The Super Tuesday ballot is a crowded one, with several bond and parcel tax initiatives to benefit public education, including Mountain View Whisman School District's $259 million Measure T bond. The bond, which requires a 55% yes vote to pass, would cost district property owners $30 per $100,000 of assessed value annually.
While being wary of tax increases is understandable, particularly with several measures stacked on the March 3 ballot, we believe Measure T is a worthwhile and necessary investment to improve school facilities, expand to handle short-term growth, pay off debt from past projects, and provide affordable housing for district teachers and staff. Just as property owners benefit from Mountain View's reputable schools, local districts are dependent upon support from property owners to maintain the quality schools they have come to expect.
Unlike the district's 2012 Measure G bond, Mountain View Whisman trustees approved a list of priority projects for Measure T that allocates nearly all of the $259 million, which should prevent delays that have hindered past projects and allow some wish-list items that weren't prioritized in the previous bond to get done.
Just over $102 million of the bond would go toward improvements at all of the school sites, ranging from safety and efficiency upgrades like perimeter fencing and new windows to extra storage space for teachers. Another $34.8 million in funds are earmarked for short-term growth. Reports from November indicate that the school district needs to be ready to house an additional 889 students in the coming years, and that some sites, like Landels Elementary School, are not currently equipped for an influx of children.
Measure T funds would not be spent on addressing future residential growth in the North Bayshore and East Whisman areas of the city, as the funds could easily be swallowed up trying to build a single school in North Bayshore. But with the city's population slated to jump by 75% in the coming decades, the district needs to start tackling growth now so students in the short term won't be negatively impacted, and to keep the district from being bogged down by too many project demands in the future.
About $60 million in Measure T funds would address a byproduct of the region's job and population boom -- the dire lack of affordable housing. Under a deal with the city of Mountain View and a developer, the school district will contribute $56 million to help design and build a 716-unit apartment complex on W. Middlefield Road in return for full control of a 144-unit building that it can then lease out to teachers and staff. Without Measure T, the district does not have a clear way to pay for the upfront construction costs of the housing. It would be one of the largest teacher housing projects in the Bay Area and could serve as a model for workforce housing -- not to mention what it could do for teacher retention locally.
Measure T would also help the district pay off $40 million in outstanding debt that was borrowed against future revenue from leasing out former school sites in order to finance new construction. This would not only free up $2.6 million in cash that could go to classrooms instead of debt repayment, but also provide a pathway for the district to sever lease agreements and reclaim former school sites -- which could be essential given the projected future growth.
Opponents of the bond initiative are critical of the district's spending plan -- pointing out that it includes projects that were supposed to be addressed with Measure G funds -- as well as the ballot language itself. Despite the project list, the funds could be used to finance practically any school-related construction project. We believe overly specific ballot language could hinder the district, whereas having a spending plan provides specificity while still allowing for flexibility for the 'what-ifs,' as school board member Laura Blakely told the Voice. Trustees and district officials are well aware they would be held accountable for any perceived transgressions.
Much has changed in Mountain View since the district's last bond initiative, Measure G, passed in 2012, and more housing development is on the horizon -- meaning more residents and a projected influx of 2,500 additional district students over the next 20 years. Measure T doesn't address this long-term growth, but taking that population boom into account, voters should approve this initiative to take care of some of Mountain View Whisman's needs now rather than wait for more issues to mount. Vote yes on Measure T.