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District mulls over potential school bond measure

A group of community members convened at the Claremont High School theater Wednesday night to discuss what a school bond measure might look like, should the district decide to place one on the ballot in the upcoming November election.

Superintendent Jim Elsasser and Assistant Superintendent of Business Services Lisa Shoemaker led the presentation, with school board members Dave Nemer and Hillary LaConte in attendance.

The district has created a list of projects that a bond might fund or, more accurately, two lists. A longer list includes $111 million worth of facilities projects, while a list of more pressing needs comes in at $58 million.

Ms. Shoemaker took a moment to explain what a $58 million bond measure would mean for Claremont homeowners. The average assessed valuation—not the market value—of a home in the City of Trees is $386,000. If that number were to be rounded up to $400,000, the increase is about $200 per year for the average homeowner. Someone with a newer home, which might have a $700,000 assessed value, might pay around $350.

The abbreviated list—which could be accomplished with a $58 million bond measure—was whittled down from an earlier list of urgent needs that totaled $81 million. Mr. Elsasser noted that the $58 million project list would likely need to be narrowed down further.

That was one of the main purposes of the meeting: Determining what district improvements the community stakeholders feel are most important.

Mr. Elsasser noted that Claremont as a community approved a water bond measure in 2014, and is still paying on Measure Y, a school bond that was passed in 2000, as well as the Johnson’s Pasture bond measure. What’s more, the city may well be placing a bond to help fund a new police station on the November ballot.

A $50 million bond measure to fund a new police station, Measure PS, was rejected by 75 percent of voters in November. The general feedback from community stakeholders was residents agree the police station needs a major overhaul. It was the size of the bill that was of concern.

Armed with that feedback, the city is working towards a smaller bond to fund the new police station.

Mr. Elsasser told the crowd the district does not yet know whether a November school bond would be competing with the police bond. He said he had just spoken with City Manager Tony Ramos and asked him whether the police station bond would be ready for the November 2016 election. Mr. Ramos said he didn’t know, according to Mr. Elsasser.

Should the police station bond appear on the November 2016 ballot, it brings up an important question. How much money can the community tolerate being added onto their property tax bill?

The district may forego placing a bond measure on the November 2016 ballot to avoid competing with a police station bond. If the district does opt to share a ballot with the station bond, it is likely to be significantly scaled down. Mr. Elsasser feels voters are unlikely to pass a school bond costing more than a concurrent police bond measure.

There are a few non-negotiable factors that will show up in any forthcoming school bond measure. After numerous meetings with the community and with staff from CUSD’s 11 schools, the district believes a bond measure should impact all schools, not just a select few.

It is also certain that a bond measure would seek to fund a district-wide replacement of schools’ HVAC systems as well as electrical upgrades, for a projected cost of $3,125,000 and $2, 086,090, respectively. Repair of roofs at schools throughout the district—with the exception of CHS, which underwent a major re-roofing project this past summer—is also considered an urgent priority. The estimated cost for the roofing projects is $3,492,212.

The HVAC systems in the district were installed 16 to 18 years ago, Ms. Shoemaker noted, during which time vast improvements have been made in efficiency. While considerable capital is initially needed to replace the schools’ heating and a/c systems, she said the project—along with the replacement of older lighting with LED lights—would pay for itself relatively quickly in bill-savings.

Energy-efficiency projects also have a good chance of receiving a chunk of Prop 39 funding, which the state has allocated for power-saving measures on the part of schools and other institutions.

Other identified high-priority projects for a potential bond include the replacement of most of the portables that can be found at elementary schools throughout the district, including portables at Chaparral, Condit, Mountain View, Oakmont, Vista del Valle and the Sumner/Danbury campuses (estimated $10,866,960); replacement of portables at El Roble (estimated ($1,521,585); improvements in the office and staff workrooms at each of the elementary schools (estimated $1,929,770); and upgrades to the classrooms at the elementary schools (estimated $15,607,625).

The district is suggesting that portables be replaced with modular buildings of the kind that can be seen throughout the Danbury campus, according to Ms. Shoemaker.

Also on the table for potential bond measure money is the replacement of the El Roble pool and locker room, at an estimated $2,340,000 and $2,643,418, respectively; modernization of the large gym at CHS, which currently has no HVAC system, among other deficits (estimated $840,938); repair of the CHS music building (estimated $1,501,256); reconfiguring and upgrading the CHS student center/food prep area (estimated $6,745,781); repairing the locker rooms (estimated $4,460,625); and repair of the restrooms at San Antonio High School ($418,275).

After Ms. Shoemaker presented a PowerPoint presentation on high-priority projects, the administrators took numerous questions from audience members. They then asked attendees to share what projects they value most by placing a finite amount of stickers on posters demarking jobs that could be undertaken at the various school sites.

The meeting was more exploratory than contentious, but—per the meeting’s fact-finding purpose—no consensus was reached. There was, however, one significant area of agreement. If the community is going to be sold on a school bond measure, they need to be further engaged. While every CUSD family received an All-Call notice of Wednesday’s meeting, only a couple dozen people showed up.

It is to be hoped that many more people show up at the next community meeting, set for Tuesday, May 17 at 6:30 p.m. in El Roble’s multi-purpose room.

“Please encourage your friends and neighbors to come out. We’re really trying to listen,” Mr. Elsasser said.

The school board must vote on whether or not they want to pursue a school bond measure for the November 2016 ballot by June 16. Should they do so, the district will then go straight into “campaign mode,” Mr. Elsasser said.

If they determine the community will not currently support a bond measure, the district will pursue a “plan B,” he noted, further retooling the scope of a potential bond measure with an eye on more strategic timing.

Information on the district’s high-priority projects and the potential bond measure can be found on the CUSD website.

—Sarah Torribio

storribio@claremont-courier.com

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