Pleasanton residents will be voting on a school bond measure in November for the third time in the last seven years. But after the first passed in 2016 and the second failed in 2020, the question remains the same in 2022 — are the facility improvements worth the associated property tax increase in the eyes of the voters?
The $395 million general obligation bond, on the ballot as Measure I this fall, is being proposed by the Pleasanton Unified School District in order to help fund a portion of the nearly $1 billion worth of facilities projects across the district.
“The way schools are funded there is no real money the state is providing for these capital improvements and massive investments. If you don’t have local bond dollars, you cannot do it,” said Ahmad Sheikholeslami, PUSD’s assistant superintendent of business services.
“You can go up and down the state. The schools that have bonds are the ones that are improved, the schools that don’t have bonds they’re the ones that are in the 1950s,” he added.
PUSD has had mixed results with facility bond measures in recent history after a period of passing just one in 20 years.
In November 2016, residents voted to approve Measure I1, a $270 million facilities bond, which covered about one third of the overall $856 million identified facilities improvement needs estimated at that time.
Some of the projects paid for through Measure I1 were the rebuilding of Lydiksen Elementary School and new science classroom buildings at Amador Valley and Foothill high schools and at Hart Middle School, all of which have either been completed or are slated for completion later in the fall.
Measure I1 also began to address roofing and HVAC repair and replacements as well as making safety upgrades and providing updated classroom technology and infrastructure.
The district attempted to pass another bond in March 2020, but the proposed $323 million Measure M failed after it earned majority support from voters but failed to clear the 55% threshold required of school facility bond measures (52.40% Yes; 47.60% No).
Since Measure I1 passed and Measure M failed, PUSD staff have been working on a Facilities Master Plan update, which the Board of Trustees approved on June 23, that would separate the facility improvements of all 15 school sites into a two-tier system to address areas of high priority first.
The Measure I bond would help fund the first tier phase of the Facilities Master Plan, which will prioritize funding for the gym and theater constructions at both Amador Valley and Foothill as well as new classrooms at Vintage Hills Elementary School.
The second tier will focus on deferred maintenance, restructuring of the visual performing arts in high schools, cafeteria and air conditioning and heating equipment.
If more than 55% of Pleasanton residents vote Yes on the ballot, Measure I would utilize a tax rate of $49 per $100,000 of assessed value for Pleasanton property owners to fund that first tier round of projects. The second tier would be funded through State Office of Public School Construction funds, the sale of the current district office property on Bernal Avenue, state or local funding, or saved money from other construction bids, according to district officials.
PUSD trustees recently approved the sale of a portion of the current offices on the edge of downtown Pleasanton, at 4645 and 4665 Bernal Ave., in order to purchase offices in the Hacienda Business Park to serve as the new district headquarters.
The two-building property, located on 5758 and 5794 West Las Positas Blvd., cost $23,480,261 for PUSD to acquire from the current owner, ECI Four Arroyo LLC. However, the 7 acres up for sale at the Bernal property for future housing development will help in paying off the acquisition debt.
According to Sheikholeslami, the district plans on moving to the new office building in April.
The official Nov. 8 Measure I ballot statement will read:
“PLEASANTON UNIFIED SCHOOL DISTRICT QUALITY AND SAFE EDUCATIONAL FACILITIES MEASURE. To continue replacing/modernizing deteriorating plumbing, roofs, electrical/HVAC systems, classrooms, science labs, performing arts, physical education facilities/spaces, and alternative high school facilities; constructing career technical/early childhood education classrooms; making safety/access improvements for students with disabilities; shall Pleasanton Unified School District’s measure authorizing $395,000,000 in bonds at legal rates, levying approximately $49 per $100,000 of assessed valuation ($26,000,000 annually) while bonds are outstanding, be adopted, requiring audits/oversight?”
Some of the projects included in Measure I are the construction of elementary classrooms to support statewide expansion of transitional kindergarten; high school visual and performing arts centers; new and upgraded athletic facilities; updated plumbing to support safe drinking water; and site improvements for students with disabilities.
Measure I received mainly positive support during the trustees’ public hearing process. Apart from the full board unanimously approving the resolution to put the bond on the November ballot back in July, several students and parents have been very vocal at the board meetings about the need to address the deteriorating gyms and other facility needs.
“Measure I1 has completed several projects including roof and HVAC repairs, solar installations, and fencing and security upgrades,” according to the “Yes on I for Pleasanton Schools” website, which is a group dedicated to supporting the new bond measure.
