The Pleasanton school board is placing a $395 million general obligation bond measure on the Nov. 8 general election ballot following a unanimous vote last week.
The bond would help fund the first tier phase of the Facility Master Plan, which was approved by the board on June 23.
"I consider the decision to move forward with this bond measure as one of the most critical, consequential and important decisions of my tenure on the board," Board Vice President Steve Maher said during last Thursday's meeting. "For me to not vote in support of this bond would be fiscally and morally irresponsible."
He said failure to support the bond will deny current and future Pleasanton Unified School District students the opportunity to learn in modernized, up-to-date facilities just like the other districts in the Tri-Valley.
"We have, to put it really bluntly, substandard gyms," Maher said. "There's an absence of performing art centers for our fantastic musicians and thespians. In fact I had a parent today tell me they went to the Dublin High School campus and lo and behold, beautiful performing arts."
Pleasanton residents last voted to pass a facilities bond in 2016, the $270 million Measure I1, which covered about one third of the overall $856 million identified facilities improvement needs. Since Measure I1 passed, and another bond measure failed in 2020, PUSD staff have been working on a Facility Master Plan update that would separate the facility improvements of all 15 school sites into a two-tier system to address areas of high priority first.
Tier 1 will prioritize funding for the gym and theater constructions at both Amador Valley and Foothill high schools as well as new classrooms at Vintage Hills Elementary. The second tier will focus on deferred maintenance, restructuring of the visual performing arts in high schools, cafeteria and air conditioning and heating equipment.
The approved Nov. 8 bond will utilize a tax rate of $49 per $100,000 of assessed value for Pleasanton property owners to fund that first tier round of projects. The second tier would be funded through State Office of Public School Construction funds, the sale of the district office, state or local funding, or saved money from other construction bids, according to district staff.
Despite the bond receiving unanimous approval, several concerns arose during Thursday's meeting such as Trustee Kelly Mokashi touching on the promise of a 10th elementary school in Measure I1. She said her main question was how the board was going to rebuild the trust with voters after scrapping that project.
"That does have to be addressed because voters will be asking about that and we need to have a solid response to that," Mokashi said.
Board President Mark Miller addressed that topic saying that he thinks it's a cop out to suggest that the district can't spend money wisely because it didn't build a 10th elementary school.
"This district had a Measure I1 and spent the money for I1 with the most high integrity you could possibly do," Miller said. "We have honored every promise that we had made including the promise to not spend the $35 million on an elementary school if we decided not to move forward with it; that is the promise we made."
He said that declining enrollment and additional construction costs added to the decision to not move forward with a 10th elementary school, a decision he said was the right thing to do.
"No rational person would make a decision at this point to spend $48 (million) or $60 million to build a new elementary school when already we have far fewer students in the 700 per elementary school when we do our rezoning," Miller said.
Another concern Mokashi and a few public commenters spoke out on was the Amador Theater rebuild project being something that should have been reconsidered to be renovated rather than completely torn down.
Former student trustee Saachi Bhayani said during public comment that the board should renovate the historic theater rather than spending the money to completely rebuild the theater.
She added that when the board attempted to pass the $323 million Measure M bond in the March 2020 primary election, the district was quoted for $5 million for the theater rebuild and now that it is a much higher cost, the plan should change too. Measure M earned majority support from voters but failed to clear the 55% threshold required of school facility bond measures.
"Construction escalations don't justify a seven times increase, so why don't we just renovate it and save taxpayer money," Bhayani said. "Due to the upcoming recession and rising construction costs, I think it's best that we make sure that we lower the cost for our taxpayers to ensure that this bond gets passed."
Miller said that it is possible that the board decides later on to renovate the Amador Theater rather than rebuilding it because of the fact that it is one scenario out of several laid out by the district.
Bhayani also spoke on the Amador gym, which several public commenters have expressed concerns about its deteriorating condition over the course of the Facility Master Plan discussion these past few months.
Jaiden Reilly, a recent Amador graduate and volleyball player, said her season was postponed due to the pandemic and forced the team to play during the rainy season, which was an issue due to the cracks in the roof that let water inside the gym.
"It got really unsafe," Reilly said. "We had to take frequent breaks and pauses during games playing other schools. We had a lot of falls, a lot of rolled ankles."
Bhayani added to Mokashi's previous sentiment of voters not trusting the district saying that the board should have invested in addressing the gym a long time ago.
Trustee Joan Laursen commented on the Amador gym saying that it was supposed to be included in Measure I1 but it got taken out because the board was concerned about whether the bond would pass or not.
Kathleen Ruegsegger, a former board trustee in the 1990s, also spoke out about her general concerns about the bond touching on not just the theater rebuild and the elementary school that was promised, but also on how she felt the issuing of the bond was being rushed.
"You are voting on this bond roughly two weeks before it's due to the county," Ruegsegger said. "You are voting while parents are enjoying their summer and likely not paying attention to your actions."
She said the district should build the elementary school that was promised and use smaller bonds to address the high school gyms before asking voters to trust the board again with another bond.
However, Miller and the rest of the board still showed overall support for the bond and all of them said that it is important to invest in these improvements for the sake of the students.
"We've only passed one bond measure in 25 years and I know that we're living in very difficult times right now," Trustee Mary Jo Carreon said. "There are many things that we cannot control. We can't control COVID, we can't control politics. But you know what we can control? We can control what happens in our town. We can make a difference in the lives of our students by working together and passing this bond."
District staff must now submit the resolution to the Alameda County Registrar of Voters' Office and the clerk of the Board of Supervisors on Aug. 12. Following that, staff are planning to develop an implementation plan that will go into more detail on project and construction management as well as other planning regarding the phasing of the Facility Master Plan.
The bond project list includes: the construction of elementary classrooms to support statewide expansion of transitional kindergarten; high school visual and performing arts centers; new and upgraded athletic facilities; updated plumbing to support safe drinking water; and site improvements for students with disabilities.
After re-evaluating two tier 1 projects, the funding for transitional kindergarten classrooms at Donlon and Fairlands elementary schools will be included in Measure I1.
Other projects covered in Measure I1 are the rebuilding of Lydiksen Elementary School and new science classroom buildings at Amador Valley and Foothill High School and at Hart Middle School which is currently slated for completion in fall 2022.
Measure I1 also began to address roofing and HVAC repair and replacements as well as making safety upgrades and providing updated classroom technology and infrastructure.
The official Nov. 8 bond measure ballot statement will read:
"PLEASANTON UNIFIED SCHOOL DISTRICT QUALITY AND SAFE EDUCATIONAL FACILITIES MEASURE. To continue replacing/modernizing deteriorating plumbing, roofs, electrical/HVAC systems, classrooms, science labs, performing arts, physical education facilities/spaces, and alternative high school facilities; constructing career technical/early childhood education classrooms; making safety/access improvements for students with disabilities; shall Pleasanton Unified School District's measure authorizing $395,000,000 in bonds at legal rates, levying approximately $49 per $100,000 of assessed valuation ($26,000,000 annually) while bonds are outstanding, be adopted, requiring audits/oversight?"