Schools seek funds in March election

Foothill Pool” width=
Megan V. Winslow/Town Crier
Repairing and upgrading athletic facilities is on the list of potential projects an $898 million bond measure would fund. The pool at Foothill College, above, could see improvements.

The March 3 primary election is right around the corner, and in addition to the presidential race at the top of the ballot, voters will have the opportunity to weigh in on a number of local school funding measures.

The Foothill-De Anza Community College District, Cupertino Union School District and Mountain View Whisman School District all have bond or parcel tax measures on the ballot. All of the measures include language prohibiting funds from being spent on administrator salaries.

The bond measures require 55% approval to pass, while the parcel taxes require a two-thirds vote.

FHDA Community College District

Local residents will have the chance to vote on both a bond and parcel tax measure from the community college district.

Measure G is an $898 million bond that would authorize a property tax increase of $16 per $100,000 of assessed value. Including interest, the total amount expected to be repaid if all the bonds are sold is approximately $1.57 billion. Based on current estimates, the tax is anticipated to be collected through the 2053-2054 fiscal year.

Measure H would levy a tax of $48 per parcel for five years, raising $5.5 million annually.

According to Chancellor Judy Miner, the two measures would help fund more than $1.5 billion in capital projects and equipment needs the colleges face. The board reviewed the list last November.

“That’s always been a really important part of the foundation for our work going forward,” Miner said.

The list includes expanding and improving classrooms, improving accessibility for students with disabilities and providing affordable student and employee housing.

On its website, the district has published a list of potential projects that could be funded by the bond and parcel tax.

The bond is focused on constructing, upgrading and repairing facilities. Among the example projects are repairing and replacing roofs, improving athletic facilities and upgrading campus infrastructure, such as sewer, gas and electrical systems.

The district also is proposing setting aside $200 million to $300 million for subsidized student and employee housing. This could involve putting money toward partnerships with outside groups, such as Santa Clara County Supervisor Joe Simitian’s plan to build housing on a site in Palo Alto for local school district employees.

Miner said that though the district is “not interested in getting into the housing business,” there is an interest in prioritizing ensuring the campus community has affordable places to live.

“We definitely want to contribute to alleviating that burden for our folks,” she said. “That’s definitely important.”

The parcel tax would tackle a variety of measures, including expanding mental health and counseling services, providing services to address student food insecurity and retaining faculty.

The district’s last bond was approved in 2006 and raised $490 million. In 2010, the district sought a $69 parcel tax that would have raised $7 million annually for six years. However, the measure only received 58% of the vote, falling short of the required two-thirds.

Cupertino Union School District

The Cupertino district has brought forward Measure O, a parcel tax that would raise approximately $4.3 million annually for five years. The measure would levy a $125 tax per parcel.

According to district COO Jeff Bowman, the money would go toward maintaining high-quality programs, as well as retaining teachers and other school personnel.

“It really is focusing on how we continue to provide the best academic programs to our students and to make sure that we’re able to keep our staff here,” Bowman said. “We know that great teachers are important to schools.”

The Cupertino district covers areas of south Los Altos and includes Montclaire Elementary School within city boundaries.

Because of the way school funding is determined in California, the Cupertino district receives less per student than other local districts. In the 2017-2018 school year, Cupertino received $8,390 in per-pupil funding, compared to a countywide average of $10,963.

“We are in a very unique position,” Bowman said. “We are one of the lowest-funded school districts in a very wealthy area.”

The last time voters approved a parcel tax for the district was in 2014, when they passed Measure A, which runs for eight years through June 30, 2023, and costs $250 annually per parcel.

Mountain View Whisman School District

The Mountain View Whisman district has placed a $259 million bond measure on the ballot. Measure T would authorize a property tax increase of $30 per $100,000 of assessed value. Including interest, approximately $538 million is ultimately expected to need to be repaid if all the bonds are sold. Current estimates anticipate the tax will be collected through fiscal year 2048-2049.

“First and foremost, we have some operational needs that we need to tackle,” Superintendent Ayinde Rudolph said.

The district’s Master Facilities Plan for the next decade lays out the projects the bond would help fund. The recommendations call for $102.1 million in safety and efficiency projects, including improving campus security measures, installing solar panels and replacing aging infrastructure; $34.8 million in projects aimed at helping the district accommodate enrollment growth in the short term; $40 million to pay off the financing that funded the construction of Jose Antonio Vargas Elementary School; and $60 million for staff housing.

The district has entered into a deal with a private developer to offer 144 rental units to district staff, as part of a 716-unit residential project at 777 W. Middlefield Road. According to Rudolph, the district has raised teacher salaries by 28% over the past five years and increased its retention rate.

“But that isn’t enough to help people realize the American dream, which is homeownership,” he said.

Offering subsidized staff housing is a necessary piece of the puzzle to help staff save the money necessary to purchase a home, Rudolph added.

The district’s last bond was approved in 2012, when voters passed Measure G. That bond measure raised $198 million and similarly authorized a property tax increase of $30 per $100,000 of assessed value.

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