Schools - January 23, 2008

Election 2008: It takes a village to spend school bond-measure funds

by David Boyce

If voters approve Measure J on Feb. 5, thereby giving the high school district some $165 million to further improve its campuses and construct a new one, a community group will be checking to see that the spending fits within a list of intended projects.

That group will be a committee of volunteers who live in the Sequoia Union High School District and who will likely meet about five times a year to represent the taxpaying public. The oversight is a tradeoff that school districts can make in exchange for lowering the legal threshold for voter approval — from a two-thirds majority to 55 percent — for passage of a bond measure.

The major priorities for Measure J include $25 million to $30 million to build a stand-alone career technical education center and renovate existing technology-oriented classrooms on the campuses; a 10-year, $10 million fund to regularly upgrade the district's technology assets; a new 400-student high school in East Palo Alto at a cost of $14 million to $17 million; and energy efficiency improvements throughout the district, district officials say.

Some of the funding might also go to complete construction of the new performing arts center at Menlo-Atherton High School, originally estimated in 2005 at $17 million and recently revised to $32.5 million.

Past oversight committees have tracked the construction of a new theater at Woodside High and a new gym at M-A, both of which used funds from an $88 million bond measure passed in 2001. Among the committee members then: a certified public accountant, an attorney, an engineer, a facilities manager, a restaurant owner, a management consultant and a general contractor.

Another committee was formed in 2005 to track spending for a $70 million bond measure passed in 2004. Some of the members of the first committee stayed on.

The district will be seeking more volunteers if Measure J passes. There are signs of burn-out among some of the original committee members, says Sequoia district Superintendent Pat Gemma.

Saying yea, and nay

If Measure J passes, the Sequoia district's agents would sell the bonds in stages and the proceeds would be banked. Ed LaVigne, the district's chief financial officer, would then present proposals for spending the money to the citizens' oversight committee.

What can and cannot be done with the money is governed by the project list included in the ballot language. The list's language is occasionally ambiguous to allow flexibility in coping with unforeseen factors such as rising construction or material costs, Mr. LaVigne said.

According to the "prevailing legal view," the district is not obligated to complete or even begin everything on the list, but it cannot spend bond money on anything that is not on the list, he said.

The 58-item list for Measure J includes many specific proposals. Menlo-Atherton High School's items, for example, include a project to "renovate/reconstruct and upgrade Pride Hall." At Woodside High, the district would like to "renovate and repair parking lots."

There are also general items open to interpretation, such as: "Furnishing and equipping of classrooms and other facilities, including school-site maintenance equipment, copy machines and school office equipment. …"

Judgment calls on such items would be up to the oversight committee. The committees for earlier bonds usually found Mr. LaVigne's proposals in keeping with the lists, he said in an e-mail.

It did reject a proposal to spend $3,500 on a postal meter. "I thought (it) fit a general 'school equipment' descriptor and the committee felt it was a stretch," he says. "They asked me to move it out and I did."

For more information on the citizens' oversight committee, go to the Sequoia district Web site at, click on the "Site Map" link, then page down to "Business with the District."


Posted by Jack Hickey, a resident of Woodside High School
on Jan 31, 2008 at 10:27 pm

NO on Sequoia J Bonds
Measure J, a $165,000,000 Sequoia Union High School District Bond follows the 2001 $88,000,000 Measure G and the 2004 $70,000,000 Measure H ($34,156,217 unspent). Tens of Millions more in state matching funds fuel the fire of state bonded indebtedness, now at crisis proportions.
Tax subsidized education should be a no nonsense, no frills proposition, funded by existing property taxes within the 1% ceiling created by Prop. 13.. Technology companies should underwrite the education aimed at providing them with a skilled workforce.
Politicians, bureaucrats and beneficiaries (Friedmans' Iron Triangle) are mortgaging our children's future.
Emboldened by Prop. 39, which lowered the 2/3 vote to 55%, the elitist education establishment is converting our government schools, arguably a "safety net" for financially challenged families, into Secular Humanist Temples for the pagan god of government.

Let's follow the campaign money ($171,800) which has provided 3 mailings to voters:
See Web Link and Web Link
To put a face on donors who have a financial stake, I have included some business websites. $10,000, Anza $1,000, $5,000, Stanford Schools Corp. $9,500, $2,000, $2,500, $500, Spenser (sic) Spencer Associates $5,000, Armus $500, $10,000, $1,000, $5,000, Bayside $500, Intermountain Electric Company $500, MK Pipelines Inc. $500, $2,500. $3000, $1,000, $1,000 Total $61,000!
Philanthropy? $55,000
Colleen Tate $40,000, William H. Younger, Jr. $10,000, Julie Brody $5,000
California Teachers Association $5,000.
As tax burdened families face financial challenges, education alternatives diminish.
It's time for a change! Vote "NO" on Measure "J"!

Posted by John, a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Jan 31, 2008 at 11:07 pm

Please vote no on this We are being taxed by ourselves into indebtness. The schools do not need this. Look at Hillview, still paying off bonds for the buildingd being torn down! Menlo Park needs a unified school district. Please stop taxing ourwelves. Enough!

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