Residents in Pleasanton – like their neighbors in Livermore and Sunol – find themselves with the opportunity to decide the future of their school facilities for decades to come on their Nov. 8 ballots.
Pleasanton voters will vote Yes or No on Measure I, a proposed $395 million bond, with approval required from 55% of ballots. As we debate bond measures internally, a common thread connects our conclusions.
First and foremost, the measure must aim to address demonstrated facility needs in the district. The set of projects should be imperative to complete for the education and safety of students in the near- and long-term -- because these bond measures come with major property tax obligations that have real impacts on homeowners in their communities, especially in the current economic climate.
Second, it must be accepted that there is effectively no other option to accomplish any high-dollar school building project, let alone a group of them around a district, than a local bond measure given how school funding works in the state of California. And finally, we must trust that the district has the staff and policy framework in place to advance the projects efficiently and responsibly while remaining subject to true citizen oversight.
After consideration of pro and con arguments in the voter guides and comments from the associated Yes and No groups and other stakeholders, we see this bond measure as hitting those vital marks. We recommend Yes on Measure I in Pleasanton.
This fall, Pleasanton Unified School District is asking voters to approve a new bond for the third time in seven years -- $270 million Measure I1 passed in November 2016 while $323 million Measure M failed in March 2020.
Measure I, which would establish $395 million bonding capacity for PUSD, would utilize a tax rate of $49 per $100,000 of assessed valuation for Pleasanton property owners to pay off the resulting debt over time. It aims to become only the second school bond adopted by Pleasanton voters in 25 years.
Although we supported Measure M 2-1/2 years ago, we acknowledged at the time that nonspecific catch-all language in the resolution (rather than naming actual site projects) could come back to bite the district. That misstep no doubt contributed to Measure M receiving only 52.40% Yes, short of the 55% threshold.
We're happy to see the Measure I proponents learned the lesson this time around.
Between the ballot materials and public messaging, there are clear commitments to direct bond-generated funding toward important projects such as new gym and theater buildings at both Amador Valley and Foothill high schools and new classrooms at Vintage Hills Elementary School, in addition to other infrastructure improvements.
These marquee projects are all ones the community should be able to get behind -- and just a drop in the bucket in terms of the roughly $1 billion facilities needs reported by PUSD.
The safety and maintenance concerns at the generations-old small gym and theater at Amador alone should be stark enough to inspire support to fix by any tangible means.
We concur with what we've heard from stakeholders during this campaign: the quality of some of these facilities are truly embarrassing for a district as standout academically as Pleasanton Unified. But more importantly, they present actual problems for staff and inhibit the student experience.
And we respectfully disagree with the No on I contention that this bond measure, at this $395 million amount, is not necessary now.
It is important for the district to be able to lock in such a significant bonding capacity and move forward with these projects as soon as possible. Construction costs will only go up from here, as will the level of deterioration at the campuses, if Measure I is not passed this November.
Not to mention the fact local bond measures are the only mechanism K-12 districts really have to accomplish large construction projects, given the way the state education funding system functions, the large percentage of the general fund that goes toward employee salaries, benefits and pensions, and the inadequate rates for developer fees to actually address enrollment growth.
The district administration is also in a much more stable position than in March 2020, and especially so compared to 2017 and 2018 when superintendent and cabinet turnover contributed mightily to Measure I1's slow rollout. Under Superintendent David Haglund and Ahmad Sheikholeslami, assistant superintendent of business services, PUSD has the plans in place to hit the ground running with Measure I projects.
And the top-priority items are substantial needs based on the current student and staff experience at these schools. Unlike what happened with the district's decision to call off a 10th elementary school for now, a major project in the 2016 bond measure that proved no longer necessary in the immediate due to COVID-19 pandemic effects on enrollment, the needs outlined in Measure I have been longstanding and won't be going away as populations may change.
Now is the time to move forward on these imperative projects. The $395 million bond is the only way PUSD can accomplish that. Vote Yes on Measure I.
Editor's note: A prior version of this article did not correctly refer to the tax rate proposed under Measure I. The rate to pay back the bond debt would be $49 per $100,000 of assessed valuation of properties in Pleasanton. The Weekly regrets the error.