Politics & Government

Atascadero voters' decision on bond measure could affect school upgrades

The $8.2 million modernization project at Monterey Road Elementary School in Atascadero includes new windows, new roofs and a new heating, cooling and ventilation system.
The $8.2 million modernization project at Monterey Road Elementary School in Atascadero includes new windows, new roofs and a new heating, cooling and ventilation system. jjohnston@thetribunenews.com

Atascadero Unified School District Superintendent Deborah Bowers has a simple request to voters: “Let’s finish what we’ve started.”

Four years after the passage of a $117 million school facilities improvement bond measure, the district is asking voters to reauthorize $58 million in general obligation bonds in order to complete major upgrades at 10 schools.

The reason: Slumping property values have yet to significantly improve, so the district is asking taxpayers to pay more money now, but over a shorter time frame than previously scheduled. They’ll still pay the same amount in total.

If voters don’t approve the measure, the district risks delaying projects now in planning stages by as long as 15 years and paying higher construction costs.

In May, the district Board of Trustees voted unanimously to place Measure B-14 on the Nov. 4 ballot, becoming one of four local school districts seeking to pass bond measures this fall.

According to the voters information guide prepared by outgoing San Luis Obispo County Clerk-Recorder Julie L. Rodewald, Measure B-14 is intended to “continue the work of Measure I-10 by modernizing and expanding vocational education facilities (and) repairing aging schools through the district.”

Should Measure B-14 pass, the district will increase the annual tax rate, currently capped at $60 per $100,000 of assessed value, by about $47.33 per $100,000 of assessed value.

In total, property owners could pay as much as $120 per $100,000 of assessed value annually.

If voters approve the measure, “Not only will we be able to keep the schedule that we have anticipated, (but) we will (also) be able to re-evaluate and look at our timelines. We will be able to speed up projects,” Bowers said, allowing the district to avoid escalating costs.

Should the measure pass, an independent Citizens’ Oversight Committee would be established to review and edit all expenses, Atascadero Unified said, adding that legal guarantees will ensure that funds are spent locally.

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 $25.2 million, covered the costs of modernizing Monterey Road Elementary School and Carissa Plains School, as well as work on Atascadero High School.

Work on Santa Rosa Academic Academy is completed “for the most part,” Bowers said, adding that contractors have been working on a “very accelerated schedule” to allow teachers ready access to their classrooms. To cover renovation costs, the district is using $4.2 million from Series A and $1.9 million from Series B, which will be sold in November for $33.5 million.

Series B will also completely fund a massive overhaul of Atascadero Junior High School, scheduled to start in 2015.

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, district officials said, property values have dropped to the point where they can’t support the sale of the final two series.

In addition, due to a new law passed by the state Legislature in 2013, Atascadero Unified might not be able to sell additional Measure I-10 bonds until 2030, said Dale Scott, president of San Francisco financial advisory firm Dale Scott & Co., in May.

Supporters of Measure B-14, including Atascadero Mayor Tom O’Malley, say reauthorizing $58 million in bonds would allow the district to improve school facilities while saving taxpayers money in the long run. But Atascadero attorney John Paul Daly argued in the voters information guide that the district should live within its means.