School district seeks approval of $198 million bond
Officials with the local elementary and middle school district are asking voters to approve a $198 million bond measure to modernize and improve school facilities and safety infrastructure.
The proposed bond, which will appear on the June 5 ballot, would be supported by area home owners who would pay up to $30 per $100,000 of assessed property value for 25 years. It requires a yes vote of 55 percent to pass. It would come on top of Measure C, the eight-year, $3 million voter-approved parcel tax that went into effect in 2009. Depending on parcel size, property owners are assessed anywhere from nearly $150 to over $1,000 a year under Measure C.
Money generated by the passage of the bond cannot be used for teacher or administrator salaries.
Proponents of Measure G say the Mountain View Whisman School District needs the money to pay for an array of projects at all nine of its campuses — including major structural repairs, safety and accessibility improvements, technological upgrades, and the construction of new, energy efficient classrooms, along with the removal of permanent and portable structures past their prime.
Opponents of the bond claim that the district should have sought more community input and overlooked simpler, more cost-effective solutions.
The district's student population is projected to swell to as many as 5,500 children over the next five years, according to Fiona Walter, a district trustee. In order to accommodate that growth, she said, the district will have to build more classrooms, purchase new equipment and, in all likelihood, reopen the Whisman campus. All of that will take money, Walter said. "We need to be proactive and have the money in hand."
Beyond being prepared for an influx of students, Walter noted that an overhaul of some of the district's older buildings and facilities is in order. "With 50- to 60-year-old buildings, the majority of maintenance requirements can't be covered by our annual budget," she said.
There are some multipurpose rooms in the district that don't meet current seismic codes, and there are fire alarm systems that aren't connected to one another and don't communicate directly with the fire department.
While Mountain View residents Steve Nelson and Alan J. Keith say they are all for ensuring the future prosperity of local schools, they take issue with much of Measure G. Both Nelson and Keith signed the "Arguments Against Measure G" in the Santa Clara County voter guide.
Nelson and Keith charge that district officials have failed to present the community with a detailed vision for how the money will be spent and that the board of trustees, along with district administrators, did not secure adequate public input before placing the bond proposal on the ballot.
Nelson said he was particularly concerned with what he referred to as a "laundry list" of projects under the district's Student Facility Improvement Plan, which outlines everything district officials believe their schools need. Although the plan (or "Master Plan" as it is alternately called) sorts projects into three priority levels, Nelson dislikes that it does not organize each individual project from highest priority to lowest.
Nelson and Keith argue that district officials should have been able to organize the 51 projects in order of importance and they should have also provided a timeline for the completion of each. Without it, Nelson said, the project is likely to proceed inefficiently.
Walter said that if district officials were to make such specific promises they would inevitably have their "hands tied" further down the road. Running a district is complicated and contingent on unforeseeable factors, she said. "A little bit of flexibility goes a long way."
Because the total estimated cost of all the projects on the improvement plan is more than $400 million, Nelson wondered whether the district would simply come back with another bond measure once it had spent the $198 million.
Because the current list of Measure G will ultimately be whittled down (should the bond pass), Walter said the public can rest assured that the board of trustees will not come back asking for more money.
"That is not part of the plans," she said. "We have no intention of going back to the community any time in the near future."
All of Measure G's shortcomings, Nelson told the Voice, can be traced back to the fact that the district did not hold what is commonly referred to as a "7-11 committee" — a committee of seven to 11 community members that could inform district officials which projects should be completed first.
"We're not against financing the improvement of schools," Keith said. "We want the superintendent and the district to tell us what projects they are going to do and the timeline. They don't seem to be willing to do that."
Walter explained that the projects listed in the SFIP are simply a "wish list" — a compilation of all the things district officials would like to see happen for the schools. Should the measure pass, a community bond oversight committee (similar to Nelson's 7-11 committee) would be formed, Walker said. "We can't legally apply a 7-11 committee to this situation," Walter said.
The measure has the support of many local elected officials — including state Sen. Joe Simitian, Mountain View Mayor Mike Kasperzak, city council members and, of course, the district board of trustees. Prominent community members, teachers and local school principals have also publicly expressed support for the bond. A December 2011 phone poll commissioned by the district showed Measure G with well about the 55 percent support it needs to pass.
That survey, conducted by Gene Bregman & Associates, found that more than 60 percent of local voters felt that the district had at least some need for more money. The survey also reported that a majority of those polled would support the proposed bond.
Nelson acknowledges that he has taken up a "minority position" in his battle against Measure G. Nevertheless, he and Keith said they hope voters will reject the bond when they head to the polls next month.
"I just think the money could be better spent," Keith said.
Superintendent Craig Goldman said he is confident that a majority of Mountain View residents do not share that view.
"We believe community members will understand that we need to maintain our facilities," Goldman said. "As a district it is important that we be proactive in the management of our facilities and planning for the future needs of the district. It's essential that our schools are able to grow with Mountain View. We believe that our strong schools are part of a formula that makes Mountain View great and ensures a strong local economy."