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.