Atascadero school district votes to put bond measure on Nov. 4 ballot

When Tom Lawrie’s two daughters attended Monterey Road Elementary School in Atascadero, the campus boasted an antiquated heating and air conditioning system and an outdated electrical infrastructure.

That’s why the Atascadero resident was so eager to support the $117 million school facilities improvement bond measure approved by voters in 2010. Now, he said, “We’re kind of halfway through the effort (districtwide). … And I think we have to finish.”

Because slumping local property values have yet to significantly improve, however, the Atascadero Unified School District lacks the funds to complete major upgrades at 10 schools.

So on Tuesday, the district Board of Trustees voted unanimously to accelerate the process by asking taxpayers to pay more money now, but over a shorter time frame than previously scheduled.

Specifically, it will ask voters Nov. 4 to reauthorize $58 million in bonds. If they don’t, the district risks delaying projects now in planning stages by as long as 15 years and paying higher construction costs.

Should the measure pass, the district will boost the annual tax rate, now capped at $60 per $100,000 of assessed value, by an average of $47.50 per $100,000 assessed value, said Dale Scott, president of San Francisco financial advisory firm Dale Scott & Company. In total, property owners could pay as much as $120 per $100,000 of assessed value annually.

“We’re not asking for any more money (overall),” district Superintendent Deborah Bowers said, stressing that the $117 million has already been authorized. The issue, she added, is “how we go about accessing it and paying it back.”

The ballot measure will seek “to continue the work of Measure I-10 by modernizing and expanding vocational education facilities, repairing aging schools throughout the District … and constructing a high school science, technology, engineering and mathematics facility,” according to district documents.

The original measure, Measure I-10, authorized $117 million in bonds to be sold in four series, A through D, and paid off by 2027.

Series A, which was sold in June 2011 for $25.5 million, has so far covered the costs of modernizing Monterey Road Elementary School and Carissa Plains School, as well as replacing the roof of the Atascadero High School gym and improvements to the high school girls' locker room. Work on Santa Rosa Academic Academy is underway.

To cover renovation costs, the district plans to use $4.2 million from Series A and $1.9 million from Series B, which will be sold in June for $33.5 million. A massive overhaul of Atascadero Junior High School, scheduled to begin in 2015, would be funded completely by Series B.

The sale of Series C, originally planned for 2017, and Series D, originally planned for 2019, would have provided an additional $58 million to finish renovating Atascadero High, Del Rio Continuation High School and four remaining elementary schools.

However, school officials said, property values have dropped to the point where they can’t support the sale of the final two series. Also complicating matters is a bill passed by the state Legislature in 2013, AB 182, that reduced the number of years for a bond’s repayment period to 30 years for current interest bonds and 25 years for capital appreciation bonds, Scott said, noting that the previous maximum in each case was 40 years.

The new law also reduced the amount of projected tax revenues available for Measure I-10 repayment, he added. Because of those factors, the sale of additional Measure I-10 bonds could be delayed until 2030, Scott said. That’s unless voters approve reauthorization, accelerating the sale of the remaining bonds.

The remaining series would be sold in 2015 and 2017, respectively, Scott said.

“We either do the work that was originally envisioned with the bond issue in 2010, which is dearly needed,” Lawrie said, “or we have to wait until all of those numbers come together in such a way that we can issue bonds. “

“All in all, I just think we need to finish the work,” he said.

Atascadero resident Madalyn McDaniel also supports the bond reauthorization. “I do think it will be a tough sell, though,” she said at Tuesday’s meeting, urging the district to take the lead in publicizing the ballot measure.

“You need to control the conversation before any rumors or misinformation get out there … and stress how there’s no luxuries, no extras. It’s just very needed repairs.”