By Juan Reyes
The clock is ticking for the Morgan Hill Unified School District as supporters for Measure I make a final push to convince the district’s registered voters to approve a hefty school bond.
The $900 million school bond, known as Measure I, will be on the ballot for the primary election on March 3. County elections officials will begin mailing out ballots to voters in early February.
It’s the biggest school bond issue on Santa Clara County ballots, which also includes votes on 10 other bond issues in different jurisdictions.
At least 55 percent of registered voters would need to vote yes in order for the Measure I bond to pass.
The school district is asking for the giant bond issue to fund what it says are much-needed repairs and renovations to all of its 14 schools, along with some major touchups over the next 30 years.
In 2017, the district completed a Facility Master Plan outlining nearly $1 billion in short-term and long-term upgrades and repairs across each school site.
The FMP, which can be found on the district’s website at mhusd.org, reports both high school sites are seeking the most money for major renovations on their respective campuses.
Live Oak High has 16 projects on its to-do list, totaling $133 million that includes $44 million for science, arts CTE and electives programs. Other costly projects on the list include $17.9 million to build new classrooms, $13.7 million for a multi purpose room, student union and food service improvements, $11 million for performing arts improvements and $10 million for physical education improvements.
Ann Sobrato High School is asking for $59.9 million for 16 construction projects. The most expensive project in the master plan includes $13.9 million for exterior play spaces, playfields and hardcourts.
The plan for Sobrato also includes the use of $9.6 million for a multi purpose room, student union and food service improvements, $6.6 million to modernize and reconfigure existing classrooms and $4.6 million to repair building systems, toilets and improved energy efficiency.
The remaining school sites include Barrett Elementary asking for $17.7 million, followed by El Toro Health Science Academy ($24.9 million), Charter School of Morgan Hill ($42.5 million), Jackson Academy of Math and Music ($54.4 million), Loritta Bonfante Johnson Education Center ($20.3 million), Los Paseos Elementary ($38.5 million), Martin Murphy Middle ($28 million), Nordstrom Elementary ($47.5 million), Paradise Valley Engineering Academy ($19.2 million), San Martin/Gwinn Environmental Science Academy ($32 million) and P.A. Walsh STEAM Academy ($53.9 million).
Carol Ann Gittens, a trustee and current president of the MHUSD Board of Education, wrote in a guest opinion piece for the Morgan Hill Times that the $900 million worth of bonds will be used to pay for upgrades to fire alarms, fire sprinklers, electrical, plumbing and security systems.
She also plans to focus funds on retrofitting classrooms, which means meeting earthquake safety standards.
Gittens is part of a campaign called Friends of Morgan Hill Unified Schools 2020, which paid for advertisements in support of a Yes vote on Measure I.
According to the group’s website, several Morgan Hill Unified School sites were built more than 40 years ago and the outdated buildings need important health and safety repairs.
The high schools’ vocational programs need upgraded equipment and labs to provide quality job training skills to students, according to the website. It’s also a way to try to retain and attract quality teachers.
Claudia Rossi, the president of the Santa Clara County Board of Education, is part of a long list of people endorsing the bond.
The Charter School of Morgan Hill, Jackson Academy, Los Paseos, Nordstrom and P.A.Walsh are all in need of a significant amount of money to build new classrooms, according to the district’s master plan.
The District Office is seeking to upgrade its facilities with two options in mind. First, the district is asking $9.1 million with a majority ($8.5) of it going to staff and parent support.
They would expand into the nearby print shop and food services warehouse, as well.
It also includes help with building systems, toilets and improved energy efficiency, site utilities, safety and security and parking and drop off.
The second option has a price tag of $16.3 million, again most of it going to staff and parent support ($13.1) and parking and drop off ($2.5).
According to the FMP, these costs reflect what the District Office calls an alternative option, which means building a new District Office headquarters.
The District Office arranged a Facility Condition Assessment process, through which they learned that personnel may be better accommodated in a new or different building.
The Silicon Valley Taxpayers Association (STA) along with David Gerard, who served as an MHUSD trustee from 2014-18, is strictly opposed to Measure I.
“Measure I impacts working class people who are living from paycheck to paycheck and seniors on fixed income disproportionately,” Gerard said.
Gerard said seniors don’t get an exemption and a tax fee of at least $500 can be a big expense for someone earning $2,000 a month on social security.
“I know older people who are never going to come up with extra money and there will be more taxes,” Gerard said.
The resolution presented by MHUSD states that Measure I will authorize $900 million in bonds at legal rates, levying, on average, 4.7 cents for $100 assessed value for $27.9 million annually.
Taxpayers can end up paying $47 per $100,000 in assessed value, which means a homeowner with a house worth $500,000 will end up paying an additional $235 in taxes each year.
Gerard said the timing is wrong because of California Proposition 13, which is a $15-billion education facilities bond measure that’s also on the ballot.
Of the $15 billion in bonds, $9 billion would be for preschool and K-12 schools, $4 billion would be for universities and $2 billion would be for community colleges.
Gerard said the school district should wait to see if the state bond passes and then apply for funding. He said MHUSD is asking almost 1/15th of what the state is asking for.
“We don’t have schools that are crumbling,” Gerard said.
The STA website claims the total dollars needed to do everything on MHUSD’s wish list is about $699.8 million.
STA states “that includes $28.8 Million for Britton that was paid for by the previous bond measure. Assuming they paid for nothing else from the FMP, the remaining cost to do 100 percent of what they are asking for in the FMP is $671 Million.”
The website also claims the FMP reported $90 Million for two new sites and an 11-year enrollment projection shows an increase in elementary students of 222 over that period.
Education Data Partnership shows MHUSD enrollment of at least 9,133 students in the 2017-18 school year, down from at least 9,620 students in 2012.
That means this bond will cost $98,543 per student—not counting interest rates up to 12 percent—versus the $20,608 debt per student just eight years ago, according to STA.
In 2012, Measure G was approved by the district’s voters. It was a $198 Million MHUSD bond measure.
The 2017 FMP shows $143 Million of the $198 Million had not been spent. They committed $50 million to Britton Middle School and $93 million remained available for FMP projects.
Plus, the total construction and projected costs were estimated for 2017, which means there have been some increases in construction costs.
“I just think that we need to be extremely careful,” Gerard said. “It seems good but for average working class people, it’s not fantastic.”
Visit the MHUSD website and click on each school for more details on Measure I: https://www.mhusd.org/departments/business-services/2020-bond-initiative