Education

Cuesta College puts $275 million bond measure on Nov. 4 ballot

A bird's-eye view of Cuesta College in San Luis Obispo.
A bird's-eye view of Cuesta College in San Luis Obispo. jjohnston@thetribunenews.com

San Luis Obispo County property owners will be asked in November by Cuesta College to pass a $275 million bond for infrastructure repairs and upgrades.

The Board of Trustees unanimously approved putting the bond measure on the Nov. 4 ballot at a special meeting Tuesday.

The $275 million bond measure would cost property owners $19.45 per $100,000 of assessed value annually.

If passed, the funds would address immediate repairs, meet a state mandate to make modular classrooms safer, upgrade technology, provide enough money to build a job and career training facility in the North County, and help eliminate or refinance millions of dollars of debt.

“We are committed to providing quality, affordable higher education and job training,” said Cuesta College Superintendent/President Gil Stork. “However, repairs and upgrades are needed to support vital educational programs, including college transfer courses and career technical education that will meet industry and educational standards of today.”

A 55-percent voter approval would be required to pass the general obligation bond measure. Voters in both San Luis Obispo County and part of southern Monterey County would see the measure on their ballots because the college's boundaries are in both counties.

A phone survey conducted by consultant Lew Edwards Group during the week of July 17-22 gauged voter temperament for a $286 million bond and found that 65 percent of surveyed voters would likely support it.

The survey was conducted by landline and cell phone with 603 randomly-selected registered voters in San Luis Obispo County. The margin of error is plus or minus 4.1 percent. The last survey was done at the end of 2013 and had similar results.

Despite being encouraged by the consultants to pursue the larger amount, the board ultimately settled on seeking less.

Board President Pat Mullen said he was concerned about the impact on homeowners — and opted for a bond amount that would equal less than $20 per $100,000 of assessed home value annually.

Cuesta instructor Brent LaMon also cautioned the trustees not to seek too large of an amount.

“My fear is that we will go for too much and miss it by a couple of percent,” said LaMon. “We would then have to go through a couple of more years with nothing ... It would be better to go for a little less and have something.”

The teachers’ union at the community college, the Cuesta College Federation of Teachers, has not yet issued a public statement supporting the bond. No one from the union spoke Tuesday.

The bond measure, described as the Cuesta College Education, Job Training and Campus Repair Measure, could be used to fix existing buildings, construct new ones, improve technology and pay off past loans used to make repairs. The bond could not be used to pay salaries or pensions.

If approved by voters, the measure requires an independent annual financial audit annually and an Independent Citizens' Oversight Committee to monitor use of the funds.

Cuesta College has not passed a bond measure since 1974 when voters approved an $8.5 million bond for construction of facilities to complete the new campus. The college tried to pass a $310 million bond measure in 2006 but failed to get sufficient voter approval.

“We are in a very different world today than we were in 2006,”said Stork. “One thing that is the same is that we had a decaying campus eight years ago and now it is worse.”

Cuesta’s list of needed repairs includes leaky roofs, cracked asphalt and improving classrooms that have little access to technology because of their age. Aged pipes and electrical systems, and failing heating and cooling systems have outlived their lifespan, said Terry Reece, director of facility services, planning and capital projects.

The college needs an estimated $140 million to make needed repairs at both the San Luis Obispo and the Paso Robles campuses. Cuesta is also looking at spending $84 million to replace 18 modular buildings on both campuses —something that is required by state law to meet current California architectural standards.

“We must act now,” said Trustee Barbara George. 

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