HomeCommunity NewsSan Marino Unified School District Puts $200M Bond Measure on Ballot

San Marino Unified School District Puts $200M Bond Measure on Ballot

To aid the San Marino Unified School District in funding upgrades to its deteriorating school facilities, the Board of Education opted to go out on a $200 million bond measure, which will appear on the Nov. 5 general election ballot.

Though the district is keen to improve its campuses, the ultimate decision is in the hands of San Marino voters. Fifty-five percent of all who vote on the measure will need to be in favor of the bond to authorize the funds to the district. The bond measure will appear on the ballot alongside the city’s Public Safety Parcel Tax renewal, which, each year since 1980, has provided police, fire and paramedic services to residents.

Without majority vote, the school board officials said they are unsure how they will support the needed repairs and projects that were identified in their facilities master plan.

From the outside, Superintendent Linda de la Torre said, it’s hard to believe the district’s schools, like San Marino High School, are anything but “fabulous.”

“When you drive up and down Huntington Drive and you look at San Marino High School, the exterior, the façade, is gorgeous,” de la Torre said. “You need to get out of your car and walk the campus to really see the underbelly of the school. Our schools are in a state of disrepair.”

Among the problems that the district’s facilities have endured recently are torrential rains that caused “devastating” flooding, damaged electrical panels, and leaks in roofs, offices and classrooms, as well as a compressor at Carver Elementary School that broke down in triple-digit heat, when students had to be sent home for the day. De la Torre said she looks forward to organizing tours for residents who would like a closer look at each campus.

“We will continue to patch things up if we have to, because school districts do not have any resources from the state that we can utilize to repair our infrastructure,” said de la Torre, who also noted that the current portable classrooms at the elementary schools will not be sufficient for their already ample enrollment considering that families will be seeking an education for transitional kindergartners based on state law that will fully phase in transitional kindergarten access for all of California’s 4-year-olds by 2025-26.

“The school district continues to find ways to address these issues, but it gets harder and harder every year, which is why we really need our community to understand the issues, and we want to work to educate the community, and we also want the community’s support,” de la Torre said. “Really, it is the community’s school district. So, it’s up to the community to decide, ultimately, if they want to value that. The facilities are important. They house our kids, and our kids really do need to have safe, clean and modern learning facilities and spaces.”

In March 2020, voters decidedly rejected the SMUSD’s $200 million Measure S bond, 58.9% to 41%. This time around, the district hopes to win over residents through its attempt to be thorough and transparent by educating the community on why the bond is critical to the success of their children’s education.

SMUSD is going forward with the Proposition 39 maximum tax rate, which is $60 per $100,000 of taxable property value. The $200 million amount is the largest amount possible without increasing existing property tax rates. The tax rate is estimated to be the same every single year starting in fiscal year 2026 and running through 2058.

According to the district’s consultants, the total cost of the bond is projected to be about $400 million, with a plan to issue the bonds in four installments, about every three years. The frequency of installments is subject to change depending on the district’s facilities needs and project timeline.

Additionally, an independent citizens’ oversight committee will be assembled and mandatory audits will occur to guarantee funds are spent as promised and that none of the money is spent on school operating expenses, such as administrators’ salaries or pensions.

“The facilities master plan has shown us we have significant needs — not wants, but needs,” board member Jane Chon said. “We cannot pay for what we need in any other way than with a bond. Otherwise, without this money, when the next thing breaks down, we will have to cut staff or programs to pay for it, but with the passage of the bond measure, the district will be able to pay for basic repairs to address the needs on the brink of breakdown and modernize our facilities to ensure learning continuity.

“And more than basic facilities, we want our kids to feel a sense of pride when they bring their grandparents to an open house or invite their siblings to their showcase events. When we invite prospective students to our facilities, we want them to be impressed and choose to attend school here. We want families to see our schools and make the investment to buy a house here and have a place their children to call home for many, many years to come. The San Marino community is hard-pressed by the state of California to take responsibility for financing the upkeep of our school facilities. Though this puts the financial burden on us, as a community, to maintain our buildings, it also gives us a lot of independence and ownership over what we want to accomplish to ensure our facilities align with our community values.”

Board President Shelley Ryan said the board’s vote on the bond measure is its way of investing in students’ futures, supporting educators and strengthening the community, all while not increasing taxes.

“The facilities bond measure is a strategic, responsible and necessary step to ensure our schools continue to provide a high-quality education in a safe, modern and effective environment,” Ryan said. “… Let’s work together and keep San Marino schools at the forefront of educational excellence.”

As a board member and a mother, Chon believes in the impact that a bond can have for San Marino schools.

“We want to be here for the next generation of children, just like we are here because of the sacrifices made by the generations before us when they passed the bonds in ’96 and 2000,” Chon said. “My own children benefited and continue to benefit from the work that was performed in 2000, and I want to pay it forward to the next generation.”

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