Paso High gets a progress report

Paso Robles Public Schools leaders recently rolled out their update on projects funded by Measure T, the $20 million bond and property-tax increase local voters passed in November 2006 to expand and upgrade Paso Robles High School.

The work — which includes a series of permanent buildings to get students out of portable ones — is needed because the student body has outgrown the school’s infrastructure, officials said.

“More and more we’re throwing money away on old buildings that need to be replaced,” said Ashley Lightfoot, Paso Robles schools’ director of operations and facilities.

Paso Robles High School has 2,036 students, Lightfoot said, when it was built to accommodate 1,200.

About 500 students are taught in portable classrooms.

What might be confusing for some, he added, is the community will see new buildings popping up at the same time teacher layoffs and state budget cuts are fresh in their mind.

“But we’re not allowed to use Measure T money to pay for teachers, custodians, busing or anything else,” Lightfoot noted.

That’s because there are rules attached to the bond money, he explained, and the school district must use the funds for the purpose that local voters were sold on when they passed the measure three years ago.

District officials say they have worked to plan buildings that will last.

“I know some people were concerned the money could be wasted, Lightfoot said, “but that’s not how we are. We live in this community too, and we want these kids to have decent buildings.”

The money

Part of the money has and will come from the sale of bonds, paid for by district home and land owners through a levy added to their property tax bills.

Measure T added a tax increase of $11.90 per year for each $100,000 of a property’s assessed valuation — the value used strictly for determining property taxes.

The tax increase remains in effect until all of the bonds are paid off with interest.

The first bond was sold in summer 2007, Lightfoot said, and the first property tax charge followed in December of that year. Paso Robles Public Schools has sold about $12 million in bonds so far, he added.

About $20 million in various grants will also come in through state matching funds. Each project will be financed with about half Measure T and half state funding, he said.

But because of the state’s budget problems, much of those matching dollars have yet to be released, Lightfoot said. That means each project’s progress hinges on when Sacramento’s fiscal situation turns around.

“Whether that’s a year from now or five years from now — that’s really going to be the determining factor,” Lightfoot said of when construction could begin.

However, some work has already been done, including reroofing the high school in 2007, adding new air-conditioning units in 2008 and turning a science classroom into a lab for students.

One project on tap now is a new building for Independence High School, slated to break ground in the next two weeks.

The five-classroom, 75,065-square-foot structure will house the high school’s accredited independent study program that currently serves 187 students across the street from the main high school on Niblick Road. Sometimes it serves about 250 students, he said.

The roughly $2 million project was bumped up, Lightfoot said, because its rooms are in dire shape. They were home to school district offices before the 1980s.

Measure T-funded school projects

Phase One

Phase Two

There are no estimated costs yet on Phase Two projects.

Source: Paso Robles Public Schools