One of the thorniest issues for many school boards is deciding which construction projects to fund.
For Fresno Unified’s seven trustees, the challenge is how to spend $172 million in remaining Measure X bonds. That might sound like a lot of money — and it is — but the district’s project wish-list totals about $407 million.
State funding, potentially as much as $40 million, will help. But the reality is that some trustees (and their constituents) will be disappointed that a much-needed improvement in their area — renovated classrooms, a new gym, or a new theater, for example — doesn’t make the cut.
Special Meeting Called for 1:30 p.m. Friday
In perhaps its most important meeting of the year Friday, the school board will debate the merits of the projects and tell staff which ones to work on.
It’s a special meeting, one originally scheduled for 5 p.m., but switched to 1:30 p.m.
“We did not want to delay (the meeting) any further. Many projects are on hold right now.” — Fresno Unified board president Claudia Cazares
In a sign, perhaps, of the tough political fight ahead, the time switch didn’t sit well with Fresno High area trustee Carol Mills.
“We had agreed on 5 o’clock, and people from my community were looking forward to speaking,” Mills said. “Now they won’t be able to because they can’t take off work.”
Board President Claudia Cazares said there was a “miscommunication on the availability of some trustees” for a 5 p.m. meeting.
Asked why the meeting was scheduled for the last day before spring break, Cazares said, “We did not want to delay it any further. Many projects are on hold right now.”
She said that people wishing to comment on Measure X priorities can email her: Claudia.Cazares@fresnounified.org
California Construction Costs Soaring
Time is of the essence. Construction costs in California, according to industry experts, will increase 10% this year, compared to a 5% climb nationally. The reason? Mainly the state’s devastating wildfires in 2017 and 2018. The demand for materials and labor is pushing costs up.
Superintendent Bob Nelson said Thursday that he would like the board to sharpen its Measure X focus “because our bond dollars are eroding.”
Nelson’s Priority List Is a ‘Conversation Starter’
On April 5, Nelson sent the board a list of his 19 recommended priority projects. Among them: Building Juan Felipe Herrera Elementary School in southeast Fresno, providing cafeteria air conditioning for 17 schools, renovating and building new classrooms for special needs students at Starr Elementary, developing the Urban Academy at the old juvenile hall site, and building new Career Technical Education facilities at Edison, Fresno, Hoover, McLane and Sunnyside high schools.
The list dovetails with many of the projects that some or all of the trustees have publicly endorsed and are already underway or in design.
“This isn’t a case of the superintendent telling the board what to do,” Nelson said. “The priority list is intended as a conversation starter. It is staff’s responsibility to fully carry out the board’s decisions.”
Click here to view Nelson’s priority list.
What District Told Voters in 2016
District voters approved the $225 million Measure X bond in November 2016. Under criticism ahead of the election for failing to explain how the district would use the money, then-Superintendent Michael Hanson outlined these categories:
— $90 million for classrooms, technology, and facilities.
— $50 million for arts and athletics facilities.
— $35 million for repairs to infrastructure.
— $25 million for CTE facilities.
— $25 million for upgraded safety and security measures.