News

Survey: Voters would easily approve $294 million bond measure for high schools

The survey results are in for the Sequoia Union High School District and what might be done to make room for a projected 20 percent or more additional students by the 2020-21 school year. Voters would likely approve a bond measure to significantly rebuild campuses, including Menlo-Atherton and Woodside, and raise taxes by as much as $16 per $100,000 of a property's assessed value.

The survey didn't specify what a $16 tax rate would mean in terms of total available capital, but board President Allen Weiner told the Almanac that the district would have $294 million to work with.

The board met Wednesday (Feb. 12) and heard from San Mateo-based pollster Brian Godbe. To pass, a school bond measure needs the approval of 55 percent of the voters. A survey of 800 likely voters showed a June or November election easily exceeding that threshold in seven of the eight elementary school districts in the Sequoia district, and seven of the district's nine communities.

"You're in a pretty good spot, considering we're just starting with this," Mr. Godbe said.

Voters were queried on their support at five different tax rates between $16 and $8 per $100,000 of a property's assessed value. The curve showed about 65 percent support at $16 and a sharper upward trend at around $9.95, with an $8 rate gathering 75 percent.

"That ($9.95 break point) is just the psychology of human beings and purchasing behavior," Mr. Godbe said.

The research found no important differences between a June election, when turnout is typically lower, and November. One data point of statistical significance: Households with children supported a bond measure by 54 percent, compared with 40 percent for households without children.

The survey percentages reflected voters who would "definitely" or "probably" vote in favor of or against the question being asked; each question had five options for response.

The survey assessed voters' openness to arguments opposing a bond measure; a vote exceeding 45 percent would indicate a winning argument. In the survey, 44 percent voted no. "As this question goes, that's a pretty good place to be," Mr. Godbe said. "This is a pretty good sign that (the opposition's) best argument, at least that we've tested, doesn't reach that 45 percent."

Common practice is not to include the amount of a bond measure in communicating to voters, Mr. Godbe said. "It's such an abstract number that people don't get it. There's no sticker shock," he said.

He compared voter analysis to buying a car. "Until you get to telling him the monthly payments, it's not real. That's the same thing we're talking about here."

Board member Chris Thomsen asked about the chances of winning 55 percent support for a $16 tax rate. "I think you'd have a very good chance at being successful," Mr. Godbe said.

Polls are one thing, and success in an election is another, said Sarah Stern-Benoit, a partner at San Francisco-based TBWB Strategies. Informing key members of the public with a compelling plan and getting volunteers to run an effective campaign are critical to success, she said.

Board comment

In opening up the discussion to the board members, Mr. Weiner asked his colleagues to explain what would be necessary to have their support for a June election -- their "big ifs." His were a "confident and thorough" analysis of the district's needs to meet the enrollment projections, and an effective leadership team for the campaign.

"We'll get a smaller turnout in June, so we'll be mobilizing a smaller community," Mr. Thomsen said, and suggested that the board consider a measure of $250 million to $260 million.

Board member Alan Sarver proposed a "very aggressive" approach to create public awareness of the enrollment projections and what they mean for the campuses.

Board member Olivia Martinez asked Ms. Stern-Benoit to talk about the benefits of hiring professionals to run the campaign, a service that TBWB Strategies provides. Such a team could map a strategy, work on getting endorsements and fundraising, manage phone banks, and get the district's message out there. "It helps to really hone that time into what has to be done locally," she said.

Volunteers are valuable in their status as "being of the community and knowing the community," Ms. Stern-Benoit said.

A June election is better, and the board should go "for as low a number as possible," Ms. Martinez said. California is one of the highest-taxed states in the country, she said. "It's very tempting to go for the maximum."

She added, "We can't afford to wait any longer. It's far easier to put a lot of effort into a short period of time rather than string it out. ... I think telling (the Sequoia district's) story is really overdue."

The board is expected to decide later this month on the ballot measure.

Comments

Posted by Kahle Berner, a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Feb 13, 2014 at 9:32 pm

Only a few years ago the SUHSD used hundreds of millions of taxpayer to build facilities totally unnecessary for the core function of educating our children : football lighting, extravagant performing arts centers, Olympic sized pools, new gyms, and more. A waste of money on "nice to have" facilities. Now they are back to the well for money they really need. This is exceedingly poor planning by elected trustees and SUHSD administrators.


