Supporters of Measure I — the $117 million bond for Atascadero schools — have plenty of homework to do if they’re going to persuade voters to take on that kind of debt in today’s troubled economy.
To be blunt, we’re not sure there’s enough time to complete the assignment.
The November election is roughly seven weeks away, and there’s been very little buzz about the bond. So far, the only letter to the editor we’ve gotten was vehemently opposed to the measure.
One Atascadero parent of school-age children told us he’s seen no campaigning for the bond at all. That’s a problem, since parents should be the first line of support.
We also wonder whether the laundry list of proposed projects — which includes building a new junior high or renovating the existing one — is simply too ambitious in these times. With so much focus statewide on teacher layoffs, increases in class size and reductions in transportation, athletics and other programs, voters might be more amenable to passing a parcel tax that could be used for salaries, classroom materials and the like, rather than financing a slew of building projects.
But enough nay-saying. Backers of the bond measure do have a couple of big advantages:
A school tax that Atascadero homeowners already pay is set to expire in June, 2011, so taxpayers won’t see their overall property tax bill increase. In fact, the new tax would be significantly lower than the one set to expire.
The existing rate, approved by voters in 1990, is $97.50 per $100,000 of assessed value. If voters approve Measure I, the new rate will be no more than $59 per $100,000 of assessed value, and it could turn out to be lower, depending on interest rates and other factors. Theoretically, the new tax could be in effect until 2059, but that too isn’t certain, since the bonds could be retired earlier.
The measure requires approval by 55 percent of voters to pass, compared to the two-thirds approval required for many other bond measures. And school bonds, even in today’s economy, have a good pass rate. In the June election, 15 out of 20 school bond measures on the ballots in various California communities passed — a 75 percent success rate.
The passage rate for all local bond measures — including those requiring a two-thirds vote — was a respectable 73 percent.
That’s a good indicator that, even with California’s high unemployment rate, many voters are willing to support good causes.
But to help ensure passage, there must be an excellent case for why governments need additional money — and it’s imperative for supporters of Measure I to get that across as quickly as possible.
Simply pointing out that facilities are aging isn’t going to cut it. Many public buildings are old, but that doesn’t make them obsolete. Nor does it justify a bond measure of this magnitude.
We aren’t prepared, at this point, to urge a yes vote on Measure I, but we will be listening to arguments pro and con in the weeks to come. We strongly urge Atascadero voters to do the same.
Projects that could potentially be funded by Measure I, Atascadero’s $117 million school bond:
Renovate the existing downtown junior high campus, or build a new junior high at a new location.
Renovate the existing downtown Atascadero Fine Arts Academy, or build at a new location.
Construct a Visual and Performing Arts Center at Atascadero High.
Construct a science, technology, engineering and math facility at Atascadero High.
Remodel an existing high school building to accommodate a student and staff cafeteria and a staff development, meeting and classroom facility.
Expand vocational education facilities for programs such as welding, automotive technology, culinary arts, medical and health technology and construction trades.
Equip classrooms with up-to-date computers and other technology.
Repair and replace roofs.
Meet handicap accessibility requirements in restrooms and classrooms.
Upgrade and replace outdated heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems.
Repair, renovate and modernize outdated and aging classrooms and facilities throughout the district.
Install solar panels and other systems to cut down on energy costs.
Renovate restrooms throughout the district.
Upgrade playing fields and athletic facilities throughout the district.