“However, Measure I1 funds will not be enough to ensure upgrades and repairs to all schools in our district and we still have over a billion dollars in unmet facility needs, including: repairing aging roofing, plumbing, and electrical systems, ensuring safe drinking water, modernizing classrooms for career and technical training, and retaining high-quality teachers for our students,” according to the support campaign.
“Older schools need upgrades to meet the same academic and safety standards as newer schools to support academic achievement for all the district’s students,” they added.
Those keywords — “older schools” — are what Superintendent David Haglund and Sheikholeslami both said lie at the heart of most of the issues the district faces.
Part of those problems include Americans with Disabilities Act compliance issues with schools such as Village High School, Haglund told the Weekly during a recent tour of several PUSD sites.
“When you think about a 1950s campus, you’re talking about 25 years before the Americans with Disabilities Act and things like this were OK,” Haglund said regarding the uphill walkways at the school with inch-long cracks running through them. “If the bond were to pass, this would be the first project that would be activated because it’s about student safety.”
Apart from the lack of accessibility and overall safety issues at Village, Haglund pointed out several decaying structural beams that seem like they could give out any day.
“Just beyond just all of the ADA and other physical things, the campus is disjointed in terms of creating an inclusive learning environment,” Sheikholeslami said.
Some of the other priorities Haglund and Sheikholeslami pointed out which will be first on the to-do list if the bond is passed is building new artificial turf fields for all the middle schools and improving their kitchen facilities.
However, one of the big-ticket items will be at Amador with the demolition and rebuilding of the gyms and theater.
Right now, Amador has a small and a main gym with the boys’ locker room being in the main and the girls’ locker room being in the small.
The plan, if the bond passes, would be to build one main gym with both locker rooms and to put a new performing arts center where the small gym currently stands. Beyond wanting to create consistency of having everything in the same building, Sheikholeslami and Haglund pointed out the lack of air-conditioning and overall poor quality of the gyms.
The reason the gyms and the Amador Theater, which is actually owned by the city, are not being considered for renovation, according to Sheikholeslami and Haglund, is because older buildings such as these would require so many compliance upgrades that it wouldn’t be financially viable.
Haglund said that in Measure M the district included dollars for the theater, but it was for addressing the issues related to the fire escape only. After speaking with architects and other consultants, they determined that more analysis was needed.
“The question is whether or not the engineers will give us a green light on retrofitting it or if it’s just cheaper to completely reconstruct it,” Haglund said. “Funding that would pay for the architects would come from the bond.”
Currently, the district is putting the rebuild of the theater at $35 million, according to the master plan.
But it is these big-ticket items like the gyms and the theater that have led to some residents opposing the proposed bond measure.
According to a website called “Vote No on Measure I”, the district needs to focus on finishing the projects from Measure I1 first, before asking residents to spend more on taxes.
“PUSD wants to borrow a staggering $395,000,000 and for you to pay the mortgage totaling PUSD’s estimate of $792,000,000,” according to the website. “This would total nearly $1,000 per $1,000,000 of assessed valuation per year when what we are currently paying for Measure I1 is included.”
Another factor the website says voters need to consider before voting for the new bond is the 10th elementary school that the district promised with passing Measure I1.
The 2016 measure stated that one of the priorities would be building a new elementary school, which the board then decided against and instead chose to hold the $35 million it allocated for the school in case the need for another school arises.
“We passed Measure I1, primarily for the elementary school the district promised,” the opposition website stated. “We were guaranteed, with full consensus of the board, that should the district not build the school they would not bond the $35,000,000. While there is no elementary school in the district’s plans, they still have the funds waiting ‘in case a future school is needed.'”
But, according to the Yes on I website, the district doesn’t need another school due to declining enrollment and unbalanced elementary schools.
“Based on declining enrollment and projections, there is no need for a 10th elementary school,” the website stated. “Since the peak of enrollment in 2018-19, the district’s overall enrollment has declined by 1,000 students.”
In the end, it will be up to voters to decide by Nov. 8 whether they trust the district with its Facilities Master Plan, to execute all of the proposed plans or if they think that these upgrades are not needed and can wait for a later time.
Haglund, for his part, said that waiting will only make the prices for these projects go up. He added that if Measure M would have passed, the district would have already started construction for most of the sites tapped in Measure I.
This article was originally published by Pleasanton Weekly.