Shoreline may shrink bond proposal

08/02/2018

Just a week before the deadline to submit language for a bond measure on the November ballot, the Shoreline Unified School District board is still determining facility project priorities and the amount for which it will ask—likely less than its initial proposal following a wave of opposition from residents. 

The board will finalize and vote on the bond next Monday in order to meet the Aug. 10 deadline. If the board presses ahead, the bond will need 55 percent of voter support to pass. 

The first widespread notice of the proposed bond was mailed to district addresses in June, though it appeared on the agenda at a number of school board meetings this spring and emerged from a needs assessment first conducted in 2014. 

In June, the district proposed spending $30 million for critical repairs and upgrades to classrooms and school buildings, among other projects, across its five campuses from Inverness to Bodega Bay. The projected annual tax rate was $60 per $100,000 of taxable property value—the maximum allowable amount—with the program projected to cost around $58 million over the next three decades at a repayment ratio of $2 for every $1 borrowed.   

At last Thursday’s board meeting, the district’s bond consultants, an Oakland-based, two-man firm, Eastshore Consulting, presented the proposal and compared it with those in other nearby school districts. 

Shoreline residents now pay $41 per $100,000 of taxable property value, an outstanding amount from previous facility bonds passed in 2009 for $9.29 million and in 2000 for $7 million—both of which have been refinanced to lower the rate. (Accounting for slightly higher bond taxes, residents also pay $33 per the same amount of property value to the College of Marin.)

Residents also pay a parcel tax for education programs that was extended in 2012 for another eight years at a rate of $185 per parcel, with a 2 percent raise each year. 

As far as issuing bonds, Shoreline is currently at 20 percent of its total capacity; a $30 million bond would bring that percentage to near 60 percent. That compares with Novato Unified at 38 percent capacity, Cotati-Rohnert Park Unified at 96 percent capacity and Healdsburg Unified at 66 percent.

During public comment on Thursday, many people expressed concern and confusion about the district’s extensive project list. Questions were raised about whether projects were necessary compared with education needs, estimated at a fair price ($41,000 for a commercial dishwasher seemed high, for instance) or redundant to improvements funded by past bonds. 

“I’m not against schools, I’m a lifelong teacher,” Inverness resident Francine Allen, who previously taught English at the College of Marin, said. “But it’s your process and community outreach that is very concerning. I really resent ending up with a list like this—with millions and millions of dollars listed—without a better dialogue, and I think that a lot of people would have very different choices about priorities.” 

A number of others chastised the board for failing to gather enough input, a criticism that led the board to hold a special, informal meeting on Tuesday at the Tomales Regional History Center. Around 10 community members attended in addition to four trustees, the consultants and Todd Lee, the founder of the construction company that completed the needs assessment, Greystone West.  

At that meeting, the district presented a new project list with priorities categorized in four tiers based on urgency. The trustees agreed to attempt to generate funds to address the first tier, which Mr. Lee said was critical within the next five years. 

That tier includes deferred maintenance such as roofing, flooring, painting, window upgrades and siding at all five district schools, including $1,179,613 at Inverness School, $2,772,323 at Tomales Middle, $3,7114,819 at Tomales High, $4,735,342 at West Marin, $1,736,308 at Tomales Elementary and $428,246 at Bodega Bay. Also on the list was $961,716 of improvements for the Tomales bus barn, $397,000 to replace a portable at Bodega Bay and $796,282 for a district-wide reserve. 

The second tier, which Mr. Lee said currently impacts school operations, lists projects such as replacing portables and the intercom, clock and bell systems and upgrading the gym at West Marin; upgrading the locker room, tennis courts, music room and gym bleachers and installing a new dishwasher at Tomales High; improving the playground at Tomales Elementary and furniture and equipment needs district-wide.  

Despite the weighty list and assurances from Mr. Lee—whose company has worked for Shoreline in the past—that his estimates are generally very accurate, Michael Riemenschneider for Eastshore Consulting recommended the board consider dropping the bond down to $20 million on Tuesday. “It’s just a fact that the lower the tax rate, the more support you get, and that certainly seemed to be the consensus from community members,” he said. 

Last month, his firm conducted a phone survey to gauge interest, though they reportedly reached just 139 people, or 5 percent of the voting population. A little over a third of those surveyed said there was a “great need” for improvements and repairs. 

When asked about individual projects, the greatest support, at 30 percent, was for improved technology. Student safety and security, replacing the old portables with new classrooms and upgrading infrastructure all came in with over 20 percent support. 

The survey revealed decidedly less support for athletic facility improvements at the high school and the development of a farm project, an educational-agricultural endeavor proposed for Tomales. At Tuesday’s meeting, however, residents seemed to favor both projects. In regard to the farm, trustees agreed to write bond measure language vague enough that the farm could be funded. 

Ultimately, trustees said they will come up with a final number for the bond measure based on the estimates for the projects they will select next Monday—though they also said they would keep their ultimate resolution general, since the project list cannot be tweaked after the vote and the measure itself must be short-winded. (There is room in the ballot pamphlet for an expanded explanation, though likely not the full list.) 

There was much less controversy at Tuesday’s small meeting in Tomales than at the better-attended one held in Point Reyes, but a lack of specificity continued to rankle residents. 

“So, I will know about the priority list because I came to this meeting, but what about everyone else?” Inverness resident Connie Morse, one of four members of the public who stuck it out until the end, asked. “And what if I vote because I’m excited about one project and then there’s nothing that binds the district to completing that?”

Madeline Hope, herself a former school board trustee, had a number of concerns about how projects completed with funds from the 2009 bond measure have ended up, such as a classroom that was built for science but is used for sixth grade and a joint use agreement for the school gym that guarantees broader community use than occurs.

“There are these giant funding commitments we have made, but then the uses have ended up being incongruent with what the public was told would be done,” she said. “The new bond should be an opportunity to recommit and honor those previous agreements for all the stakeholders, for the taxpayers, so we make sure that the facilities are adequately supporting the young people.”