Summerville bond loses by 2 votes

Brenna Swift, The Union Democrat /

Summerville High School's $8 million bond measure may get a recount after it failed by only two votes, while Sonora High School will begin cashing in on the $23 million Measure J in coming months.

Following a count of provisional ballots last week, Summerville High's Measure H came in just two votes shy of the 55 percent "supermajority" required for passage.

Tuolumne County Clerk and Auditor-Recorder Debi Russell Bautista considers it likely that a private citizen will ask for a recount of ballots. So does Summerville Union High School District Superintendent John Keiter, though the school can't request a recount itself.

The apparent failure of the $8 million bond measure came as a disappointment to the Summerville High staffers who supported it.

"It doesn't mean that all our facilities' needs have gone away," Keiter said. "We still believe the kids of (the district) deserve to get all of their facilities updated … because we're in the 21st century."

Keiter has said many of Summerville High's classrooms, including its overcrowded art classroom, need modernization. Its sports field needs safety improvements, and some district technology is outdated.

Summerville High parking lots, sidewalks, restrooms and other facilities need upgrades to make them accessible for students with disabilities, Keiter said.

"They're not any better because we didn't get $8 million to use," he said.

Another $8 million Summerville High bond measure failed by a narrow margin in 2010, but not as narrowly as Measure H did this year. Both bond measures were billed as an extension of the $9.9 million Measure Q, passed in 1998.

Russell Bautista said extremely close elections aren't a rarity, pointing to Tuolumne County District 5 supervisor-elect Karl Rodefer's tight race in June and slim margins in a few other California counties.

Costs for the recount will run from $700 to $800 a day, paying for four staffers to reprocess the ballots. The deadline for formally requesting the recount is Wednesday.

"Two votes is two votes," Russell Bautista said. "There's a shot. Two ballots could have gone through (the machine) at once."

Pending a request and payment for the recount, Russell Bautista plans to start the process by Dec. 11. But as of 5 p.m. Monday, nobody had made a formal request.

If Measure H remains two votes shy of final approval, Keiter said the district will consider trying to pass an extension of Measure Q again. The passage of a bond measure would ensure that the district can receive matching state funds for building projects.

"Two times in two years, it's been right on the knife's edge," Keiter said. "We'll think long and hard about (making) another attempt at convincing the public to come out and support the kids."

Meanwhile, Sonora High's Measure J passed by 56.49 percent and ended last week with about 240 "yes" votes to spare. Russell Bautista affirmed that the margin was a comfortable one.

Sonora Union High School District will now embark on the long process of getting a credit rating, selling bonds and planning projects.

In January, Sonora High's Board of Trustees will certify Measure J's approval. It will then appoint an independent citizens' oversight committee to help manage the funds. Several people have already volunteered to serve on the committee, according to Sonora High Superintendent Mike McCoy.

Following the appointment of the oversight committee, the Board of Trustees must pass a resolution authorizing the sale of bonds.

Though a schedule for selling the bonds has yet to be determined, McCoy said they will not be sold at once. Some will likely be sold this spring by a broker from De La Rosa & Co. Investment Bankers, which has an office in San Francisco.

If that happens, higher property taxes will appear on the 2013-14 tax roll, Russell Bautista said.

Finally, Sonora High will consult with WLC Architects to draw up a plan for projects. Construction on some projects could start as early as this summer. McCoy met with community members earlier this year to identify buildings in need of work.

At the top of the list preliminary was the humanities building, considered the "worst of the worst" by many students and teachers. The depression-era Centennial Hall, which has outdated electrical and plumbing systems, was also a priority.

Other construction needs include the school's tiny kitchen and cafeteria, which McCoy has described as much too small for a school of over 1,000 students.

"We will meet with the architect to look at which things are doable first and which things are shovel-ready," McCoy said at Sonora High's Nov. 26 board meeting. "We have a lot of work ahead of us over the next five or six years to get all of this done. It's going to be a cooperative, collegial process. The community will be very involved."

McCoy and district trustees have said they intend to hire mostly local companies for the construction work.

The Union Democrat
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