After considering bond measures as large as $500 million — and the tax rate hikes that would result — the Fresno Unified School Board voted unanimously Wednesday evening to put a $325 million bond measure on the March ballot.
The ballot language for the bond measure says that the property tax rate could increase up to $60 per $100,000 of assessed valuation. However, the tax rate hike would be $25 per $100,000 of assessed value, raising the current rate of $189 per $100,000 of assessed value to $214. As other bonds are retired, the tax rate for this new bond measure would climb, but the overall rate would not exceed $214.
The median assessed home value in the district is $136,000, so the owner of that median home would pay an extra $34 per year or $7 per month, bond consultant Chet Wang told the trustees.
Mills Sought Higher Bond Amount
Trustee Carol Mills lobbied for a $390 million bond measure, since the district’s capital projects list is estimated at $1 billion and a recent survey showed voter support for a $500 million bond measure.
Chief financial officer Ruthie Quinto had warned the higher bond measure would likely hurt the district’s AA3 credit rating.
But the $390 million bond measure would not affect the credit rating and would provide much-needed extra funds for school repairs and upgrades, Mills said.
“We know that we need a lot more than 390 (million dollars),” she said. “But if we’re going to go out and ask this community to support a bond, we should ask for as much as we reasonably can, which is 390, and put in as many projects as we can, because we’re getting further and further behind in terms of maintaining our facilities. The only way to start to catch up is to get more bond money in and to get more state matching funds.”
Trustees Cautious About Tax Hike
It was clear that the majority of the board recognized that the district’s needs are sizable, but they expressed concern about putting too heavy a burden on the district’s home owners and renters, many of whom are low-income.
“We have a lot of poverty in the district overall,” said trustee Veva Islas. “I understand about 20,000 of our students live in Section 8 or housing assistance. And so it’s very hard for me to imagine creating a burden for them. … I’m much more comfortable at the $25 tax rate (increase).”
After voting to put the $325 million bond measure on the ballot, the trustees considered a list of projects, categorized as outdated facilities, program expansion, safety and security, and building systems/sites and grounds, that could be built with the bond measure funds and state matching money.
Mills, who cast the lone vote against approving the list prepared by district staff, raised concerns at a Wednesday afternoon workshop about making promises for projects that likely will not be kept, which she said has happened before.
Project List Could Be Revised
But board president Claudia Cazares said that voters would surely understand if priorities would shift as conditions change in the future.
“The majority of the board agreed that there’s no way that this is going to be the project list for the next six years when we don’t know what the need may be a year from now, or six months from now,” Cazares said. “We need to be open to discuss this again.
“And we may agree that this list is still is good in six months, still is good in three years. If we’re having issues portraying that to our own constituency, that’s our own problem.”
School Construction Measures on Ballot
The Fresno Unified bond measure joins two other local school bond measures and a state proposition on the March 3 primary election ballot. Clovis Unified School District will ask voters to approve a $408 million bond measure that will hike its tax rate from $155 to $179 per $100,000 assessed value. Central Unified voters will consider a $120 million bond measure that will raise the district’s property tax rate by $60, to $210 per $100,000 assessed value.
The district’s original bond measure survey, conducted in August, found strong voter support for bond measures totaling $180 million, which would have maintained the current tax rate, and $240 million, which would have boosted taxes by about $18 per $100,000 of assessed valuation.
The district had made a point to voters of maintaining tax rates during the campaign for Measure X, the $225 million bond measure that passed in 2016.
Second Survey Ordered
But trustees, faced with the mounting list of school repair and upgrade needs, decided to order a second survey to gauge voter support for bond measures of $325 million and $500 million.
Only 53% of the voters surveyed said they would definitely or probably support a $500 million measure, which would have caused the district’s tax rate to skyrocket by $60 per $100,000 of assessed value — the maximum allowed by state law for a single bond measure. Another 7% said they were leaning toward yes. Under state law, school bond measures need 55% approval to pass.
The board’s vote Wednesday evening comes only days after a new poll by the Public Policy Institute of California shows that support for the $15 billion state school construction proposition has slipped, with only 48% saying they would vote in favor. The poll has a margin of error of +/- 3%.
A September PPIC poll found support for the measure now known as Proposition 13 at 54% statewide. The survey found that support is lowest in the Central Valley, at 36%.
State propositions need a simple majority vote to pass. Proposition 13 would provide $9 billion for K-12 schools, $2 billion for community colleges, $2 billion for California State University campuses and $2 billion for University of California campuses.