.
And we look forward to those community conversations in front of the school board after Measure M passes.
One key criticism we've seen during this bond debate is why now? Isn't it too soon since Measure I1 was approved by voters in November 2016? (That $270 million bond measure was the first passed in Pleasanton since 1997.)
Now is actually the perfect time.
We concur that Measure M funding will help maintain the district's momentum in accomplishing necessary facility projects. The bond market is as strong as ever, and PUSD boasts very strong bond ratings. Plus, the passage of Measure M would also put PUSD in position to potentially secure matching dollars from the state for qualified and accepted projects.
Critics also point to a perceived slow start to Measure I1 projects.
We agree the early months to a year of Measure I1 programming after that election was less than ideal, but it was a direct function of circumstances that no longer exist.
PUSD was mired in a period of instability, so stark that just weeks after Measure I1 passed, the school board fired first-year superintendent Rick Rubino after less than seven months on the job.
That jolt hampered the start of the Measure I1 program, but the district has recovered and key construction projects are on track to break ground soon -- Lydiksen Elementary next month, Amador and Foothill science labs in the summer and the new school site adjacent to Donlon Elementary in 2021.
With Haglund at the helm, stability has returned to the superintendent's office and he has put into place a smart program for managing the Measure I1 bond program. And with the help of new assistant superintendent of business services Ahmad Sheikholeslami, the district is positioned for a solid plan with Measure M funding that PUSD can carry forward for years to come.
Measure M represents a defining moment for Haglund and this school board, but it's also a defining moment for voters in Pleasanton.
Students deserve quality modern school facilities in which to thrive, educationally and personally.
We recommend a Yes vote on Measure M on March 3.