Fresno Unified Wrestles With How Big to Make Bond Measure
Faced with lower community support for a bond measure that would hike property taxes, the Fresno Unified School Board appears split on whether to ask voters to greenlight a $500 million bond measure.
The board is likely to vote on a bond measure resolution at the Nov. 20 meeting following a workshop to discuss a list of project proposals for the bond measure.
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Chief business officer Karin Temple said at Wednesday’s board meeting that Fresno Unified’s median home value is now $137,000, and the owner of such a home would pay an extra $82 a year if voters approved a $500 million bond measure. Fresno Unified’s share of that homeowner’s property tax bill would be $341 instead of the current $259.
Let Voters Make the Call
Trustee Carol Mills, citing the $1 billion estimate for deferred maintenance, upgrades, additions, new schools and other new facilities in the district, said she favors putting the bigger bond measure on the March ballot and letting voters weigh in on whether they are willing to take on the extra tax burden.
“I’m personally in favor of letting the voters make this decision instead of making it for them,” she said. “Because I think, regardless of the fact that we may have many people who we would categorize generically as poor …
“I frankly think those are some of the people who are most likely to want to invest in their students, and to invest in the district, because they realize the value of education, and that having a quality education, in a quality facility, is what will help lift their children into a higher income bracket. And a better future.”
Big Tax Hike Would Hurt Some Families
But board president Claudia Cazares cautioned against assuming that a hefty tax hike could be readily absorbed by some households.
“Having worked in affordable housing for some time now, it has become apparent that our lower-income families value every dollar that they have,” Cazares said. “And even though I’m sure we would all love to ensure our children have the best quality education we can afford them, whether or not they pay an additional $60 could mean food on the table, diapers on their children, shoes on somebody’s feet.”
Chief financial officer Ruthie Quinto said the $500 million bond measure could pose a risk to the district’s credit rating and also would make the district less nimble in structuring its financing. She said the district might be better served with two $250 million bond measures, which would still allow Fresno Unified to collect its share of state facilities money.
The bond measure discussion followed a presentation of the results of the second community survey that FM3 conducted in October to gauge support for bigger bond measures. The survey questioned 644 likely primary voters.
FM3’s first survey in August asked about voter support for bond measures totaling $180 million, which would not raise the tax rate, and $240 million, which would raise taxes by $18 per $100,000 of assessed value.
Tax Hike Cools Bond Measure Support
In the second survey, 70% said they would definitely or probably vote for a $500 million bond measure, with an additional 3% leaning toward yes.
But support was less strong for a bond measure if it meant a property tax hike of $60 per $100,000 of assessed value. Only 53% said they would probably or definitely vote yes, with another 7% leaning toward yes.
School bond measures must get 55% of the vote to win approval.
When the second survey asked about support for a bond measure with no tax hike, 67% percent said they would probably or definitely vote yes, with an additional 8% leaning toward yes.
The first survey, which was conducted in August, reported similar results when voters were asked about a bond measure with no tax hike. In that survey, 66% said they would probably or definitely vote yes for a $240 million bond measure that hiked their tax rate by $18 per $100,000 of assessed value, with another 6% leaning toward yes.
Related Story: Fresno Unified $240 Million School Bond Gets Strong Support in Survey
Support Also Strong for State Funding
The second survey also asked voters about the $15 billion Proposition 13 (formerly known as Assembly Bill 48) that’s on the March ballot, which includes $9 billion for K-12 school construction and upgrades. Sixty-one percent said they would probably or definitely vote yes, with another 5% leaning toward yes.
Fresno Unified and other districts such as Clovis and Central with bond measures on the March ballot could expect a share of the state’s funding, if state voters approve Proposition 13, if they have cash in hand from approved local bond measures.
Related Story: Bond Measures Could Raise Megabucks for Schools — and TaxesFresno Unified trustees must complete their deliberations, approve a resolution, and submit the ballot language to the Fresno County Elections Office by Dec. 6, the deadline to submit election materials for the March ballot.