The San Marino Unified School District Board of Education held a special meeting on Sept. 11 to discuss the results of a school bond measure survey conducted by FM3 Research to weigh the viability of putting another measure to benefit local schools before voters on a 2024 ballot.
Senior Vice President Adam Sonenshein of FM3 Research led the presentation of the survey that explored the thoughts of potential SMUSD voters on a sample bond measure set at $200 million, the largest amount possible without increasing existing property tax rates.
The survey, which highlighted the responses of 322 of SMUSD’s likely voters, found that the initial support for a proposed bond measure sits right at the 55% “yes” threshold necessary for passage, with 37% voting “no” and 8% saying they were “undecided.”
“That would say to us this measure starts in a position where it’s worth future consideration, worth trying to work for, but clearly not a slam dunk, particularly in a survey that has a margin of error of about 5.5 points,” Sonenshein said. “But we are at a starting point where we are kind of in the game, but there’s work to be done.”
Back in March 2020, San Marino voters decidedly rejected the $200 million Measure S Bond, with 58.9% voting “no” and 41% voting “yes.”
Joy Kummer, partner and cofounder of TeamCivX, an election strategy and communications consultant, joined the SMUSD meeting virtually to discuss her thoughts on that measure’s failure and ways to safeguard a successful bond in the future.
“Speaking to the election in 2020, there was controversy with the district about the size of the bond, whether it should be $100 million or $200 million,” she said, noting that while there had been a facilities needs assessment committee, there had not been a private consultant to gauge support for the differing bond amounts. “So, the split in the community was really about a bond size because there was no agreement on what projects needed to be done.”
The district has gone through many changes since, Kummer noted, adding that SMUSD is committed to conducting a facilities needs assessment in a “very thoughtful, transparent and open way” so stakeholders feel part of the process.
“We have much more communication and outreach planned to the community,” she said. “Right now, we are really focused on the feasibility to help provide information to see how the community feels about this bond.”
The hypothetical “San Marino School Repair, Upgrade, Safety Continuation Measure” priorities, according to the sample of voters in the survey, should maintain/repair/upgrade local schools with no tax rate increase, including leaky roofs, restrooms, heating/cooling, security, earthquake/fire safety, electrical systems, aging classrooms/labs, ensure safe drinking water, support student achievement and college/career readiness. In adopting the $200 million bond measure, residents would be annually taxed $60 for every $100,000 of assessed property value. The measure must receive a 55% supermajority of the vote to pass.
The survey also found “an overwhelmingly strong connection” between perceptions of the district’s need for funding and the attitudes on the measure, Sonenshein explained. According to the survey, two-thirds of voters continue to perceive that the SMUSD has at least “some” need for additional funding.
The consultancy firm recommended that the proposed bond measure would have a better chance of passing in the November 2024 presidential election rather than in the primary election of March 2024.
“This survey will help us understand how to move into those next two phases of the awareness building and measure development. That means really thinking through how we will be doing outreach to the community,” Kummer said. “That information is very powerful and it changes people’s minds. I think that is critical for us through the end of this year.
“We’ve gone through this before in 2016 and decided not to move forward. The district did move forward in 2020, but did not have a survey at that time, so now we are really taking a very thorough and a different approach than we did in the past.”
The immediate next steps for the Board will include a September study session to review the bond information, with the aim of moving forward to awareness building and public outreach, which would occur between October through December. To qualify for the Nov. 5, 2024, ballot, the Board plans to vote on a resolution and deliver it to the registrar of voters before Aug. 9, 2024.
First published in the Sept. 14 issue of the San Marino Tribune