Election: Ravenswood school district seeks voter approval for $26 million bond measure

Superintendent: Measure H will pay for 'critical' improvements at eight schools

"Warm, safe and dry."

That's the slogan of a $26 million bond measure the Ravenswood City School District is asking voters to approve on June 7 to fund capital improvements at the district's eight school sites — improvements district officials say are critical to helping fulfill the basic tenets of keeping students and teachers warm, safe and dry.

The district, with 3,400 students, is headquartered in East Palo Alto but has schools in Menlo Park, as well. Belle Haven Elementary is on Ivy Drive and Willow Oaks is a K-8 school on Willow Road in Menlo Park.

Measure H would provide funding for repairs and upgrades at all eight of the district's school sites, which are more than 50 years old.

The bond measure, which requires approval by 55 percent of the voters to pass, would pay for an array of improvements, including new roofs; upgraded heating, air conditioning, electrical and fire-safety systems; updated plumbing and parking facilities; modernized classrooms to accommodate science, technology, engineering, math and language programs; and new furniture, equipment, classroom technology and landscaping.

An eye toward building more energy-efficient facilities would help the district save money and redirect it into classrooms, Superintendent Gloria Hernandez-Goff wrote in a recent letter to families in the district.

These planned upgrades are a fraction of the $100 million in "critical" district-wide repairs identified through a comprehensive facilities master plan process, Ms. Hernandez-Goff said in an interview. The master plan itself will cost more than $300 million over several years.

Measure H, which the Board of Trustees unanimously approved in March, "will help with some of the most critical needs for the classrooms," she said.

Priority repairs and improvements were identified in meetings district officials held with parents, teachers and staff, she said.

The need for new gas lines and a heating system was evident this past winter when Costano Elementary School in East Palo Alto lost heat due to a gas leak. The district brought in electric space heaters, but the school's "aging" electrical system could not support the number of heaters required, and the school closed early for winter break, Ms. Hernandez-Goff wrote in a December message to parents about the closure.

The district has done repairs and upgrades on a piecemeal, emergency basis. Some roof repairs were done last year to prepare for an anticipated rainy winter. A sewer line under Brentwood Elementary School recently cracked and had to be immediately repaired, she said. Costano's parking lot was resurfaced last summer, but that "wiped out" the district's capital budget, she said. Other "critical and long overdue" upgrades were done last summer at a cost of $2 million, she wrote in her letter to the school community.

The bond measure is also about educational equity, said board President Ana Pulido. For example, the district has been unable to provide the set-up necessary – a sink with flowing water ץ for certain science labs, so students have been using portable labs that limit the number of activities they can do.

Ms. Pulido and Ms. Hernandez-Goff said the bond measure is a first step toward long-term improvements envisioned in the district's facilities master plan.

Measure H would authorize the sale of general obligation bonds, to be repaid over approximately 30 years through a tax on all taxable property — residential, commercial and industrial — located within the school district's boundaries.

The measure's projected annual tax rate is $30 per $100,000 of assessed property value. A property assessed at $700,000, for example, would likely have an annual tax obligation of $210 under this measure.

The total amount repayable during the life of the bonds, including principal and interest, is approximately $44 million, the district estimates.

The bond revenues would only be used for capital improvements. Ms. Pulido and Ms. Hernandez-Goff said they hope voters distinguish a facilities bond measure and the $196 a year parcel tax voters approved in 2011 to pay for operations.

State law requires that the district establish an independent citizens' oversight committee and conduct annual audits to ensure that funds from the sale of bonds are spent only on voter-approved projects.

The only official opposition to Measure H has been the Silicon Valley Taxpayer's Association, a Cupertino organization "dedicated to protecting the rights and interests of the taxpayers of Silicon Valley against the overreaching and overspending of government," according to the group's website.

Mark Hinkle, president of the association, said while he is not very familiar with the Ravenswood school district, he opposes Measure H from a more philosophical standpoint. It is unfair and unjustified, he said, to saddle taxpayers with the cost of something that should be covered by the district's own budget.

"Every time a governmental body puts a bond measure or parcel tax on the ballot, what they're in fact saying is, 'Everything we're currently spending money on is more important than this measure,'" he told the Weekly. "If it's important, why isn't it in the current budget?"

Mr. Hinkle also voiced concern about the general obligation bond's 30-year lifespan and the prospect of potentially high bond interest rates.

The association's website includes official opposition statements to several other school measures on the June 7 ballot.

The first time the school district put a bond measure on the ballot, in 1996, voters overwhelmingly approved the $6 million measure to pay for repairs and renovation.

Four years later, the district put a $10 million bond measure on the ballot to help finish projects started under the 1996 measure and to build a new high school, which is now Aspire East Palo Alto Charter School.(Ravenswood still owns the site, but it is not a district school). Measure C passed with 86 percent of the vote.

The school district recently polled voters about the bond measure and 84 percent of the respondents said they would support it, according to Ravenswood.

Voters can vote by mail, online or in-person at local voting centers through June 7. More information is available online from the San Mateo County Elections Office and in voter information pamphlets the county mails to registered voters.

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