NEWMAN - School board members last week voted to put a $35 million bond measure before Newman-Crows Landing voters in March.
If approved - which requires 55 percent voter support - the measure would raise property taxes by $60 per $100,000 of assessed valuation throughout the school district. The ballot item will be known as Measure K.
Superintendent Randy Fillpot said the bond funds are critical for the district to begin addressing a wide variety of facility needs.
He said renovation of aging locker rooms at Orestimba and replacement of an inadequate multi-use room at Von Renner Elementary are among the district’s most visible and pressing needs and would be likely priorities.
Board members have also voiced their support for construction of a competition pool at Orestimba which would be open to the community outside of school hours.
The bond language would also allow the district to use proceeds for construction of below-market rate staff housing, pay off previous facility debt, build facilities such as classrooms, science labs and multi-use rooms, and upgrade aging infrastructure.
The project list, bond consultant Dale Scott acknowledged to the board, is intentionally broad and general in nature to give the district flexibility going forward in how to use the bond proceeds.
With few exceptions the list does not identify specific projects. While the list enables the district to pursue projects which fall within the broad parameters (such as “repair and upgrade roofs, ceilings, walls and floors”) it does not commit the district to any particular project.
“If you want to do a project, it has to be listed,” Scott told the board. “It doesn’t mean you have to do every project on the list. You want to give yourself the latitude to do additional projects down the line. You want to have enough flexibility, but you want to give the voters a good sense of your priorities.”
Board member Paul Wallace asked whether the district will provide additional information on projects as the election approaches.
“Is this going to be as much detail as we give the public when they are making that decision?” he questioned.
Superintendent Randy Fillpot said that the district will conduct outreach starting in January.
“We will have public meetings to explain what we have in mind,” he stated. “There are a lot of things that we need to do that are very obvious.”
Fillpot later told Mattos Newspapers that board discussions on project priorities will be ongoing.
“By mid-January we will have a pretty good idea of what the desire of the board is. That is something that we will start communicating more heavily with the community at that time,” he explained. “I am also going to suggest that (if the bond is approved) we do a survey in April or May as to what the community feels is most important.”
He reiterated that the most pressing needs are the Orestimba locker rooms and the Von Renner multi-use room.
There is board support for the pool concept, Fillpot said, but a primary concern is working out a partnership with the city on maintenance costs.
“That is another thing we think is important. The board has spoken to that, and we like the idea of partnering with the city,” he commented.
Using bond proceeds to develop staff housing may also be a topic of discussion.
The district has lost a number of prospective hires in recent years due to lack of housing inventory, Fillpot said. New employees may have to look to Turlock or Modesto for housing, he added, and after a few years of making the commute to the West Side have often found employment closer to home.
Fillpot acknowledged that even if voters approve Measure K, the proceeds will not fully cover the district’s facility needs - and that those projects funded by the measure would be phased over a period of years.
“There is not enough money issued all at once,” he said. “It will have to happen in stages.”
Under the scenario presented by Scott in September, if voters approve Measure K the first series of bond sales would produce $8.4 million in 2021 but the second series ($6.7 million) would not be issued until 2024. Future series would be issued every three years before the final $7 million was sold in 2033.
Newman-Crows Landing Unified School District property owners are currently assessed about $140 per $100,000 in assessed valuation each year to pay off previous bond debt. Approval of Measure K would push that rate to $200, Scott said in September.
Scott also raised the possibility of going back to voters in two to four years to extend the tax rate that would be created by passage of Measure K, in order to fund additional facility projects.