Posted by Bob, a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Feb 14, 2014 at 8:02 am

A year doesn't seem to go by without one of the school district asking for more money for one reason or another. And the taxpayers somehow always seem to fund them.

With all the money going to our schools one would think we should have a superior educational system with students excelling in their education, but I don't think that's the case.

Interesting comment from above: "Common practice is not to include the amount of a bond measure in communicating to voters, Mr. Godbe said. "It's such an abstract number that people don't get it. There's no sticker shock," he said."

Let's not tell the voters how much money we need!


Posted by Taxman, a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on Feb 14, 2014 at 8:41 am

I won't vote for this. Show me a full accounting of all the previous money we've been fleeced for first! (Like that would ever happen).


Posted by Michael G. Stogner, a resident of another community
on Feb 14, 2014 at 10:37 am

Who is paying for this campaign against property owners who are stuck with paying the tax if it passes?

"Board member Olivia Martinez asked Ms. Stern-Benoit to talk about the benefits of hiring professionals to run the campaign, a service that TBWB Strategies provides. Such a team could map a strategy, work on getting endorsements and fundraising, manage phone banks, and get the district's message out there. "It helps to really hone that time into what has to be done locally," she said."


Posted by Arts Professional, a resident of another community
on Feb 14, 2014 at 4:31 pm

There is always someone who described the PACs as "extravagant." The PACs in the Sequoia UHSD are not extravagant, by any stretch of the imagination, unless you're the type of person who views the performing arts as inherently extravagant (in which case, we obviously don't see eye-to-eye because I view performing, visual and fine arts as core academic subjects for any well-rounded education.) The PAC at M-A has more bells and whistles, but it also had additional funding outside of the bond measure. The other PACs are modest, but appropriate facilities for students to learn and practice performance.


Posted by Joe, a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Feb 14, 2014 at 4:50 pm

The Greeks managed very well with an outdoor amphitheater. Shakespeare and O'Neill, Miller and Williams, Shepard and Becket, all the elegance in language and drama that one could ever want and available for a couple of bucks. And let me not forget the musicals so popular in high school.

An outdoor amphitheater in 2014 is a bit much, but I fail to see how the fundamentals of being on stage and having sets changed by hand by an ordinary stage crew is somehow beneath the dignity of high school students.

What is wrong with using one's imagination and asking the audience to do the same? Why does the venue have to be so magnificent? It is commonplace but I will note anyway that when working in the creative arts, there are huge benefits when doing that work within limits.

It's the race to keep up with the private schools that we are paying for when we build these monuments. I've never been to acting school, but I will bet that peripheral matters such as automatic backdrops and perfect lighting and sitting in the audience and controlling with a laptop have nothing to do with learning the fundamentals of being on stage.


Posted by Joe, a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Feb 14, 2014 at 4:57 pm

And I might add that acting troupes all over the Bay Area change sets by hand. Public high schools having stellar equipment when actual working theaters are successful with ordinary facilities is ridiculous.


Posted by voting NO on the bond, a resident of another community
on Feb 15, 2014 at 12:36 pm

I agree. The SUHSD over spent and took advantage of tax payers when building the performing arts centers. The newest PAC at Carlmont was too extravangant for a high school and now very expensive to run. Local community theater groups can't use it because of the high cost to rent it out.


Posted by Jack Hickey, a resident of Woodside: Emerald Hills
on Apr 23, 2014 at 9:27 am

The District's contract with TBWB Strategies, interesting reading, can be found here: Web Link
I have requested cost information for that contract. The Godbe poll cost $34,710.


Posted by I've got MINE, a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on Apr 23, 2014 at 10:42 am

And my kids are out of the district and moved away and will never use the district, so I'm pulling up the ladder behind me and urging a NO vote!

No way that investing in education is good for the area. We can import all the foreign engineers we need for silicon valley.

Vote NO. We'll all be dead, anyway, when the lack of education really hits the area and the American economy.

#VoteLibertarian
#IveGotMine
#SelfishBas****




(#CanYouBelieveTheseGuys?)


Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Apr 23, 2014 at 11:02 am

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

"No way that investing in education is good for the area. "

Actually INVESTING in education is a great idea. What is a horrible idea is for a high school district that has only $112 million of annual revenue (only 80% of which are assured via taxes) and only $16 million of non-special reserves to have over a $1 BILLION in debt.

