Local

7 school districts place measure on March ballot

Faced with declining enrollment, mounting pension liability and insufficient state funds, eight school districts serving San Jose students are asking residents for a total of more than $600 million to help keep them afloat.

On March 3, voters who live within the boundaries of these eight school districts — East Side Union, Berryessa Union, Campbell Union, Evergreen, Franklin-McKinley, Moreland, Oak Grove and Union school districts — will see multi-billion-dollar bond measures or parcel taxes on their ballot.

While each district plans to spend the money raised by the proposed measures for different projects — from upgrading security systems to building a housing development for its staff — they each cite similar reasons for pursuing the additional funding.

Most school districts across California receive a combination of local, state and federal funding. Unlike some other states across the country, California schools rely heavily on statewide property tax revenues — and the state ranks far below the national average for funding per student.

To make up for dwindling funds, schools for years have relied on leveraging bonds and parcel taxes to help pay for construction projects and new education programs.

Pierluigi Oliverio, a former San Jose city councilman and director for the Silicon Valley Taxpayers Association, said that districts across the state should focus on demanding more funding and accountability from the state rather than placing an increased burden on local taxpayers.

“If the local school districts spent as much time trying to raise taxes locally and instead focused that time on lobbying their locally elected members in the state legislature, they’d have the money they need,” Oliverio said.

But school officials in San Jose insist these local funding streams are needed now more than ever.

District obligations to pension contributions are climbing. The number of students qualifying for additional special education services is growing — without reciprocal funding.

And, in San Jose in particular, hundreds of students and families who can no longer afford the Bay Area’s escalating cost of living are fleeing the area and shrinking district funds in their wake.

Although districts have tried closing schools, eliminating district positions and requiring furlough days, they’ve struggled to maintain fiscal stability.

“When you’re cutting millions and millions of dollars a year, eventually you have to make a decision of what you’re able to afford,” Oak Grove School District Jose Manzo said. “And we’re kind of at that stage where programs and services will eventually have to go because we have nowhere else to cut.”

Oak Grove School District, for instance, closed two elementary schools at the end of the 2018 school year yet still is seeking additional funding to maintain the programs it currently offers.

“This parcel tax won’t solve the problem but it is a local source of revenue that the state can’t touch and will allow us more time and opportunity to sustain the good work that we’re focused on in this district,” Manzo said about the district’s proposed measure.

Bond measures, which require 55 percent of approval from voters, can be used for fund facility upgrades and improvements but not for operating costs or programs. Parcel taxes, which require approval from 67 percent of voters, can be used to fund academic programs and services and efforts to attract and retain teachers and staff.

Here are what the seven San Jose districts are asking for.

East Side Union High School District

To help its employees struggling to find affordable housing, the East Side Union School District has placed a $60 million bond measure on the March ballot to fund the construction of a 100-unit rental housing development.

The bond measure would increase taxes for property owners in its district by about $20 a year — or $2.70 per $100,000 of assessed value, according to the district.

Pending approval by 55 percent of voters in March, the district plans to build housing on approximately 4.5 acres of open space next to its district office, at 830 N. Capitol Ave. in San Jose.

“When employees are able to live in the community where they work, that only enhances the quality of education we’re able to offer our students and families,” East Side Union Superintendent Chris Funk said. “We want to be one piece of a positive story that creates more housing in the county and specifically for the employees who work at East Side.”

Berryessa Union School District

The Berryessa Union School District is seeking voter approval for a $98 million bond measure. Measure U is estimated to add approximately $28.50 per $100,000 of assessed value to the annual taxes of property owners within the district.

The Berryessa Union School District plans to use the additional funding to modernize aging school facilities, upgrade classroom technology and improve school safety and security measures.

Measure U will go before the district’s voters just six years after they passed Measure L — a $77 million bond measure for the school district that spanned over four years and used to upgrade school security and repair aging facilities.

Campbell Union School District

The Campbell Union School District is asking voters to approve a new annual parcel tax of $298 for the next eight years. The district estimated that the tax — dubbed Measure K — will equate to $16.6 million of added revenue for the district each year.

The district plans to use the funds to increase salaries for teachers, provide more mental health services for students and improve preparation for careers in technical fields such as engineering, computer science, and health care.

The district is seeking funding on top of a parcel tax that it already has in place. In May 2008, voters in the Campbell Union School District renewed an $85 parcel tax — Measure B — that expires in 2023.

Evergreen School District 

The Evergreen Elementary School District is seeking $125 million through Measure V.

Pending the bond measure’s approval from at least 55 percent of voters, property owners would be taxed $30 per $100,000 of assessed value for 18 years — averaging the district about $7.3 million in revenue annually.

The school district plans to use the new bond funding to increase security and technology across all of its facilities, including upgrading internet infrastructure, expanding school pick-up and drop-off areas, and replacing school security alarms and monitoring systems.

“Given the nature of the society we live in and the tragic stories that we see out here, we have to ask ourselves ‘Have we done everything to keep our schools safe?’” Superintendent Emy Flores said. “Overall, we’ve done a good job, but we haven’t done everything we can to keep our campuses safe.”

Over the next three years, the district is expected to face a $12.5 million budget shortfall. To try and balance its budget, the district is currently in the process of choosing two schools to close at the end of this school year.

Franklin-McKinley School District

The Franklin-McKinley School District is asking voters to help fund facility upgrades at its 16 schools through an $80 million bond measure.

Measure R, which is expected to raise approximately $5.2 million annually through 2050, will cost property owners an additional $30 per $100,000 of assessed value in taxes.

A facility needs assessment and master plan completed by the Franklin-McKinley School District in April 2016 found that it needed approximately $357 million dollars to fully repair and modernize its 16 schools.

The district plans to use Measure R as a way of meeting those needs and completing projects such as replacing roofs, building new classrooms to replace outdated portable classrooms and replacing outdated heating and air conditional systems.

Just four years ago, 77 percent of district voters approved a $67 million Franklin-McKinley bond measure. So far, the 2016 Measure H funds have been used to add new speed bumps in parking lots across district schools, install new water fountains and construct new fencing barriers around schools.

Moreland School District

Moreland School District officials are asking voters to approve an $80 million bond measure known as Measure M.

If the measure passes, property owners within the district boundaries would pay an additional $30 per $100,000 of assessed value.

The measure is expected to raise the district about $5.7 million annually to benefit the district’s seven schools. The district plans to use the additional funds to repair and replace leaky roofs and aging infrastructure, upgrade safety and security systems and maintain school playgrounds, sidewalks and playing fields.

The last time the district went to voters for funding was in 2010 with Measure K. The district has used the $55 million bond measure to build 10 new classrooms at Latimer Elementary School, improve districtwide access for disabled students and upgrade student technology and science lab infrastructure.

Oak Grove School District

The Oak Grove School District has placed Measure S — a 9-year, $132 annual parcel tax — on the March ballot. If approved by two-thirds of voters, the district anticipates that the tax will generate approximately $3.4 million a year.

The district plans to use funds raised by Measure S to improve the district’s hiring and training practices for teachers, expand math, science and technology offerings and maintain physical education programs.

Union School District

Under a parcel tax known as Measure Q, the Union School District is hoping to secure $1.9 million annually from voters over the next six years. The parcel tax will cost property owners an additional $149 per year until 2026.

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