Funding for schools is always a critical issue. Planning for long-term, managed growth takes long-term vision, patience and a sound funding plan.
In 2000, the enrollment of the Newman-Crows Landing Unified School District was 2,000 students. In 2020, the enrollment is 3,200. The first thing a school needs to be successful is modern, well-kept facilities. Over time, facilities age and the cost of repairs is beyond what the state provides through regular general fund appropriations. Currently, districts must set aside 3 percent of their operating budget for routine and deferred maintenance. When the facilities are 50 to 60 years old (Von Renner Elementary, Orestimba High School, Hunt Elementary, Bonita Elementary), this money goes quickly on keeping the physical plant running day to day.
In the past 20 years, bond funds have built a new middle school in 2005, a new TK-5 elementary school which opened in 2011, and an adult education center to provide services for senior citizens. Over the last four years Bonita has been modernized, the Hurd Barrington Elementary library and classrooms were finished and all sites had upgrades to heating, air conditioning and roofing during the summer of 2018. Currently a classroom wing is being added to Yolo and will open in the fall of 2020.
The March 3, 2020 ballot includes two important bond issues that will have a positive impact on our community. A $15 billion state bond issue to help schools, community colleges, and universities with capital project costs will appear on the ballot as Proposition 13, but it has nothing to do with the Proposition 13 property tax initiative from 1978.
Every 10 years, the state repeats the cycle of numbering the measures. This school bond initiative will not alter the previous Proposition 13. Of this $15 billion, $6 billion will be for community colleges, California State University and University of California campuses. The remaining $9 billion is for K-12 education, including $5.2 billion for renovations, and $2.8 billion for new construction.
This funding comes in the form of matching funds to districts, which stretches our local bond funds and the projects districts are able to complete. For example, a $3 million modernization project becomes eligible for an additional 60 percent in matching funds from state bond proceeds, adding $1.8 million back for additional projects. This measure also changes the priority order for processing funding applications away from the first in- first out, so that the larger districts like Los Angeles Unified, Oakland Unified and San Diego with dedicated project staff can’t submit applications and take all the funding before the smaller districts get a chance to get in line.
The Proposition 13 on the ballot is often confused with an initiative called Schools and Communities First, which proposes a split roll tax that is gathering signatures for the November 2020 ballot. It proposes to change the way commercial property values are assessed, with no changes for residential property.
The biggest impact on local school districts are local bond measures. In order to provide funding for capital improvements, the local districts have the option to issue general obligation bonds.
Measure K will be on the ballot for voters residing in the Newman-Crows Landing Unified School District. This measure would generate $35 million for projects in the district. Currently, there are needs at several school sites which were not addressed by previous bond issuances. Von Renner has aging portables and a too-small multi-purpose room. Orestimba High School has tennis courts which need to be replaced, locker rooms which need to be replaced, and the potential to build a pool which would be available to the community.
The Board of Trustees has the obligation to set the priority list, as funds are available, to commit to these projects. Each general obligation bond has to have a Citizen’s Oversight Committee which reviews the budgets for the projects, and ensures that the funds are being spent as the voters intended. Each year, bond funds are audited by an independent audit firm, separately from the operating funds, to ensure that funds are appropriately spent on projects authorized by the bond language.
Proposition 13 and Measure K will each have a positive impact on the quality of school facilities in our community.
Caralyn Mendoza is the Chief Business Official for the Newman-Crows Landing Unified School District.