Blindly supporting any class of public expenditure is a very dumb idea and suggesting that education should get a special exemption from the reality test of its ability to service debt is even dumber.


Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Apr 23, 2014 at 11:12 am

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

Note that the outstanding General Obligation Bond debt of the District as of June 30, 2013, is already $336,340,000.

The total requirements to amortize through 2044 these General Obligation Bonds outstanding as of June 30, 2013 is $558,520,819.

Now add $265 M more in debt which would take $530 M to retire and the SUHSD would now have a total amortized debt of $1.08 BILLION !!!

Please correct my figures if they are wrong.


Posted by Jack Hickey, a resident of Woodside: Emerald Hills
on Apr 23, 2014 at 11:15 am

Can you believe well in excess of $1 Billion(including state matching funds) and no cafeterias? Web Link

Here's an excerpt from that article by David Boyce:
"High school cafeteria. The words go together like pepperoni pizza or grilled cheese sandwich. And yet in the four comprehensive schools in the Sequoia Union High School District, including Menlo-Atherton and Woodside, there are no cafeterias."


Posted by Anonymous, a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Apr 23, 2014 at 12:34 pm

As a senior, there is a limit to what I can pay. The voters ignored seniors in the recent bond issue and now they are back for more. In response to the poster who said "I've got mine", some of us never had a child in public school yet we have paid the tab for some 50 years. You are forcing the elderly to pull up stakes and move away from everything they have ever known. Shameful.


Posted by Elementary School Parent, a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
23 hours ago

I think that "I've got MINE" was satire and not this person's actual opinion (at least I hope it was). I think they are trying to take an extreme position to poke fun of some of the reason's people might vote no.

I plan to vote 'yes'. More kids are coming and they need more classrooms. I also support the past expenditures on PAC's and sports facilities that help provide students will a well rounded high school experience. We are so fortunate to have these strong public high schools in our community and I hope we can keep them strong for all the kids that are coming. I think it is very important to invest in our young people and their education.


Posted by Elementary School Parent, a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
23 hours ago

Oops, sorry for the few typos in my post. I think I need to clean my glasses.


Posted by hsparent, a resident of Menlo Park: Sharon Heights
21 hours ago

If the district sent more kids to Woodside High (ie, Los Lomitas)-- then they wouldn't need to tear down as many classrooms at MA to build 22 new ones (big construction zone for the next year or so). Unlike MA, Woodside still has some room to build and is still under-enrolled (tho still slated to build 12 new classrooms). Also, this would eliminate a few hundred kids from traveling west to east over El Camino each day -- send kids to school closest to their homes. Filling the seats at Woodside HIgh would show fiscal responsibility and finally show the SUHSD Board's support for a really great high school.

I will vote YES for this but am also suspect about the district's plan to construct 2 new small Charter high schools in Menlo Park Area. This is going to most likely mean more traffic -- again more people traveling west to east and will this really offset MA's population? Curious -- how many kids within MA boundary currently attend Summit and Everest?

Fill the schools we have before building new ones........


Posted by Arts Professional, a resident of another community
20 hours ago

Joe:

You are incorrect. Performing arts technology is part of any appropriately equipped performance venue in 2014. The Greeks did make some great theater, as did Shakespeare. They also made do without school buses, electricity, computers, telephones, etc. Shall we have our students write in the dirt with sticks? Seriously - part of the art and craft of performing arts is technology. And it is cheaper to run the lights from free software on a laptop, so that was not a very good example. Performing arts, including theater, music, dance, opera, film, television, are interrelated and increasingly technologically complex. They are also a large economic force in our state in particular. Some school districts use their performance venues as vocational training for future stage and film technicians. Next time you watch a film, watch the credits roll all the way to the end. Everyone of those people is drawing a paycheck. Most, if not all, got started in the "business" because something clicked for them in the performance world when they were in high school. Danny Ortega, creator of the High School Musical franchise, got his start right here in San Mateo County. Don't short change the futures of our community's children by limiting their options.


Posted by Arts Professional, a resident of another community
20 hours ago

...oops. I got so expressive I gave Kenny Ortega the wrong first name...


Posted by fwiw, a resident of Woodside: other
18 hours ago

> Peter writes:
> What is a horrible idea is for a high school district that has only $112 million of annual revenue (only 80% of which are assured via taxes) and only $16 million of non-special reserves to have over a $1 BILLION in debt.

