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Morgan Hill
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October 16, 2021

Move ahead – now – on Sobrato High

Amid the recent talk among some members of the school board and
the public about not building a second high school at all, amid the
foot-dragging by trustees on eminent domain to acquire land for
Sobrato High School, one important detail has been overlooked: The
Morgan Hill School District and its trustees have a moral,
political and legal obligation to build a second high school.
Amid the recent talk among some members of the school board and the public about not building a second high school at all, amid the foot-dragging by trustees on eminent domain to acquire land for Sobrato High School, one important detail has been overlooked: The Morgan Hill School District and its trustees have a moral, political and legal obligation to build a second high school.

Voters passed Measure B on June 8, 1999 – nearly four years ago – after reading the following language at the ballot box:

“In order to permit the Morgan Hill Unified School District to finance construction of a new high school, renovations to Live Oak High School, and construction of a new elementary school, shall the District be authorized to incur bond indebtedness for the acquisition and improvement of real property authorized for school purposes, in the principal amount of $72,500,000, to bear interest at rates not exceeding the statutory maximum?”

When Measure B was approved by voters, the district became party to a moral contract with the community to build a second high school. That obligation was strengthened when trustees approved the issuance of the bonds – $38 million in June 2000, and $34.5 million in February 2002. Property owners have paid increased property taxes and investors have purchased these bonds based on the district’s promise that it will build a new high school.

Measure B was passed on campaign promises of a second high school on donated land, and the talk then was that Sobrato High School would open in the fall of 2001. Parents are now registering their middle and high school students for the fall of 2003, and Sobrato’s opening is optimistically just two years away.

Another class of ninth-graders – this time, the class of 2007, like more than two decades of freshmen before them – will start “high school” on one of the district’s two middle school campuses.

Another set of students, parents, teachers and administrators are dealing with the hassles that come with having high school students attend middle schools. If you’re a ninth grader who is ready for advanced foreign language classes, for example, they’re likely not available in your middle school surroundings, so you have to find midday transportation to and from the Live Oak campus, or not take the classes.

The same hassles apply to many other high school activities, which the “Live Oak” freshman are invited and encouraged to attend, including sports, bands, dances and clubs, to name just a few.

Another year sees another campus full of Live Oak students attending a large high school, instead of a facility with a smaller student population. Studies show students in smaller high schools perform better academically, graduate at higher rates, experience lower drop out rates, and enjoy a safer environment.

The school board has authorized the sale of all $72.5 million of bonds, and has kept to some degree two of its three promises for the use of that money. They’ve built – although late and over budget – Barrett Elementary School. Live Oak High School renovations are well under way but a long way from being complete and making it more or less equal to the new, yet-to-be-built high school.

Then there’s the the long-overdue, much-needed, court-contested Sobrato High School. Besides questioning the wisdom of building a second high school at all, some trustees are foot-dragging on eminent domain, which they apparently find distasteful.

Eminent domain, or the forced sale of private property to a government agency for the greater good of the community, is an unpleasant but utterly necessary business. No one should take eminent domain lightly, but it’s important to remember that property sellers are fairly compensated – if the district and the sellers can’t agree on a price, a judge or jury acts as mediator. The failure to acquire the property needed for a second high school will greatly damage thousands of Morgan Hill School District students.

These trustees need to put their distaste for the process aside and remember their duty to the students, voters and taxpayers of the district, and to bond holders, and get the eminent domain job done – now.

The same trustees need to put aside doubts about student enrollment and cost to operate a new facility. The district has taxed property owners and sold bonds to investors on the promise of a second high school. After passing a bond measure and issuing bonds, it’s beyond too late to drag up enrollment and overhead concerns. Questions about how the district will pay operational costs of the new school are real but it is the obligation of the board and administration to make sure that money is there.

Yes, the economy is sour now, but that will change – it always does – and a new high school’s classrooms will be soon be bursting at the seams. Mark our words, in the not-too-distant future, we’ll be talking about the need for a third high school in the Morgan Hill School District.

A citizen’s oversight committee meets monthly to review how the Measure B bond proceeds are being spent. We urge them to remind trustees of their obligations to voters, property owners and bond holders.

Trustees must find the money, summon the will and honor their obligations – and get a second high school built for the students of Morgan Hill, San Martin and south San Jose – now.

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