No, it’s not a good time to be asking voters for money.
But for two of Tuolumne County’s school districts, it is a necessary time. With budgets stretched to the breaking point, the schools have no way to pay for needed campus maintenance and improvements. Help from the taxpayers is essential.
Measures G and H, before Summerville High School and Sonora Elementary School district voters on Nov. 2, deserve passage.
Measure G, an $8 million bond issue, is an extension of Measure Q, a $9.9 million bond passed by more than two-thirds of Summerville district voters in 1998. Measure G would continue campus improvements begun by Q and, among other things, would upgrade computers and servers, improve the rickety, deteriorating Thorsted Field bleachers and make required handicapped- access improvements throughout the high school’s Tuolumne grounds.
Measure H, a $7.8 million bond issue, marks the first time the Sonora Elementary District has gone to voters since 1969, when bonds for construction of the new Greenley Road campus were passed. Now that campus, opened in 1973, is deteriorating.
Measure H would fund overdue electrical improvements, a plumbing and water-meter overhaul to bring adequate fire flows to campus and new or remodeled classrooms to replace portables plagued by mold and dry rot.
Both measures require 55 percent approval margins and have the unanimous support of their respective boards.
The high school’s Measure G will not raise property taxes, but instead will extend Q’s rate for 20 years. The tax rate would not exceed $30 per $100,000 in assessed valuation.
Sonora Elementary’s would set a $25 per $100,000 rate until the bonds are paid off, typically 25 to 30 years.
With housing values down, homeowners may be paying less. Campaign literature for H estimates that the cost for the average homeowner will be about $2.70 a month. That’s far less than treating yourself to breakfast at a your favorite cafe every 30 days.
Others may wonder why the two schools just don’t pay for the needed improvements out of their regular budgets.
It’s because the districts can barely pay for teachers with their operating funds.The ongoing recession had stretched budgets tight and income from the state is uncertain.
Summerville High, with an increasing enrollment, has cut more than $500,000 from its 2009-10 budget. Although teachers have not been laid off, administrators are taking furloughs and pay cuts and the district’s secretary was laid off.
Money to complete the campus master plan, which Q began? Not a chance.
Sonora Elementary, with the highest enrollment of any Tuolumne County elementary school, this year cut its budget by $600,000, laid off two teachers and cut hours for employees remaining. Nothing’s left in the larder.
On the plus side, foothill voters have historically recognized the importance of education and have supported recent bond issues.
In 2004, Yosemite Community College District voters, including those in Tuolumne County, passed a $226 million bond issue. More than $50 million of the total was allocated to Columbia College, which has benefited from construction of a new science lab, child development center, public safety headquarters, auto shop and more. Property for a Calaveras County satellite campus in Angels Camp has also been purchased.
In 2008, Bret Harte High School District voters approved an $18 million bond issue that has built new science labs and classrooms and a school and community-use pool.
These bond measures have not only added needed campus improvements, but have spurred local economies and created construction jobs.
While the recession is temporary, the investment we make in the education of our children will pay dividends for decades to come. Measures G and H deserve our overwhelming support.