Politics & Government

Measure D would fund upgrades at aging San Luis Coastal high schools

Morro Bay High School Principal Kyle Pruitt and Amy Burton, a Morro Bay leader in supporting Measure D, field questions from a group touring the campus on Oct. 4, 2014.
Morro Bay High School Principal Kyle Pruitt and Amy Burton, a Morro Bay leader in supporting Measure D, field questions from a group touring the campus on Oct. 4, 2014. ldickinson@thetribunenews.com

The frequent struggle to maintain school buildings that are more than 50 years old has pushed San Luis Coastal Unified School District to turn to the public for help.

On Nov. 4, voters will decide on Measure D, a $177 million bond to repair and construct facilities at both of the district’s main high schools and at its small continuation high school. The bond would also pay for some minor repairs at elementary and middle schools.

Should the bond pass, upgrades planned for the high school campuses include repairing numerous classrooms, installing modern technology, upgrading restrooms, fixing leaky roofs, updating fire alarms and renovating locker rooms, as well as building two badly needed swimming pools.

Repairs and upgrades are long overdue, officials say.

Not only are students being forced to live with a wide range of problems that affect their physical environment, but equally as important, the old facilities and related problems are now hampering their education.

At San Luis Obispo High School, a chemistry lab is so old that it prevents Advanced Placement students from being able to complete some of the required curriculum in the lab.

“Every classroom in the science wing has its own quirks, both good and bad,” said Ryan Ritchie, science chair at the high school. “We do the best we can do with the equipment we have, but some of it is from the 1960s.”

At Morro Bay and San Luis Obispo high schools, Wi-Fi is only available in the library. And at times, school officials say, it is spotty at best. Device carts are hauled into some classrooms with a Wi-Fi router to allow Internet access.

And not long ago, the Morro Bay High School gym roof, degraded from years of disrepair, leaked water onto the floor, causing it to buckle and look like an ocean wave had surged beneath the flooring.

Students at Morro Bay High School also face the constant unpleasant smell of seagull droppings sucked into aged heating and cooling vents and released into the cafeteria and library.

Measure D would cost property owners $49 per $100,000 of assessed valuation per year for up to 30 years. A school bond measure needs 55 percent voter approval to pass.

The 30-year bonds would be issued in phases over five to seven years.

Both the teachers and the classified unions have endorsed the measure. Vocal opposition to Measure D is scarce. No formal opposition has been formed.

Morro Bay High School Principal Kyle Pruitt and San Luis Obispo High School Principal Leslie O’Connor have been offering public tours of the campus to demonstrate the school’s disrepair.

“Wow, this is not what our kids deserve, not what our teachers deserve,” Pruitt said the common response has been as people see the problems for the first time. And, he said, he couldn’t agree more.

Second-largest district

The San Luis Coastal district is the second-largest school district in San Luis Obispo County and includes the communities of San Luis Obispo, Los Osos, Morro Bay and Avila Beach.

There are 15 schools — 10 elementary schools, two middle schools and three high schools — with 7,505 students enrolled districtwide.

It is one of only two school districts in the county to not have existing bond debt. The other is the small Pleasant Valley Joint Union Elementary School District.

The last tax measure passed by the school district was Measure A, a $100 million bond passed by voters in 1990 that was used to upgrade elementary and middle schools. It was paid off in 2001.

This year, the school district updated its facilities master plan for the first time since 1986 and identified $370 million in possible projects.

The $177 million bond would pay for the key needs and also help the district qualify for state grants, said Ryan Pinkerton, assistant superintendent of business and support services.

Pinkerton said the district would not likely seek another bond for “years to come.”

The majority of funding from Measure D would be dedicated to the two comprehensive high schools: $60 million each to San Luis and Morro Bay high schools.

The elementary schools do not need major structural upgrades. Those schools, and the middle schools, benefited from the $100 million bond passed by voters nearly 24 years ago.

Some money would be used for projects such as a new multipurpose room/cafeteria at Bishop’s Peak Elementary School and safety fencing around C.L. Smith Elementary School.

If improvements aren’t made, the conditions will only worsen and the costs will escalate in the future, Superintendent Eric Prater said. “We have worked very hard as a school district to improve the quality of our instruction and the programs that we offer to our students. Our facilities are becoming impediments to those improvement efforts.”

Needed technology

A key component to renovations will be modernizing classrooms and making technological upgrades.

“We are looking at creating 21st century classrooms,” Pruitt said. “The classrooms we have were designed and built for a style of teaching with the teacher at the podium and kids at their desks. That is no longer how we teach.”

Classrooms today need to be larger, with mobile furniture and Wi-Fi accessibility.

“At a school where we are trying to move forward it is pretty critical,” Pruitt said. “We are trying to do the best we can with what we have, but that has been the story of Morro Bay for a long time.”

Pruitt, who was instrumental in implementing the STEAM program (science, technology, engineering, arts and math) at Los Osos Middle School is preparing for those students’ arrival at the high school in 2016.

“The achievement levels of our students are some of the highest in the county,” Pruitt said. “When you think about what teachers and kids are doing despite the environment they have to work in, you can’t help but wonder what the possibilities are when they will have relevant 21st century classrooms to work in.”

Additional improvements at Morro Bay High School will include a pool, a renovated multipurpose room and CIF-certified tennis courts.

San Luis Obispo High School's list includes a new cafeteria and kitchen, an all-weather track, a student services center, an expanded music building and reconfiguring the buildings on campus to enhance security.

As it is now, a visitor has to walk through nearly the entire campus to reach the administration building.

Also on the list are a pool complex, a varsity baseball and softball stadium and a STEAM complex.

“We take pride in what we have, but there is just so much we can do,” Ritchie said. “We are on a campus that is very old. Some of my retired colleagues were using the same desks in their classrooms that they had when they were students here.”

At Pacific Beach High School, improvements include updated STEAM classrooms and labs and a new classroom wing.

Improvements at both of the main high schools would happen in the first phases of the bond.

A citizens’ oversight committee would be created to oversee the bond spending.

“We have our priorities laid out, and much of the information on costs came from our facility master plan,” Pinkerton said.

“But there is still a design phase and a need for input from our parents, students and staff that has to be put into the plans. This input and the determination of exact costs will dictate the phasing of projects and ultimately the budget for construction at each site.”