Mountain View Voice

News - April 30, 2010

Poll shows support for school bond

MV Whisman could raise $200-plus million if issue goes to Nov. ballot

by Andrea Gemmet

It would seem like a bad time to ask anyone for money, but a new survey of likely voters shows a strong level of support for a school construction bond measure in the Mountain View Whisman School District.

Officials in the district have come up with 10-year master plan that identifies $422 million in construction and renovation projects at its elementary and middle school campuses.

Figuring out how to finance even a portion of those projects is a big hurdle in California, as the cash-strapped state has been steadily chipping away at education funding.

A phone survey of 350 people conducted in late March shows that a clear majority of likely voters would support a bond measure, even at the highest level of $30 per $100,000 of assessed property value, according to the district's pollster, Gene Bregman. People surveyed reacted even more favorably to being taxed at lower rates, with 71 percent in favor of $15 per $100,000 of assessed value, he said.

"Even at the top tax rate, (approval) is still at 61 percent," Bregman told the school board at its April 22 meeting. "It's very encouraging."

The bond measure would require a 55 percent majority to pass. Even at the highest tax rate, it would only raise $200 million — not quite enough for the $240 million projected cost of top priority projects.

Board members opted to proceed cautiously with the survey results, asking for more information before they decide whether to seek the bond measure. In order to qualify for the November ballot, the board must act by Aug. 6.

"It's interesting that there's so much support," said board member Steve Olson. "It's a terrible time, but maybe people are saying, 'You must really need it if you're going out for it right now.'"

Ellen Wheeler, the board's vice president, said she thought the district would be better off seeking a parcel tax to raise money for educational programs and teacher salaries, rather than a construction bond.

"We can't go to the well too often. I'm seeing around the state an interest in things that a parcel tax pays for," she said. "The thing I'm worried about is if we go for a bond, our voters will be unenthusiastic about going for a parcel tax."

While bond money can't be used for salaries, it could pay for some of the safety upgrades and additional classroom space identified in the district's draft student facilities improvement plan. The plan has been taking shape over the past 18 months, and includes projects to add two-story classroom buildings, remove portable buildings and upgrade classroom technology, as well as a myriad of infrastructure and energy efficiency improvements.

Demographic projections show that district schools will run out of classroom space by 2013 due to climbing enrollment.

"I think you're in very good shape," Bregman said. "A lot of people (surveyed) do not know why you're asking for a bond measure — they trust you, essentially."

Unsurprisingly, pollsters found the biggest supporters of a bond are the parents of students. Those least likely to support it are older Republican men, said Bregman.

Overall, people who responded like the idea that bond money is under local control, and that building additional classrooms will allow more children to attend their neighborhood schools, he said.

The need to remove asbestos and lead, and to bring school buildings up to current seismic safety codes, also resonated with the people surveyed, Bregman said.

E-mail Andrea Gemmet at agemmet@mv-voice.com

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