A bond that would help the Sacramento City Unified School District renovate its classrooms and other facilities seems to be close to gaining voter approval. Two other school bond measures on the local and statewide ballots are still too close to call.
Measure H would allow the district to issue $750 million of bonds, on the condition that the money be used for construction, replacement or furnishing of school facilities. The funds from the bond cannot go toward general school operating expenses or salaries for teachers and administrators.
As of Wednesday morning, 59% of voters had approved the measure. It needs 55% approval to pass. This measure will cost local property owners 5 cents per $100 of assessed value, not market value, or about $88 per year for the typical homeowner according to the school district.
Supporters of the bond say aging building infrastructure makes it difficult for students to learn and succeed. A recent assessment found that making all needed repairs across the school district would cost more than $3.5 billion.
The Measure H money could be used for a long list of new projects such as virtual classrooms, maker spaces, outdoor learning areas and gardens. Funds could also go toward updating computer and security systems and improving walkways, landscaping, stadiums and pools.
The district’s board of education says it will establish an independent citizens’ oversight committee to make sure the money is used efficiently.
Board of Education member Christina Pritchett acknowledged that there has been some concern about district spending following a major budget deficit last year.
“Obviously that’s always fresh in our mind,” she said. “And one thing I explained to my constituents out in my community is that this bond has nothing to do with our current financial status, this bond would not be used for salary and benefits. I explained this bond would only be used for facilities.”
Approval of the measure would also qualify the district for an additional $80 million in matching state funds from Proposition 13, Pritchett said. Voters were narrowly rejecting the statewide measure as of Wednesday Morning.
There was no formal opposition to Measure H.
Infrastructure improvements at schools in underserved neighborhoods could make a difference for students of color, said Cassandra Jennings, president of the Greater Sacramento Urban League. The racial achievement gap is one of the nonprofit group’s focus areas.
“They’re just not equipped to really teach and prepare people for the jobs that are available now, and for higher education,” Jennings said of the district’s aging schools. “They shouldn’t be the same as when my kids were going to Sac City schools and certainly not the same as when I was going.”
This is not the first bond for Sac City Unified. In 2012 voters passed measures Q and R, approving bonds of $346 million and $68 million respectively for technology upgrades, wildfire and irrigation improvements and changes to fields, locker rooms and other athletic facilities. The district failed to pass a parcel tax for expanded academic programs and staff in 2016.
Some of the money from Measure H could be used to improve access for students with disabilities. Darryl White, chairperson for a local community group called the Black Parallel School Board, has been actively speaking up about the district’s treatment of students of color with disabilities.
White said he’s hopeful that technology and infrastructure improvements will improve the academic experience for all students.
“Services could be in a number of different places, if it’s in terms of transportation,” he said. “If there’s more money coming into the district to provide services … as an organization we have to say ‘yes! We’d love to see it.’”
Measure E would create a $650 million bond for the Los Rios Community College District to make accessibility and infrastructure improvements at its four campuses. It’s getting mixed reactions from the four counties that vote on it, but as of Wednesday morning appeared to be down.
It requires a 55% vote, but had approval from only 51% of Sacramento voters. According to the latest results, 32% of voters were supporting the measure in El Dorado County, 64% in Yolo County and 18% in Placer County.
Like the Sac City Unified bond, this funding would be monitored by a citizens’ oversight committee to ensure the money goes to facilities improvement and not to teacher or administrator salaries.
The proposed campus renovations include repairing or replacing fire alarms, plumbing, heating, ventilation, lighting fixtures and repairing aging roofs, among other projects.
The money also could help campuses comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act, a federal law prohibiting discrimination based on disability.
Cosumnes River College student Mike Infante says he supports the bond because building upgrades would make it easier for him to navigate campus in his wheelchair.
As it is, there are doors that are difficult to open and buildings that don’t have elevators, he says. In some classrooms, furniture is too close together and he struggles to turn his chair around.
“I’ve been in positions where I’ve had to deal with that. I need to get a book or I need to print some stuff but I can’t get upstairs because the elevators are not working or not there at all,” Infante said. “It’s just a little frustrating.”
Jorge Riley, president of the Sacramento Republican Assembly and a student at American River College, wrote a voter guide argument against Measure E.
He says the campuses are not in need of renovations.
“It seems to me that people see these things and they blindly vote for them thinking they’re helping out the schools,” he said. “I don’t think the schools are without money, I think they have lots of money.”
The California Taxpayer Protection Committee also opposes the bond.
A separate bond initiative, Measure G, would create a Sacramento “children’s fund” within the general fund to support youth and child services with mentoring, after-school activities and early childhood education. The measure had 54% of the votes as of Wednesday morning.
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