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Survey: Voters would easily approve $294 million bond measure for high schools

The survey results are in for the Sequoia Union High School District and what might be done to make room for a projected 20 percent or more additional students by the 2020-21 school year. Voters would likely approve a bond measure to significantly rebuild campuses, including Menlo-Atherton and Woodside, and raise taxes by as much as $16 per $100,000 of a property's assessed value.

The survey didn't specify what a $16 tax rate would mean in terms of total available capital, but board President Allen Weiner told the Almanac that the district would have $294 million to work with.

The board met Wednesday (Feb. 12) and heard from San Mateo-based pollster Brian Godbe. To pass, a school bond measure needs the approval of 55 percent of the voters. A survey of 800 likely voters showed a June or November election easily exceeding that threshold in seven of the eight elementary school districts in the Sequoia district, and seven of the district's nine communities.

"You're in a pretty good spot, considering we're just starting with this," Mr. Godbe said.

Voters were queried on their support at five different tax rates between $16 and $8 per $100,000 of a property's assessed value. The curve showed about 65 percent support at $16 and a sharper upward trend at around $9.95, with an $8 rate gathering 75 percent.

"That ($9.95 break point) is just the psychology of human beings and purchasing behavior," Mr. Godbe said.

The research found no important differences between a June election, when turnout is typically lower, and November. One data point of statistical significance: Households with children supported a bond measure by 54 percent, compared with 40 percent for households without children.

The survey percentages reflected voters who would "definitely" or "probably" vote in favor of or against the question being asked; each question had five options for response.

The survey assessed voters' openness to arguments opposing a bond measure; a vote exceeding 45 percent would indicate a winning argument. In the survey, 44 percent voted no. "As this question goes, that's a pretty good place to be," Mr. Godbe said. "This is a pretty good sign that (the opposition's) best argument, at least that we've tested, doesn't reach that 45 percent."

Common practice is not to include the amount of a bond measure in communicating to voters, Mr. Godbe said. "It's such an abstract number that people don't get it. There's no sticker shock," he said.

He compared voter analysis to buying a car. "Until you get to telling him the monthly payments, it's not real. That's the same thing we're talking about here."

Board member Chris Thomsen asked about the chances of winning 55 percent support for a $16 tax rate. "I think you'd have a very good chance at being successful," Mr. Godbe said.

Polls are one thing, and success in an election is another, said Sarah Stern-Benoit, a partner at San Francisco-based TBWB Strategies. Informing key members of the public with a compelling plan and getting volunteers to run an effective campaign are critical to success, she said.

Board comment

In opening up the discussion to the board members, Mr. Weiner asked his colleagues to explain what would be necessary to have their support for a June election -- their "big ifs." His were a "confident and thorough" analysis of the district's needs to meet the enrollment projections, and an effective leadership team for the campaign.

"We'll get a smaller turnout in June, so we'll be mobilizing a smaller community," Mr. Thomsen said, and suggested that the board consider a measure of $250 million to $260 million.

Board member Alan Sarver proposed a "very aggressive" approach to create public awareness of the enrollment projections and what they mean for the campuses.

Board member Olivia Martinez asked Ms. Stern-Benoit to talk about the benefits of hiring professionals to run the campaign, a service that TBWB Strategies provides. Such a team could map a strategy, work on getting endorsements and fundraising, manage phone banks, and get the district's message out there. "It helps to really hone that time into what has to be done locally," she said.

Volunteers are valuable in their status as "being of the community and knowing the community," Ms. Stern-Benoit said.

A June election is better, and the board should go "for as low a number as possible," Ms. Martinez said. California is one of the highest-taxed states in the country, she said. "It's very tempting to go for the maximum."

She added, "We can't afford to wait any longer. It's far easier to put a lot of effort into a short period of time rather than string it out. ... I think telling (the Sequoia district's) story is really overdue."

The board is expected to decide later this month on the ballot measure.

Comments

Posted by Kahle Berner, a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Feb 13, 2014 at 9:32 pm

Only a few years ago the SUHSD used hundreds of millions of taxpayer to build facilities totally unnecessary for the core function of educating our children : football lighting, extravagant performing arts centers, Olympic sized pools, new gyms, and more. A waste of money on "nice to have" facilities. Now they are back to the well for money they really need. This is exceedingly poor planning by elected trustees and SUHSD administrators.


Posted by Bob, a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Feb 14, 2014 at 8:02 am

A year doesn't seem to go by without one of the school district asking for more money for one reason or another. And the taxpayers somehow always seem to fund them.

With all the money going to our schools one would think we should have a superior educational system with students excelling in their education, but I don't think that's the case.

Interesting comment from above: "Common practice is not to include the amount of a bond measure in communicating to voters, Mr. Godbe said. "It's such an abstract number that people don't get it. There's no sticker shock," he said."

Let's not tell the voters how much money we need!


Posted by Taxman, a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on Feb 14, 2014 at 8:41 am

I won't vote for this. Show me a full accounting of all the previous money we've been fleeced for first! (Like that would ever happen).


Posted by Michael G. Stogner, a resident of another community
on Feb 14, 2014 at 10:37 am

Who is paying for this campaign against property owners who are stuck with paying the tax if it passes?

"Board member Olivia Martinez asked Ms. Stern-Benoit to talk about the benefits of hiring professionals to run the campaign, a service that TBWB Strategies provides. Such a team could map a strategy, work on getting endorsements and fundraising, manage phone banks, and get the district's message out there. "It helps to really hone that time into what has to be done locally," she said."


Posted by Arts Professional, a resident of another community
on Feb 14, 2014 at 4:31 pm

There is always someone who described the PACs as "extravagant." The PACs in the Sequoia UHSD are not extravagant, by any stretch of the imagination, unless you're the type of person who views the performing arts as inherently extravagant (in which case, we obviously don't see eye-to-eye because I view performing, visual and fine arts as core academic subjects for any well-rounded education.) The PAC at M-A has more bells and whistles, but it also had additional funding outside of the bond measure. The other PACs are modest, but appropriate facilities for students to learn and practice performance.


Posted by Joe, a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Feb 14, 2014 at 4:50 pm

The Greeks managed very well with an outdoor amphitheater. Shakespeare and O'Neill, Miller and Williams, Shepard and Becket, all the elegance in language and drama that one could ever want and available for a couple of bucks. And let me not forget the musicals so popular in high school.

An outdoor amphitheater in 2014 is a bit much, but I fail to see how the fundamentals of being on stage and having sets changed by hand by an ordinary stage crew is somehow beneath the dignity of high school students.

What is wrong with using one's imagination and asking the audience to do the same? Why does the venue have to be so magnificent? It is commonplace but I will note anyway that when working in the creative arts, there are huge benefits when doing that work within limits.

It's the race to keep up with the private schools that we are paying for when we build these monuments. I've never been to acting school, but I will bet that peripheral matters such as automatic backdrops and perfect lighting and sitting in the audience and controlling with a laptop have nothing to do with learning the fundamentals of being on stage.


Posted by Joe, a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Feb 14, 2014 at 4:57 pm

And I might add that acting troupes all over the Bay Area change sets by hand. Public high schools having stellar equipment when actual working theaters are successful with ordinary facilities is ridiculous.


Posted by voting NO on the bond, a resident of another community
on Feb 15, 2014 at 12:36 pm

I agree. The SUHSD over spent and took advantage of tax payers when building the performing arts centers. The newest PAC at Carlmont was too extravangant for a high school and now very expensive to run. Local community theater groups can't use it because of the high cost to rent it out.


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