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Will Fresno Unified Voters Agree to Raise Their Taxes in November?
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By Nancy Price, Multimedia Journalist
Published 4 weeks ago on
April 30, 2024
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Surveys conducted for Fresno Unified show sufficient voter support to pass a new bond measure this year. (David Rodriguez/GV Wire Composite)

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Fresno Unified voters may be asked to hike their property tax bills if the district puts a $500 million bond measure on the November ballot.

Since 2001, Fresno Unified voters have approved four bond measures totaling more than $1 billion.

If approved, it would be the district’s biggest bond measure ever and would raise the tax rate to $238.86, which would be the highest in the county. Right now Fresno Unified’s tax rate of $213.86 is second only to Central Unified’s rate of $215.60.

Since 2001, Fresno Unified voters have approved four bond measures totaling more than $1 billion.

Community support for a new bond measure appears to be strong based on recent surveys, the board learned Monday night at a facilities workshop.

More than 800 people who were surveyed recently by the consultant firm FM3 in English, Spanish, and Hmong about their priorities for facilities projects and support for a bond measure showed more than enough support to reach the minimum of 55% needed to pass a school bond measure, said company official Adam Sonenshine.

Top priorities for the community is overcrowding and the lack of space for music and art instruction as well as confidential spaces for students and staff to interact, the survey showed.

Declining Enrollments Won’t Reduce Space Needs

Board president Susan Wittrup asked district officials whether overcrowding will continue to be an issue as the district’s total enrollment is projected to continue to decline in coming years, dropping to an estimated 66,500 by the 2025-26 school year.

“With our expansion of programs from early learning to social-emotional support, most of our available classrooms have been consumed with these support programs. So we’re basically, even with declining enrollment and reduced class sizes, we’re actually still expanding,” said Alex Belanger, chief officer of operations.

There will be two major differences between prior bond measures and the next one. The district’s new contract with the teachers union requires the two sides to collaboratively design projects using at least 33% of the bond funds to address class size reduction and other facilities improvements to enhance students’ educational experiences.

In addition, the board will consider its next facilities list through an “equity lens” using planning and tools provided by its consultant, RSS Consulting.

The elected and student trustees partnered with teachers union officials and top administrators in an informal exercise during Monday’s workshop to identify their top priorities. When the groups reported their findings, they included addressing overcrowding, accessibility, upgrading for 21st century science, technology, engineering and math instruction, as well as more abstract goals such as incorporating student voices and building “inspiring” spaces.

Bullard Security Needs Reinforcing

But it was a present-day facilities need that brought two dozen Bullard high school staffers and parents to Monday’s workshop, where they waited patiently through the end of the facilities presentations before asking the board to move forward with awarding a contract to build a new $2 million security fence and gates at the northwest Fresno high school.

The current fencing, which dates from the school’s construction in the 1950s, is too short to keep intruders or students ditching classes from hopping over it.

The speakers included Fresno City Councilman Mike Karbassi, who represents northwest Fresno. Karbassi acknowledged the district, like the city, has more needs than it has funding. He noted that community members surveyed by the district showed strong support for school safety and security and warned that if the district fails to provide such security for one of its high schools, it could result in decreased support by voters for the bond measure.

“We all know what happened with Measure E (the proposed sales tax for Fresno State) and the impact of northwest Fresno voters to defeat this measure,” he said. “Now, if this board doesn’t fund the fence despite having already promised it and campaigned for it in the previous iteration of Measure M, what I really worry is that the voters will question the need for another bond measure, much like they questioned the value of Measure E and feel there’s a bait and switch, and they can’t just see any value of it and they go against it.”

When Trustee Claudia Cazares asked about the project’s current status, Paul Idsvoog, chief operations and classified labor management officer, responded that it’s on the current Measure M project list. Trustee Elizabeth Jonasson Rosas, who told GV Wire last week that the trustees had voted in 2021 to strip it from the project funding list, then asked if there would be a discussion of facilities projects by the board at the workshop.

Speaking ‘As a Member of the Public’

When it was clear that there would be no such discussion, Jonasson Rosas, who had made the motion at the April 24 board meeting to table consideration of the Bullard fence bid award, took the unusual step of filling out a comment request card that’s usually only required for community members seeking an opportunity to address the board.

“I find myself in the most unusual circumstance of having to talk about facilities at a facilities meeting as a member of the public. But here we are.” — Trustee Elizabeth Jonasson Rosas

“I find myself in the most unusual circumstance of having to talk about facilities at a facilities meeting as a member of the public. But here we are,” Jonasson Rosas said while standing at the podium designated for community speakers.

She talked about revisions that the board has made to the Measure M facilities funding list, including cutting $3 million for safety and security, reducing funding for deferred maintenance, postponing some projects like a two-story cafeteria at Fresno High, remodeled administrative space at Roosevelt High, and other projects.

“I’ve always been one to talk about equity. I’ve always been one to say that ‘worst first.’ I’ve always advocated for all of our schools, in that order. And I was hoping to have that discussion today, but unfortunately, we have not been able to,” she said.

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Nancy Price,
Multimedia Journalist
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

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