Faced with aging classrooms and the need to bring school facilities up to current building standards, the Sebastopol Union School District has placed a $17.5 million general obligation bond measure on the March 3 ballot.
“In order to maintain a safe and healthy environment for our students, we need to keep our facilities upgraded and in good working order,” Sebastopol Union Superintendent Linda Irving said.
The proceeds of the bond will be used to modernize and renovate the district’s aging school facilities, particularly Park Side Elementary, which serves grades K-4, and Brook Haven, which serves grades 5-8.
General obligation bonds or GO bonds are used to fund both school renovation projects and new construction. Similar to home loans, they are typically repaid over 25 to 30 years. The loan repayment comes from a tax on residential, commercial, agricultural and industrial property located within the district’s boundaries.
The tax rate per property owner for Measure E is estimated to be $25 per $100,000 of assessed valuation per year. For example, the owner of a home that is assessed by the county at $800,000 would pay $200 per year for this bond.
Irving said the district needs voters to approve Measure E because the scope of the facilities improvements needed by the district is far more than it can pay out of its operating budget.
She said the funding which the district receives from the state is intended to be used for the day-to-day business of educating children and not the cost of upgrading and modernizing facilities.
“A bond is such a wonderful instrument because it allows us to focus our regular operating budget on students and teachers and have the bond fund the work on the facility,” Irving said.
The district recently completed a School Facilities Needs Analysis that identified major repairs and upgrades for all the district’s campuses.
Specific types of projects identified include:
• Increasing energy-efficiency at school sites, including installing solar panels;
• Making health, safety and handicapped accessibility improvements;
• Replacing deteriorating plumbing systems;
• Upgrading inadequate electrical systems;
• Modernizing outdated classrooms, restrooms and school facilities.
Irving said she’s particularly excited about doing a solar installation. She said the district has been concentrating on shrinking its carbon footprint and now that it’s so much smaller, “It’s time for solar,” she said.
Other projects at the top of her list include replacing the elderly HVAC unit at Park Side and adding air conditioning at Pinecrest.
Park Side, which is the oldest school in the district, always needs work.
“It takes a lot to keep this building up and running,” she said.
Measure E is sharing the ballot with another school tax, Measure B (the high school parcel tax), Measure G, the county-wide fire prevention and response initiative, and Measure I, the SMART Train tax. Some local voters have complained that the combination of school, fire and other special district taxes is really adding up. There’s been a decided uptick at public meetings of people complaining about the rising tax burden faced by west county’s voters.
Despite this, Irving is cautiously optimistic about Measure E’s chances for success.
“We always appreciate the amazing level of community support we have,” she said. “We feel it in so many ways: through volunteer tutoring and afterschool programs” and the high level of financial support that Sebastopol residents have traditionally given to the schools.
“It’s one of the things that makes Sebastopol such an amazing place to be,” she said.