High school district puts $265 million bond measure on June ballot

The Sequoia Union High School District board decided on Wednesday (Feb. 26) to put a $265 million bond measure on the June 3 ballot.

Approval by voters would enable the district to open new classrooms in time for the anticipated enrollment surge at the start of the 2015-16 school year.

School construction bond measures pass with the approval of a 55 percent majority of voters, a lower threshold than the two-thirds majority needed for typical tax increases. In exchange, the agency proposing the bond measure must include a list of projects that the money would pay for.

It is common practice to use broadly worded descriptions for the items on the project list so as to allow flexibility when working out the details of construction. The lower threshold also requires oversight of spending by a committee of citizens, including a member from the business community and from bona fide organizations representing senior citizens and taxpayers.

A measure for $265 million would mean a tax on properties in the Sequoia district of $16 per $100,000 of assessed value.

The Sequoia district includes Atherton, Woodside, Portola Valley, Menlo Park and the nearby unincorporated communities such as Ladera and Los Trancos Woods.

The board reached a consensus, but without a resolution and ballot language to vote on, members delayed a formal decision until a special meeting on Wednesday, March 5. All ballot paperwork must be complete and submitted to the county elections office by March 7.

With enrollment in the district expected to grow by at least 20 percent by the 2020-21 school year, and with the campuses, including Menlo-Atherton and Woodside high schools, all but built out, the district would use the money to add classrooms and related facilities such as offices and bathrooms as well as more parking, gyms at two schools, and a second set of lights for athletic practice on each campus.

Construction of two new small magnet schools of 300 to 400 students each would also be a priority, with one in the Menlo Park area to specifically relieve enrollment pressure on M-A. Each would need a specific curriculum focus, such as art or science, to attract students away from the comprehensive schools; that matter is now under study.

Comment from the public split about evenly on the question of when to hold the election. A June election makes the money available sooner, but waiting for November would give the volunteers time to more fully engage the community. Some school communities in the northern part of the district are just hearing about the enrollment surge, one potential volunteer said.

Other factors the board considered as far as timing: the advantages of low turnout in June versus higher turnout in November, and competition from other bond measures on the ballot. The Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District is likely to be running a $300 million bond measure in June, an election consultant told the board.

But in November, competing bond measures could include one from the San Mateo County Community College District and another from the state to fund school construction, board members said.

An earlier version of this story included an inaccurate statement about the true cost of this bond measure when taking into consideration the interest paid on the bonds.


Posted by TaxTired, a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Mar 5, 2014 at 9:04 am

Another massive bond on the ballot. Didn't the last time Sequoia had a bond we ended up paying a huge amount for the Menlo Atherton Performing Arts Center? Was that really a good use of our tax dollars? Now they want a "broadly worded" bond to allow them flexibility to spend the money as they want. Looking at my tax bill I see we are already paying for a Menlo Park School Elementary Bond from 2005, another Sequoia High School bond from 2005 a San Mateo Junior college bond and Menlo Park just passed a bond to put a new school in the district. Those bonds alone add up to over $100 per assessed $100,000. Give that a cheap house in this area is probably in excess of $1,000,000 that is over an additional $1,000 a year per family.

My opinion is that it is time to say no to these bond measures. The Open Trust and the School districts need to live within their means and quit trying to tax everyone more.

Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Mar 5, 2014 at 9:33 am

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Mar 2, 2014 at 12:27 pm
Peter Carpenter is a registered user.
It is a bit perplexing.

The SUHSD has capital assets of $320M and current bond indebtedness of $336M so they owe more than their current assets are worth.

And now that want to borrow $265M more to increase their capital assets to $485M - a 80% increase in their capital assets.

Three questions:
1 - How can they justify a a 80% increase in their capital assets vs a much lower increase in population served?

2 - How can they justify not funding capital improvements, or at least a significant portion of them, from their property tax revenues?

3 - At what point will the voters decide that the SUHSD simply is carrying too much debt?

Another question comes to mind:
- What will be the increase in operating expenses, which must be paid for by property taxes and not by bond proceeds, when the capital assets increase by 80% and will the property tax revenues be sufficient? If not then the district will be building buildings that it cannot afford to operate.

To be clear, I am a great proponent of education and our son went through grade school at Encinal and high school at MA. But I am also a strong proponent of good management, fiscal discipline, public agency transparency and careful stewardship of taxpayers' dollars.

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