HomeSchools & YouthSchool Board Will Hear First Reading of Facilities Modernization Bond Tuesday

School Board Will Hear First Reading of Facilities Modernization Bond Tuesday

At the conclusion of a special meeting held on Tuesday afternoon, the San Marino School Board directed Superintendent Dr. Alex Cherniss to prepare a draft resolution and begin planning for a general obligation bond election on June 5, 2018 to fund a district-wide facilities modernization project that has been discussed for more than two years. Cherniss told The Tribune on Wednesday morning that the district would seek $148 million at an election that would require 55% voter approval to pass.

“This problem isn’t going to go away,” said Board Member Lisa Link at Tuesday’s study session, which was held in the district office and drew a capacity crowd.

The “problem” is what Cherniss had earlier identified as $255 million in needs at all four campuses, including $20 million in crucial plumbing, electrical and HVAC upgrades to facilities which were built as many as 65 years ago.

Devon Mitchell of gkkworks, a Pasadena architectural firm, led the audience through a 20-minute explanation on facilities needs, including work that was completed in the 1996-2006 $70 million facilities modernization project. For that project, voters approved two bonds worth over $52 million. The remainder of the monies came from state funding, local donations and district capital and interest earnings.

Each new project discussed at Tuesday’s meeting was placed into one of three categories; safety and security, student achievement or deferred maintenance.

Carver Elementary School, according to the assessment, needs a new classroom building to replace portables, emergency back-up generator, enlarged lunch shelter, asphalt replacement on its play field and a new sport court and shade structure on the site where its “underutilized” tennis courts are currently located.

Valentine needs upgrades to its air conditioning system, an emergency back-up generator, permanent building that would house 10 classrooms, a multi-purpose facility that would include a full-service cafeteria and kitchen, a new library and remodeled STEM center and a reconfiguration of the drop-off center.

“We installed a bunch of single-unit air conditioners at Valentine that are now at the end of their life spans,” Cherniss interjected. “I have been told that teachers have to turn them off in order to speak to their students. A new air conditioning system would be more energy efficient.”

Huntington Middle School is also in need of air conditioning upgrades and an emergency back-up generator as well as a new permanent classrooms to replace aging modulars and a secure internal campus access pathway. The Barth Athletics Complex is also listed in the assessment, but is currently under construction with occupancy scheduled for 2019.

Among the proposed projects slated for San Marino High School would be air conditioning for the existing gymnasiums, a new fitness center, a new two-story west wing classroom building, a new visual and performing arts complex, aquatics facility and expansion to the tennis courts.

The 30,000 sq. ft. west wing classroom facility would include specialized learning spaces, a robotics facility and would allow for the campus to be secured, according to Cherniss. The visual and performing arts center would include a new 1,200-seat auditorium, black box theater and state-of-the art stage rigging and a journalism classroom.

Chet Wang of Keygent then provided the board with current information on the fiscal climate for a bond project, referencing San Marino’s “very strong, very resilient” housing market. Wang said that over the past 30 years, the assessed value of homes in the city have averaged an annual growth of 6.4%.

“The market would have a high confidence in this community’s ability to pay back these bonds,” said Wang, citing the San Marino Unified School District’s AA+ credit rating.

Lisa Link, a school board member and the current vice president, asked Wang about alternative funding sources if a bond measure failed or the district chose not to place the item before voters.

“Any time you issue new debt you need voter approval,” said Wang. “And you are limited as to how much you can access.”

Wang also displayed a graph showing that San Marino residents are currently paying off the bonds from the previous modernization project and – if a new bond is approved – would be paying off both until 2025, when the first project sunsets. Voters would, though be paying less than they are now in 2026 and beyond.

The matter did have its detractors.

Thomas Ashway of Roanoke Road said that because the amount of tax paid by each parcel is dictated by assessed value and not market value due to Proposition 13, it is not “equitably applied.” Ashworth also referenced a mailer that was sent by the district to homeowners last week mentioning the project and announcing the special meeting was not timely and demonstrated “a steamrolling action by the board.”

Stacy Brightman agreed, saying that her household received notification of Tuesday’s meeting on Saturday morning and complained that the meeting, which was slated to be held from 4–6:00 p.m., was held during typical work hours.

“I hope this board will consider other creative alternatives for a capital campaign,” said Brightman. “I am also concerned that we haven’t paid off our previous credit card debt,” she said, referencing payments on the first bond.

“We’ve been discussing this for years and I’ve presented our facility needs several times in many different venues,” Cherniss said on Wednesday morning when asked about the comment. “To imply that we’ve provided the community with short notice is not accurate. I presented to the board on November 7 and we shared our facility needs and the prospects for a bond initiative. This was subsequently reported in The Tribune on November 10, the Titan Shield on December 15, through a community letter from me on January 9, The Tribune again on January 12 and a district mailer on January 12. Furthermore, we have now posted all information and presentations on the District website. I will now be presenting to individual PTAs at their general meetings, along with the San Marino Schools Foundation and PTAffiliates. I will also be reaching out to San Marino’s Rotary, Chinese and City Clubs.”

Julie Lin, a San Marino parent with 2nd and 5th grade daughters, praised Cherniss and the board for the hours it took researching the project, but questioned other facets of the system.

“It would be great to have new buildings, but what is going on inside these buildings?” said Lin. She also questioned the quality of lunches served at Carver Elementary School and Huntington Middle School and the demise of foreign language education at the 6th and 7th grade levels.

“I think we should put curriculum before more air conditioning,” she said.

In his conclusion, Cherniss stated that the district will be forced to deal with the $20 million of utility upgrades whether or not a bond is approved.

“This would have to be a general fund expenditure,” he said. “We would have to be spending money on air condoning rather than textbooks.”

Cherniss mentioned bond projects that were recently passed in La Cañada, Arcadia, Temple City and South Pasadena as well as Beverly Hills and Manhattan Beach.

“This is what school districts do,” he said. “Home prices are driven by schools. Just look across the street. We have the #1 school district in California and the passage of a bond is an investment in the school district. This is a competitive environment.”

The board then directed Cherniss to prepare a draft resolution and begin planning for a general obligation bond election on June 5, 2018. The board would be required to hold two public readings of the resolution, the first at the Tuesday, January 23 meeting and another on Tuesday, February 13, at which time the board would be asked to vote on moving forward with the project.


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