Thursday, August 12, 2010
School buildings in Monterey, Seaside and Marina are way past due for an overhaul – that’s according to Monterey Peninsula Unified School District officials and others who are urging voters to approve a $100 million school bond Nov. 2.
“If the community doesn’t step up, they [schools] will crumble around us,” says Superintendent Marilyn Shepherd, citing balky boilers and a technology infrastructure that turns the information superhighway into a rutted dirt road when it comes to delivering Internet access to classrooms. Shepherd notes that the bond will cover only about a third of the district’s needs, according to its facilities master plan.
After hearing from a handful of bond supporters and a smattering of critics, the MPUSD board voted unanimously Aug. 5 to ask voters to authorize the bond for improvements including bringing buildings up to code, upgrading heating systems, and building middle school science labs and new classrooms to replace portables. The money, which by law can only be used for capital improvements, could also retire some $800,000 a year of old debt for previous capital projects, which would free up much needed cash for operating expenses. A citizen’s review committee would oversee bond spending.
“Let’s give the community the opportunity to say we care,” urged former Monterey Mayor Dan Albert.
The proposed improvements would add some $30 for each $100,000 of assessed value to annual property tax bills, and critics question the district’s timing.
“Some say it’s never a good time,” says Rick Heuer. “But when have we ever been in a time where there are a record number of foreclosures, the highest unemployment and an angry electorate – and you want to ask for a tax increase?”
Heuer, a businessman and former city of Monterey planning commissioner, claims credit for defeating the district’s last bond in 2002, but says he’s still undecided on this one.
The district is better managed now, Heuer says, but he questions whether its officials have built sufficient voter support for a tax increase.
An April poll commissioned by MPUSD found that even though locals worry about the quality of district schools, a bond would win the 55 percent voter support required, especially if it would attract good teachers and contribute to improved academic performance.
MPUSD has been sharply criticized recently as Monterey parents questioned a raft of teacher transfers and worried their schools would get short shrift as the district made plans to jump-start student achievement at struggling Seaside campuses for the 2010-11 school year. But Shepherd notes MPUSD is much improved and needs to better communicate its recent successes including a positive financial rating, and rising test scores.
Shepherd says she’s talked up the bond as much as possible – chatting with the mayors of the cities involved, and Chamber of Commerce members.
“It’s only me running the district in the summer,” she says.
The election will cost $350,000, to be paid for with bond proceeds if voters give the go-ahead.
“We want to buy in,” Rev. HH Lusk of Seaside’s Ministerial Alliance told the board. He said he’d planned to oppose the bond, but changed his mind after talking with students, parents, and teachers.
Lusk urged school board members to campaign hard for the measure. “You help us buy in because these are our children.”