As expected, the Berkeley Unified School Board voted Wednesday night to place a school bond and a special tax measure on the November ballot.
“We need to have good facilities for our students, we need to keep them safe and maintain them well, and that’s why we need to do this,” Director Ted Schultz said during deliberations.
The board unanimously endorsed sending the two ballot measures to the voters. One is a $116.5 million school bond, which would pay for construction of new classrooms and upgrades of existing structures around the district. The other measure is a special tax that would provide an ongoing source of revenue for maintenance needs at school sites. That tax would charged homeowners 4.5 cents per square foot, and commercial properties would be charged 6.75 cents per square foot.
The two items will return to the board, most likely at the next meeting, with official ballot language attached. All measures for the fall ballot must be delivered to the county by August, and Berkeley Unified School District officials say they want to get the items in well before the deadline.
Several board members said they were willing to place both measures on the ballot because of the strong support indicated in a survey conducted by Santa Monica-based GLS Research. GLS found that nearly 80 percent of Berkeley voters surveyed would be willing to support a $125 million bond, and about 70 percent would support a special tax.
If both measures appeared on the ballot, 47 percent would support both, 12 percent would vote against both, 21 would support only the bond, and 9 percent would support only the tax.
Current state law requires a two-thirds approval for any bond or tax measure.
The survey of 600 randomly selected registered voters was conducted May 29 through June 1, and has a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percent.
The proposed bond and tax are both below the levels supported in that survey, officials noted.
The staff report presented to the school board included a list of proposed projects around the BUSD, but Manager of Facilities Planning Lew Jones reminded directors that the list is by no means a final documentation of how the money would be used.
“This report is intended to give an overview of the costing methods of how we developed the numbers, not an attempt to determine the course of action by the school board,” he said.
That appeared to reassure Board Vice President Terry Doran, who was concerned that the public might believe the board had already decided the details of how all of the $116.5 million from the bond and the $3.8 million annually from the special tax would be used.
“I just want to make sure that in the language we finally adopt – because I’m 100 percent committed to working for this bond issue and tax – that it is neutral in terms of what we may do in any specific project,” he said.
Of particular concern to board members were two projects cited in the report: allocation of funds for the Derby Street property at Martin Luther King Jr. Way, and demolition of the King Child Development Center facility.
The former remains a politically hot topic in town – the board wants to close one block of Derby so a regulation baseball field can be built, but the City Council may be unwilling to support that plan – and the latter would get rid of a building that at least one board member believes can be renovated and retrofitted.
Jones told the board that the ballot language will be written in such a way that it doesn’t commit the district to a specific course of action before an environmental study is initiated or completed.