Claremont COURIER editorial staff says ‘yes’ to Measure G

The editorial staff of the Claremont COURIER newspaper urges a yes vote on Measure G.

The need for funds to repair and improve public schools in Claremont is clear.  We feel that district staff has done a good job—a very good job—of outlining needs and paring down the to-do list to only the most critical projects.

As we have previously reported, this bond will be used to address repair issues on the many older school buildings throughout the district. Because of this, residents will see the impact for decades to come. And it’s not just one school, or one particular facility. All schools are included to address the numerous needs for the aging school sites.

Despite the nearly 40 public meetings held by CUSD, and the ThoughtExchange survey open to the community, some questions about the necessity of Measure G remain. It’s not our typical endorsement format but, this year, we thought we’d simply address some common questions and concerns we’ve heard from community members.

 

The interdistrict transfer student (IDT) policy hurts the district.


Those opposed to Measure G have argued that CUSD’s liberal interdistrict transfer policy has compounded school site problems by forcing the district to over-utilize trailers. We only partly agree.

It would behoove the district to carefully analyze the IDT policy and look at why some school sites are so heavily populated by transfer students—some school enrollment is as much as 50 percent transfer students, while other sites host a more reasonable 15 to 25 percent. We believe there are adjustments that can be made to enrollment so the district isn’t spending funds on portables when there is room at one of the other elementary sites.

District representatives have said that dramatically reducing the number of transfer students would result in either closure of an elementary school or reduction to curriculum, like the International Baccalaurette program at CHS. We don’t know if this is true or not but, honestly, it doesn’t really matter. IDT populations don’t change the fact that many of our schools are more than 50 years old and desperately need upgrading and basic repair.

When sites like Sycamore School—which offers a multi-age, alternative learning program—have no interdistrict transfers because they are at capacity, it is probably time for CUSD to consider replicating the school’s model at another school site, like Oakmont. The result could realize a more even distribution of IDTs, while offering a curriculum highly sought by Claremont residents.

The bottom line is this: CUSD can reduce IDTs or shift them to different school sites, but the roofs will still leak and the El Roble pool will still be empty, a symbol of the district’s very real problem of widespread deferred maintenance.

 

What about Prop 51? If it passes, won’t the district get enough money to fix schools?


Proposition 51, the first statewide education-related bond measure since 2006, authorizes $9 billion in general obligation bonds for construction and modernization of public schools, as well as vocational education and community college facilities. 

Of the $9 billion available, should the measure pass, only $3 billion will be available for K-12 modernization projects.

Prop 51 works like a matching grant—school districts that already have money will get money. As Lisa Shoemaker, CUSD assistant superintendent of business services, explained in a recent interview, passage of Prop 51 could help the district but only nominally.

“It’s so small, I don’t have a lot of high hopes it will provide a lot of money for us,” she said. “We don’t have any way of knowing what’s already in the pipeline.”

This “pipeline” refers to school districts that already have money in hand from prior bond measures, with projects already approved by the state. Districts in this position get first dibs on any Prop 51 money and, with 1,000 school districts statewide, $3 billion for modernization will go very fast.

“If Prop 51 passes, we will absolutely pursue it,” Ms. Shoemaker emphasized. “But we need the local bond measure to even qualify. If we don’t have any money, we don’t qualify. We can’t take advantage of it unless we have a local bond passed already.”

 

The district didn’t get everything done on Measure Y, and we’re still paying on it.


Some residents are troubled by the way the district spent Measure Y funds. The $49 million bond measure allowed CUSD to make some improvements, but not as many as the district had planned.

“The last time state money was available, districts went for it and the cost of construction escalated because everyone was going out for projects at the same time,” Ms. Shoemaker explained.

Because of the influx of state money for school capital projects, California saw a dramatic spike in projects going out to bid. This prompted contractors to raise their fees. At the same time, China experienced an unprecedented building boom. As Ms. Shoemaker related, the supply chain was diminished in the US because everything was going out of the country. A shortage of products like rebar and concrete in the US resulted in skyrocketing costs for materials, which unexpectedly ate up the bulk of Measure Y funds.

This time around, Ms. Shoemaker has said the district will move very quickly to take advantage of historically low interest rates, and will waste no time in getting the projects completed.

 

What about the surplus property money? Isn’t that enough?


No, it isn’t enough. Not even close.

The district sold the old service center and former district office properties on Base Line Road in 2015, bringing in nearly $11 million for the two parcels. So far, those funds have been used to complete a steel manufactured building at the San Jose Avenue service center for $2.4 million. CUSD also installed a modular building at a cost of $369,243 for a permanent library at Sycamore School, spent $1.5 million on Common Core curriculum, including the purchase of equipment and iPads, and completed a roofing project at the high school for $1.8 million.

Another $1.5 million was used to pay off a Career Technical Education Grant from the state for completion of the Don P. Fruechte Theatre for Performing Arts at Claremont High. The result—a source of pride to the school and community—is an example of how a well-executed project can galvanize a campus.

The district’s final surplus property, the former La Puerta Intermediate School, was twice poised to sell for a handsome profit, $19 million in December of 2013 and $14.35 million in June 2015. In each case, the would-be buyers pulled out after residents near the property expressed displeasure with the planned use of the site. With this level of public outcry, it is uncertain when the district will be able to sell the property.

The attempts to sell the La Puerta property illustrate the district’s commitment to spare residents the burden of picking up the tab on all of its facilities needs. Our hope is that consensus on appropriate use of the La Puerta property will be reached in the near future.

 

Why now?


CUSD’s last bond measure passed 16 years ago. Claremont homeowners will average $48 per $100,000 for Measure G, which, from our perspective, is a sound investment. We have confidence in our current superintendent, Jim Elsasser, and believe he, along with fellow district administrators, will oversee Measure G funds with caution.

Measure G is a sensible bond coming at a time when the district is fortunate to have sensible leadership. We look forward to seeing a positive transformation at our aging school sites and will rely on CUSD’s continued transparency and a vigilant oversight committee to ensure that residents’ money is well spent.

—Claremont COURIER editorial staff

editor@claremont-courier.com

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