> Blindly supporting any class of public expenditure is a very dumb idea and suggesting that education should get a special exemption from the reality test of its ability to service debt is even dumber.

Ignoring for the moment that you are equating future value dollars with today value dollars, do you really not understand how GO Bonds are financed?
Hint: debt service will be directly funded to the precise amount from taxpayer rolls (ie, taxes will go up sufficiently to pay the bond amount).

Also, please compare and contrast how you think the Menlo Fire Protection District is doing relative to financing its capital obligations. Hint: read the recent prop 13 financing report that you yourself commissioned from district staff carefully before tackling this one.


Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
6 hours ago

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

"debt service will be directly funded to the precise amount from taxpayer rolls (ie, taxes will go up sufficiently to pay the bond amount)."

Yes and then there will have to be parcel taxes to pay for the additional operating costs.

So what will be the cost per student/per year after all this debt is incurred?


Posted by Susannah Hill, a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
5 hours ago

The bond measure is for accommodating the 20% enrollment growth over the past 12 years. I seem to remember there is predicted to be another 20% in the coming 7 years. Since the elementary districts have grown dramatically it makes sense that those students are heeded toward high school.

For example, apparently there are not enough bathrooms for the students at M-A and waiting for a stall to open up can make girls late to class. They can roll a portable classroom onto campuses but things like bathrooms and labs require construction.


Posted by fwiw, a resident of Woodside: other
4 hours ago

> please compare and contrast how you think the Menlo Fire Protection District is doing relative to financing its capital obligations.

How very unlike you to ignore a question about the Menlo Fire Proection District. Why, oh why hasn't it needed to have a bond measure to finance its capital construction costs?

Is it because of excellent management and fiscal responsibility, or is there another reason? (hint: initially, State Bailout)


Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
4 hours ago

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

Here is the Fire District property tax revenues analysis:

Web Link

Hint, hint - there is no State bailout, and no parcel tax - the Fire District lives within its means and provides the SAME level of service to all of the citizens whom it serves.


Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
4 hours ago

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

" please compare and contrast how you think the Menlo Fire Protection District is doing relative to financing its capital obligations."

The Fire District routinely allocates current revenues to capital improvement accounts to pay for capital facility upgrades and uses revenue support bonds - see a recent Treasurer's report:

Web Link

Note total reserves and that interest costs are paid out of current revenue income.

So now after fwiw's attempt at distraction let's get back to the SUHSD questions:

So what will be the cost per student/per year after all this debt is incurred?

How are they going to pay the interest on this $1 billion debt?

How are they going to pay the operating costs for this huge expansion of facilities?


Posted by fwiw, a resident of Woodside: other
3 hours ago

> Hint, hint - there is no State bailout, and no parcel tax

That's only what you think because you understand nothing about the implications of Prop 13.

Once upon a time (1978) every Local Agency District had its own tax rate. The statewide average of all of these taxes (county, city, education, fire, police, etc) added up to 2.67% of current year property assessments.

But then "we" passed Prop 13, and all of these 2.67% taxes were pooled together and compressed into a cap of 1% (as a county collected/pooled tax) + voter approved bond tax/bond measures.

Obviously 2.67% is a LOT more than 1% and yet no fiscal crisis occurred in 1979. Why is that? That's because the state had a huge surplus at that time. So, for 3 years, the state made all of these LAFCO districts whole via, wait for it, a STATE BAILOUT. So through 1981, the impact of Prop 13 was very muted.

But in 1981, legislators woke up and realized, oops, we can't make these guys whole forever or we're going to obviously go broke. They had already proportionally allocated the property tax from 1979 (ie, if your district was charging say, 10% of the collected (2.67%) tax in '78, then you were getting 10% of the new 1% cap in '79 and being BAILED OUT by the state for the rest.

So, what did they do in 1981 going forward. The state bailout was ending, how would we everybody survive? Well, police and fire went to the head of the line and received re-diversion of the 1% county funds to replace, wait for it, 95%(!) of the BAILOUT amount.

And where did those back filled funds some from? Wait for it.... DIRECTLY from County Education funds!

But then you say, how did schools survive? Well, 95% of them switched over to being directly funded by the state at a significantly reduced rate based on per student days but without any direct provision for capital construction.

