News

Bond measure pays for more classrooms

Plans to add many more classrooms at local public high schools can now move into a more detailed phase with the passage on June 3 of Measure A, a $265 million bond measure.

The measure won the approval of 64.9 percent of the voters, with 19,670 voting yes and 10,640, no, according to the latest tally.

The board of the Sequoia Union High School District proposed a bond measure in response to a predicted enrollment surge of at least 22 percent by the 2020-21 school year. The projections reflect higher enrollments in elementary school districts, with much of the growth coming from the Menlo Park and Las Lomitas districts and the districts serving Belmont and San Carlos.

At Menlo-Atherton High, where the impact is expected to be felt most strongly, officials see enrollment growing by as much as 25 percent by 2020-21. At Woodside, projections show around 19 percent growth.

At these two schools, the effect of Measure A will be most noticeable in the appearance of second stories atop single-story classroom buildings. All the Sequoia district campuses are built out, so the reasonable direction to go was up, officials said.

A tentative project list shows M-A receiving a total of 22 new classrooms. In addition to 17 regular classrooms, there would be two for science, one for chemistry and two for the arts or career technical education. (Five new regular classrooms are already funded.)

Woodside would get 15 new classrooms: 12 regular and one each for science, chemistry and art or career technical education.

The additions include bathrooms, staff offices and food service areas as well as upgrades to physical education facilities.

The need for expansion had been the subject of community meetings in the spring and fall of 2013. The idea of a new comprehensive campus was broached but went nowhere, given the $200 million cost and the scarcity of sites.

To lighten the impact at M-A, the district plans to build "in the Menlo Park area" one of two new magnet high schools for 300 to 400 students.

The small schools will have focused curriculums, such as art or science, to attract students away from the comprehensive schools. A district task force has been evaluating schools in the Bay Area that could serve as a model, Superintendent Jim Lianides told the Almanac.

Measure A would allocate about $21 million to Redwood School, a continuation school that gives students at risk of not graduating another chance at a diploma. Redwood has no computer lab, library, multi-purpose room, art or multi-media rooms, counseling spaces and hot water, Redwood High Principal Miguel Rodriguez told the board in January.

■ Go to this link for more information on Measure A.

■ Go to this link for the tentative project list.

Opposition

Among the concerns of the opposition, as expressed on the Almanac's Town Square online forum:

■ Does the district have a big-picture understanding of all its obligations, and is the district on a sound financial footing?

■ Has it competently managed its funds from earlier school construction bond measures?

■ Did district and campaign officials make a solid case or were they counting on reliable majorities and sentiments such as "It's for the kids"?

Measure A is the fifth bond measure from the Sequoia district since 1996, and raises the annual cost to district taxpayers for high school bond measures to $46 from the current $33 per $100,000 of assessed property value.

Proposition 39, adopted by voters in 2000, lowered the threshold for passage of school bond measures to 55 percent of voters from two-thirds. It has had a significant impact on school construction, according to state records.

Majorities of 55 percent or better approved 624 of 757 bond measure elections from 2001 through November 2013, a success rate of 82.4 percent. Among the 941 elections that required a standard two-thirds majority, just 55 percent passed from 1986 through November 2013.

Officials comment

The Almanac requested post-election comment from district and school officials.

Principals Matthew Zito of M-A and Diane Burbank of Woodside said they were looking forward to the details of planning the work on campus. Mr. Zito said he is "excited to begin master planning an updated version of the campus that can accommodate five hundred more students and better organize our support and administrative services, among other goals."

Sequoia board President Allen Weiner said he is "proud to live in a community that has acted in way that is consistent with what I believe about it that (it is) committed to education."

And complaints about financial management? The district has legal limits on its debt load and was well within them, he said. The board could legally have asked voters for more, and some on the board wanted to, he noted.

Superintendent Jim Lianides said that architects will be formally chosen at the June 25 meeting, and that master planning will begin immediately. The search for parcels to accommodate the new magnet schools would start in the summer. Evidence of Measure A spending should be apparent on campuses as early as the 2016-17 school year, he said.

Comments

Posted by Fred, a resident of Menlo Park: Fair Oaks
on Jun 12, 2014 at 12:21 pm

Lets hope some is put toward new HVAC for Woodside High school. My special needs son can't cope with classroom temps of 95 degrees or higher. Fan circulating hot air doesn't being to help. GO figure.


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