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Central Unified Wants Voter Input on Proposed Bond Measure



Architectural rendering providing an aerial perspective of Central Unified's new high school
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Central Unified School District residents soon will be asked whether they would vote in favor of a new hundred-million-dollar bond measure for school construction and improvements that could cause a double-digit hike in the district’s property tax rate over the next decade.
The district has yet to set the size of the bond measure and corresponding tax rate increase, district spokeswoman Sonja Dosti said Wednesday.
By law, the increase could not exceed $60 per $100,000 assessed valuation yearly; for the owner of a $200,000 home, for example, that would be a maximum hike of $120 annually in district taxes.
Starting in 2031 or 2032, the tax rate would start to taper off as older bonds are retired, according to a district consultant’s report.

New Elementary School on Project List

The bond measure’s proposed project list includes a visual and performing arts center, aquatics complex, and concessions stands at the district’s new, and as-yet unnamed, high school under construction; a new elementary school on West Shields Avenue; and classroom modernizations. The district is considering two options: a $110 million measure with $60 million in bonds issued in 2021, $30 million in 2024, and $20 million in 2027, or a $120 million measure that would issue $30 million in bonds in 2020, $60 million in 2024, and $30 million in 2027.
Either way, the district would need to seek approval from the state Department of Education for a waiver to exceed the state limit of 2.5% for debt ratio. The district earlier got a waiver from the state to raise its ratio to 3.13% for Measures B and C, which voters approved in 2008 and 2016, said Mark Farrell, a senior financial advisor with Dale Scott & Co. of San Francisco. Farrell made a presentation at the July 23 board meeting
The new ratio would depend on the growth in assessed valuation, and the timing and amount of bond sales, but would likely be higher than 3.13%, Dosti said Wednesday. The ratio would decline as bonds are repaid and assessed property value grows, she said.
The consultant’s report projects a 5% percent growth in assessed valuation in 2020 and 4% in subsequent years.

Survey Starts in August

A voter survey on the proposed bond measure will be conducted in August, according to a schedule prepared by the consultant. The results of that survey will provide insight on the percentage of voters likely to approve the bond measure in either the primary or general election, Farrell told the board. Local bond measures require approval by 55% of voters to pass.

“The nice thing about March is, it’s a less crowded ballot. It gives you more opportunities to communicate with voters.” — Mark Farrell, a senior financial advisor with Dale Scott & Co. of San Francisco
As for now, the bond election is tentatively scheduled for the March 2020 primary. But it could be delayed to the November election, which would likely have a higher turnout but would be part of a crowded ballot that also would contain the presidential election and state initiatives, Farrell said.
“The nice thing about March is, it’s a less crowded ballot,” he said. “It gives you more opportunities to communicate with voters.”
But if the survey results show that voters more likely to vote only in November also are more supportive of a bond measure, board members could decide to postpone it until then, Farrell said.
According to the current schedule, the school board is scheduled to vote on a bond election resolution at the Oct. 22 meeting.

Voters Approved Earlier Bond Measures

Central Unified voters approved Measure B in November 2008, which authorized the issuance of up to $152 million in general obligation bonds. But when the economic downturn then resulted in lower assessed valuations and state law limited the issuance of those bonds, the district estimated that its borrowing costs would be excessive if it issued the remaining Measure B bonds. Measure C, the bond measure that voters approved in November 2016, allowed the district to issue $87.3 million in general obligation bonds and reauthorized a portion of the unissued Measure B bonds.

But whether the new high school will operate as a separate entity or be combined as a single high school with Central High East and West remains to be seen.
The district uses revenues from bond sales, state funds, and developer fees for construction costs on projects that include the $121 million first phase of the high school under construction at Ashlan and Grantland avenues. Construction began with a groundbreaking ceremony on June 29. The first construction phase will include three academic buildings, two gyms, locker rooms, a kitchen, ball fields, tennis courts, outdoor basketball courts, and an administration building. Its design highlights include a community plaza outdoor mall that connects to an indoor campus mall with a glass ceiling.
The new high’s school second phase would bring the project’s total cost to at least $174 million, district officials said.

Advisory Committee Ready to Start

But whether the new high school will operate as a separate entity or be combined as a single high school with Central High East and West remains to be seen.
An advisory committee of more than 40 district employees and community members is scheduled to hold its first meeting in August. The district had selected nearly all the members for positions requiring applications — teachers, parents, and community members —Superintendent Andy Alvarado said at the July 23 meeting. The two high school principals, two school board members, and a rotating third board member, student body presidents, and union representatives are among the committee’s appointees.
In addition to determining whether to make the high schools independent entities, the committee will consider attendance areas for the high schools and feeder schools, and will select a name, mascot, and school colors for the new high school. The committee’s recommendations will then go to the school board for consideration and approval.
While the meetings will not be open to the public, Alvarado said the district will make sure to provide frequent updates on a website that will be devoted to reporting the committee’s work so the process is “transparent.” The district will also schedule town hall meetings so residents can get updates on the committee’s progress, he said.

Nancy Price is a multimedia journalist for GV Wire. A longtime reporter and editor who has worked for newspapers in California, Florida, Alaska, Illinois and Kansas, Nancy joined GV Wire in July 2019. She previously worked as an assistant metro editor for 13 years at The Fresno Bee. Nancy earned her bachelor's and master's degrees in journalism at Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism. Her hobbies include singing with the Fresno Master Chorale and volunteering with Fresno Filmworks. You can reach Nancy at 559-492-4087 or Send an Email