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 www.seq.org, click on the "Site Map" link, then page down to "Business with the District."