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Town Hall Meeting Touts Facility Needs

San Marino Unified School District Superintendent Dr. Jeff Wilson, center, led a lively question-and-answer session at a town hall meeting held Wednesday night. Mitch Lehman Photo

The San Marino School Board will be presented next Tuesday evening with several options for a possible facilities modernization project, but members of the district’s Facilities Advisory Committee, Superintendent Dr. Jeff Wilson and several members of his cabinet offered another opportunity to engage in a dialogue over the matter at a town hall meeting on Wednesday night in the Huntington Middle School cafeteria.

The meeting, which lasted approximately an hour and forty-five minutes, addressed the needs, costs and a rough timeline for the proposed project, which would address what in Wilson’s words are the SMUSD’s “aging facilities.”

During almost a year’s worth of meetings, the Facilities Advisory Committee (FAC) has identified 97 high priority projects that address student safety and security that add up to approximately $210 million, the upper limits of the community’s bond ability.

Former San Marino School Board Member Jeanie Caldwell, who served as the chair for the FAC, reviewed the direst needs, which include replacing aging portable classrooms at Carver and Valentine Elementary Schools (“my children are 30 and 28 years old and the portables came to the district before they started school,” said Caldwell), classrooms that provide a more agile and adaptable learning environment, plumbing, electrical and technological upgrades, and increased safety and security.

“When we were looking into the bonds 20 years ago, there was no real need for security,” Caldwell said. “There probably had never been a school shooting.”

Wilson explained how the California stopped funding maintenance projects in the state’s public schools in 2013 and currently ranks 41st in the nation in per pupil funding.

“So you are left to consider a bond measure,” Wilson deduced.

He also mentioned a proposed $9.2 billion matching funds program that has been put forth by Governor Gavin Newsom and will be provided only to districts who have construction plans that have been approved by the Department of the State Architect, or DSA.

Next Tuesday, the board will consider timelines that range from calling for an election on a proposed bond in March 2020 to waiting up to two years before going to the voters.

“Even if a bond passes in March, the first time the money would be available would be the summer of 2020 and if we go out for matching funds it will be more like 2022,” Wilson said.

During a lively question-and-answer period, several community members urged the district to pump the brakes.

“It’s a little soon to be putting this all together,” said one resident.

Jim Barger, a lifelong San Marino resident and graduate of San Marino High School who has serves on the FAC, took issue with the statement.

“This is something that has been going on for almost a year,” Barger thundered.

A couple meeting attendees urged the board to wait until a later election cycle and use the extra time to further define the needs and costs. Some even mentioned asking voters for a smaller bond to address immediate maintenance issues before going back for another bond, or more bonds.

Wilson told the audience he has worked through two facilities modernization bonds when he was employed by the Arcadia Unified School District and reassured doubters that a comprehensive citizens oversight committee would help assure communication between the district and its families. Others urged the district to focus on “a parallel development between curriculum and facilities.”

The San Marino School Board on Tuesday, October 22 directed Wilson to present a resolution at its Tuesday, November 12 meeting that could lead to a possible facilities bond election in March 2020, pending approval by the board.

The school board voted 3-1 directing Wilson to further review the proposed project list that had been recommended by the FAC, to provide more up-to-date cost projections and to ensure that the facilities projects are in line with the future direction of the district. Wilson will then return with a proposed bond amount that would not exceed $200 million. For the possible bond to appear on the March 2020 ballot, the board will have to take action at the November 12 meeting—the last regularly scheduled board meeting before the December 5, 2019 deadline. Wilson said the board could call a special meeting to take a vote on the resolution, but felt it should be handled at a standard meeting, which typically take place on the second and fourth Tuesdays of each month.

Tuesday’s meeting will take place in the District board room and begin at 7:30 p.m.

San Marino homeowners are still paying $60 per $100,000 of assessed value for the two bonds that were passed in 1996 and 2000. If approved by voters any new bonds would hit tax bills in 2025—when the old bonds are paid off—and would be considered continuation bonds.

“I am looking forward to developing our strategic plan with the community,” Wilson said.


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