News: $265 Million Bond Measure For New Schools and Classrooms Set for June Ballot

Photo Credit: Angela Lai

SUHSD superintendent Jim Lianides discusses redistricting at a separate community meeting in M-A's PAC.

In a special board meeting, the Sequoia Union High School District (SUHSD) Board of Trustees unanimously approved a $265 million bond election, which would help address enrollment growth by funding the construction of new classrooms and schools, for this year’s June ballot. Student enrollment grew by 20% in the last twelve years and is projected to increase another 20% in the next seven years, to the point that classroom-sharing and double lunch periods might be necessary without the right accommodations.

 

The board unanimously approved the bond measure at a special meeting on March 5th. Trustee Carrie Du Bois believes this development speaks to the bond’s potential success; she considers it a “problem” if such a major measure is not wholly approved by the board.

 

Measure A has been in the works since SUHSD superintendent Jim Lianides first approached the board a year ago about the projected increase in district enrollment, which the board became aware of after researching current enrollment at SUHSD’s feeder elementary schools.

 

This discovery prompted the board to open up to the local community about potentially drafting a bond for a future election. Trustee Olivia Martinez remembers that after that point, “the only question was when” it would go on the ballot.

 

Before approving the bond measure, the SUHSD surveyed the community to gauge its support. According to the Almanac, the results showed that the bond would likely pass even if taxes were raised to a maximum of $16 per $100,000 worth of property, with a later press release from the board reporting that over 70% of local voters would support a bond measure in 2014. The survey showed that there would not be any significant differences when placing the measure on the June ballot versus the November ballot. However, placing the measure on the June ballot allows SUHSD to work more quickly and for earlier construction.

 

If 55% of voters affirm the SUHSD bond measure, the SUHSD Facilities Task Force estimates that $53.1 million, $34.3 million, $29.5 million, and $40.1 million would go to Menlo-Atherton, Carlmont, Sequoia, and Woodside, respectively. M-A has the largest student body out of the district’s 4 comprehensive high schools and would receive the most funding for new facilities. Planned projects for M-A include seventeen regular classrooms, two science classrooms, one chemistry classroom, two specialty classrooms, and restrooms, with improvements and repairs to sports facilities, locker-room areas, parking, and more. Mrs. Du Bois confirms that Mr. Lianides is currently in the process of hiring architects who will draft building plans for each school.

 

$64.4 million would go towards land acquisition and potential construction costs for two new, small, themed high schools with 300-400 students each. The Board recognizes that hard work and research lie ahead as it determines the focuses and locations of the schools. These schools could attract students with a career-tech focus or similar aspirations. At the earliest, one of the schools could be ready to open in the fall of 2016.

 

As an example of what these new schools might look like, Mrs. Du Bois references a “health careers linked learning model” in Oakland. That model puts students in regular classes part time so they have time for internships at local hospitals, giving them the opportunity to better understand and try out a career in health services. Mrs. Du Bois finds this model appealing as it affirms some students’ ideas of their potential career paths while allowing others to quickly realize that they do not want to pursue that path. She also notes that all students at the school take A-G courses, meaning that nearly all graduates are prepared to advance to a four-year college or a community college.

 

Mrs. Martinez explains that the purpose of establishing the two new schools is two-fold, as the schools will provide an “additional choice for students and parents” and “ease the enrollment pressure on the remaining schools.”

 

According to both board members, the public, especially those in Menlo Park, has responded favorably to the measure. “I have not heard anybody speak against it. So far it’s been very, very positive,” says Mrs. Martinez of the widespread support she has seen as a member of the campaign committee. While San Mateo County is required to publish an argument and a rebuttal for each measure on the ballot, potential voters against the measure seem to be in the minority.

 

Additionally, several of SUHSD’s feeder elementary schools have already implemented their own bonds. In the most recent San Mateo County election, the San Mateo-Foster City School District’s bond, Measure P, failed to pass. However, the Menlo Park City School District’s bid to establish a new school passed in the form of Measure W. The Portola Valley Elementary School District also succeeded last spring with Measure O, which approximately 69% of voters approved via a “special all mail ballot” election. MPCSD and PVESD’s success further suggests the community’s support for funding new school projects, which could bode well for Measure A.

 

Even with the positive projections, the board continues to campaign. It recently worked with the Citizens of the Sequoia Union High School, headed by Julie Hansen, to establish a website in support of the measure. The website recruits volunteers, endorsements, and donations, and there are plans to send out further information in the mail.

 

Board members remain hopeful that this hard work will eventually pay off. Mrs. Du Bois believes that the measure, if passed, will “benefit all students in the district.”