But the you say, well, the state is the one subsidizing your education costs, and for 95% of the state, that would be a true statement. But our Sequoia High School District is a "basic aid" district, which means that since our local property taxes exceed the state allocation, the California Constitution lets us keep the total amount of our local apportionment. But while that local apportionment is indeed greater than the state allocation, it is still only half of what we would have been allocated as a percentage in 1978.

Today, it's less (way less) because that money is being allocated to, wait for it, police and fire.

Now in 1992, the state realized that it wasn't going to be able to continue financing all of education, so they asked for some money back from the local districts (ERAF). And that sucked for police and fire how now found themselves short financed. So they took it to the ballot in the form of Prop 172 which exempted them from the worst of the ERAF reallocation.

Still, overall the Sequoia District has seen significant and consequential reductions of its property tax base while, say for example, the Menlo Fire Protection District has not.

And that is why at $16 per $1000 of assessed value, the cost of this bond is still less (by a wide margin) than the amount lost from Prop 13 tax base reduction.



Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
2 hours ago

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

fwiw - lots of assertions - please cite your sources for all of your gross approximations of the "truth".

Feel free to use the Fire District's excellent analysis of post Prop 13 revenues - and I challenge you to find a single error.

So now after fwiw's attempt at distraction let's get back to the SUHSD questions:

So what will be the cost per student/per year after all this debt is incurred?

How are they going to pay the interest on this $1 billion debt?

How are they going to pay the operating costs for this huge expansion of facilities?


Why does SUHSD need so much more bond funding per capita than any other high school district in the state?


Posted by fwiw, a resident of Woodside: other
1 hour ago

> fwiw - lots of assertions - please cite your sources for all of your gross approximations of the "truth".

> Feel free to use the Fire District's excellent analysis of post Prop 13 revenues - and I challenge you to find a single error.

wtf?

The Fire District's analysis is not incorrect. For practical purposes it's spot on. I can point you at the excellent 83 page analysis written by an analyst in the Santa Clara County Tax Collector's office (I believe there is a link on the SM County Tax Collector web page).

But let's just turn straight to the Menlo Fire District "Property Tax Allocation Overview" linked right above the staff report:

"Pre-Proposition 13:
$10.3 billion collected State-wide on 1977-78.
2.67% State-wide average rate"

"Proposition 13 (June, 1978):
Property tax receipts dropped by approximately $7 billion in the first year."

"Post-Proposition 13 – SB 154 (1978-79):
"Bailout" funds allocated from State surplus: $2.5 billion to schools and $1.9 billion to other local agencies.

SB 154's 1978-79 property tax receipts became "base" for local agencies."

"Post-Proposition 13 – AB 8 (1979-80):
State increased 1978-79 base of non-school agencies by shifting portion of schools' base to them and backfilling schools with State general funds (Special Districts received a base increase equivalent to about 95% of "Bailout" funds)."

There is one place that I am, however, generalizing. I've read the 2.67% number as a statewide average in several places, but as an honest disclosure I don't have easy access to a 1978 local property tax bill to see exactly what "our" local agency taxes were in 1978. So you're right, I'm generalizing a bit, but I, at least, would not call it grossly.

I stand by my statement that while the Menlo Fire Protection District saw a very modest drop in revenues as a result of its 95% bailout funding in 1981 while Basic Aid School Districts saw absolutely no back filling from the state. You only got state funds if you switched your funding model to the state.

Now, my turn:

Please stop referring to $1B of debt. That's like saying that somebody who takes out a $1M mortgage is carrying $2M of debt because the total financing cost is going to include interest. I find it to be either ignorance of the facts or simply disingenuous for rhetorical purposes.

How will they finance it? What are you talking about? These are GO Bonds whose principal + interest are directly financed as a $16 per $1000 assessment on your property taxes in addition to the $3.13 per $1000 assessed value that you currently pay.

> Why does SUHSD need so much more bond funding per capita than any other high school district in the state?

Your turn to cite sources. I sincerely doubt this to be true but I am open to being proven wrong. What I can definitely tell you is that I am certain that we will be well in the median range of school bond assessments as cost per $1000 across the state, and I'll go find the exact number if you dispute this with more than just a talking out of the side of your mouth statement.







Posted by fwiw, a resident of Woodside: other
1 hour ago

Argh. Of course I meant $16 and $31.3 per $100K of assessed value respectively.


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