Eight years ago, Berkeley votes approved a $158 million bond measure to pay for major improvements – seismic upgrades, renovations, reconstruction – at school sites throughout the community.
This fall, they’ll be asked to continue their support for new classrooms and safer buildings through a $116.5 million school bond and a special tax that will finance maintenance needs in the Berkeley Unified School District.
“Measure A (in 1992) was partly necessitated by the need to upgrade buildings which hadn’t been so well maintained over the last 10, 20 years of their life, prior to Measure A, and we shouldn’t want to see that history repeated,” Bruce Wicinas, a member of the Citizens Construction Advisory Committee, said during last week’s school board meeting. At that meeting, directors unanimously approved placing both measures on the November ballot.
The $116.5 million school bond would pay for construction of new classrooms and upgrades of existing structures around the district. The special tax 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.
According to a staff report presented last month, the special tax would yield more than $3.8 million annually for maintenance needs around the district.
Right now, the BUSD spends about $2.4 million each year on maintenance personnel, supplies and equipment. A report prepared by the Facilities Maintenance and Security Advisory Committee in April advocated significantly increasing allocations for maintenance, citing serious safety issues around the district and an overall trend toward facilities in disrepair.
If approved by voters, the special tax would allow the BUSD to increase maintenance spending to around $4 million annually. In addition to the $3.8 million in revenue from the tax, the district projects income from the Hillside School site maintenance and food service maintenance.
“It’s important to have good teachers in the classroom, it’s important that their lights work, it’s important that the heat works, that the windows don’t leak, that they have the proper outlets to plug in their computers, that the floors are clean, the baskets are emptied, the toilets are clean, the playgrounds are safe,” Stephanie Allan, chair of the Facilities Maintenance and Security Advisory Committee, told the board last week.
“It’s part of the whole fabric – you can’t separate it out.”
The ballot language for the school bond will give the BUSD flexibility in how it would spend its $116.5 million, but it does specifically mention two campuses in need of classroom repair, improvements and expansion: Berkeley High and King Middle.
Catherine James, associate superintendent for business services, told the board that the ballot language would allow the district to spend funds on a variety of capital projects, including such grounds improvements as gardens, playground equipment and athletic facilities.
But it’s clear that the top priority is providing more classroom space at several sites, and upgrading schools that were unable to be funded through Measure A, including the Franklin School site and Berkeley Adult School.
School board members, who had heard several presentations on the bond and tax from district staff and community members over the last few meetings, were optimistic that voters would approve both measures.
“I believe we have the correct position on our side, we just have to get the word out so people really understand what we’re asking of this community and what the benefits will be to this community,” Board Vice President Terry Doran said during discussion on the tax measure.
Director Ted Schultz, who worked for the passage of Measure A in 1992, said he was pleased with the way district staff was able to structure the proposed bond for this fall. The tax level would not pass the peak reached under Measure A.
“These projects are needed, and we can do it without increasing people’s taxes, and that’s really a terrific deal, I think,” he said just before the board’s vote on the school bond.
A survey conducted by Santa Monica-based GLS Research, presented to the school board last month, 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.