For school facilities overhaul, Bolinas-Stinson advances $9 million bond measure

08/07/2014

Bolinas-Stinson Unified School District will ask voters to approve a $9 million bond measure in November, trustees decided in a 4-1 vote at a special meeting Tuesday, just before tomorrow’s filing deadline. 

If the measure passes, the district could fund technological upgrades, renovate the multipurpose Quesada room, improve safety at drop-off and pick-up areas, ensure compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act and modernize outdated classrooms, restrooms and other facilities. In response to a community survey distributed over the last month, some requested a science lab, a gym and performing arts space on the Bolinas campus and permanent space for the preschool at the Stinson
campus. 

The board hasn’t settled on any project details or even priorities yet, but they plan to do so with input from the community and oversight from a committee after feasibility studies can be completed. But the uncertainty about how funds will be used led trustee Steve Marcotte to cast a dissenting vote against the measure. 

“This is very different from the aborted effort last time when we had a master plan and vision and had to get ‘x’ number of dollars to do it,” said Cyrus Harmon, a trustee who’s been advocating for the bond as part of the Fiscal Oversight & Facilities Planning Advisory Committee. “It will be a time sink for the board for a couple of years, but it’s an important legacy for the school for the next few decades.”

A general obligation bond, which requires 55 percent approval, would allow the district to draw funds for facilities projects up front (unlike a parcel tax that collects a sum annually) and repay the debt over the course of the bond’s 30-year lifespan. The additional tax on each property within the district’s borders would be calculated as a percentage of a property’s value, rather than as a set fee for each parcel. Based on value, the two parcels of Warren and Amy Weber’s Star Route Farms, for instance, would be taxed roughly four and a half times higher than school board president Arianne Dar’s home on one parcel, a “fairer” way to distribute the cost, Mr. Harmon said. 

Much of the strongest opposition to ideas floated in the survey was for the purchase of land to expand the Bolinas campus or establish an agricultural program, as well as building an outdoor classroom. Many respondents noted that the area is surrounded by local farms and asked why money should be used to purchase the school’s own plots. Others noted that the district’s enrollment would not necessitate a bigger campus or more classrooms. One person called the outdoor classroom “an oxymoron.” “Just go outdoors and sit down,” another remarked.

After going over the results, the board amended the draft ballot language to take out references to land acquisition, not wishing to scare away potential votes in their favor. While trustee Jennie Pfeiffer encouraged the board to think about sea-level rise when planning the location of new construction or the cost of renovation, the board’s consensus was that flooding and other potential disasters in the distant future were another agency’s concern and could distract from the central goal of providing the best education to students.

The community survey showed a bond measure polling well with the 174 people who responded. Only 15.5 percent said they would oppose the measure. More than half—52.9 percent—said they would support a tax referendum.

Another one-third said they were not sure and wanted details about how big of a hike they would see on their tax bills and clearer proposals about the scope of building. “How much? How long? What specifically for?” “How about a plan (blueprints?) presented at a meeting,” “EXACTLY WHAT WILL BE DONE WITH THE MONEY” some undecided voters wanted to know. 

“The board does decide all of that with the citizens oversight committee. But you would work with contractors and advisors about what’s feasible and how to get it done,” said the new superintendent, John Carroll. “It’s a pretty big back and forth.”

“That’s what I want to do. I want to have all of these ugly debates done before you go to the community,” Mr. Marcotte responded.

“If you do that, I don’t think we’ll ever get a bond passed,” Mr. Carroll said. “You’re asking the community for permission to move ahead with the idea. We don’t have the capacity to have a detailed list of what we can do. I think that’s why all the school bonds in California start general, get the money and then have the board piece-by-piece to make the right decisions.”

“There’s a difference between the way it’s done and the way it can be done,” Mr. Marcotte said before voting against the tax referendum. The measure still had the requisite two-thirds of the board and will be on the Nov. 4 ballot.