By Racquel Palmese
June 5 is California’s 2012 primary election, and along with ballot measures on term limits (Proposition 28), and a tax on tobacco for cancer research (Proposition 29), the presidential contest and primary contests for U.S. Congress, state senate and assembly, voters in counties throughout California will also be asked to vote for school bond measures. Over $2.6 billion in local bonds will be up for vote in this election, with more promised for the November ballot. Many will be used to qualify for matching state dollars.
After a year of cutbacks in school funding, districts are turning to their voters for cash to fix deteriorating school and community college buildings, to bring them up to safety standards, retrofit them for energy efficiency, add solar panels and other renewable energy equipment, replace rusty old portable classrooms and meet other facility needs.
Bonds are for Buildings
School bond funds can only be used to pay for building new facilities and classrooms or upgrading existing facilities. They can’t be apportioned for administrative uses or to buy school supplies that are not directly related to the buildings or the campuses themselves. The bonds are paid for through a surcharge on property taxes.
Also on the ballots will be parcel taxes and sales taxes, which can be used for covering projected school district deficit, or as the Ross Valley School District’s Measure A says, “To provide local funding the State cannot take away, preserve high quality education in reading, writing, math and science, educationally sounds class sizes, school libraries, and art and music instruction, and to help attract and retain highly-qualified teachers….” Local parcel taxes already voted on will be renewed for eight years and will increase another $149 per year if voters pass the tax increase.
Bond measures have been the traditional method for school districts to raise building funds. Tucked into the wording of many of the June ballots’ school bonds are energy efficiency and renewable energy upgrades. The Dublin Unified School District, for example, is asking voters to approve $99 million in bonds to “update/replace aging classrooms; science labs; provide 21st century computers/technology/classrooms; ensure classrooms meet safety codes; prevent student overcrowding; and improve energy/operational efficiency and utilize savings for teachers/instruction…”
The significant money that can be saved by districts on their electric bills by implementing energy efficiency and renewable energy can be used in the general fund for things like saving or adding teaching positions and buying books. In fact, according to Kathleen McKee, a partner with Fagen Friedman & Fulfrost LLC, “structuring facilities bond campaigns to highlight energy efficiency projects can help achieve voter support and successful passage of a bond.”
The Green Behind the Bond Measures
Measure B, the Biggs Unified School District’s bond proposition, calls for $6 million to qualify for state matching funds of $3.6 million in order to “fix leaky roofs, improve fire safety, repair/modernize classrooms, upgrade electrical and plumbing systems for energy efficiency…”
The Gridley Unified School District Elementary Schools Facilities Improvement District No. 1 bond measure D leaves no stone unturned in its description for its $2.5 million bond to “….repair, upgrade outdated classrooms, plumbing, leaking roofing, lighting, electric and HVAC systems, restrooms, upgrade safety, security, fire systems, remove hazardous materials, improve energy efficiency, replace temporary classrooms, renovate, acquire, construct, repair, equip classrooms, schools, sites, facilities.”
Measure C, the West Valley-Mission Community College District’s bond proposition, calls for $350 million to update its academic facilities and technology “…acquiring, constructing, repairing and equipping sites, buildings, classrooms and facilities…”
Mark Williams, a partner at Fagen Friedman and Fulfrost said that parcel taxes and bonds are both polling well, “even in this difficult economy.” He’s working with the Milpitas Unified School District on a bond for repairs and upgrades that will generate up to $95 million and cost property owners an average of $50 per $100,000 of assessed value every year. Funds raised by the bond measure will qualify Milpitas for additional state funding.
While the majority of bond measures specifically call out “energy efficiency” measures in their descriptions, all new school buildings in California must meet sustainable building codes. In fact, Lisa Silverman, executive officer of the Office of Public School Construction (OPSC), which approves the disbursement of state funding for school construction for the Department of General Services, said that all new school construction projects receiving OPSC funding will need to meet the new CALGreen building code, which became mandatory last year.
California State Bonds
The Office of Public School Construction announced recently that a bond sale that took place in April provided $619.5 million for its School Facility Program (SFP) projects. When the State Allocation Board (SAB) meets on June 27, proceeds from this bond sale will be apportioned to projects from the current priority funding round. According to OPSC’s Lisa Silverman, each priority funding round has a 30-day certification submittal window and the certification is valid until the next filing period begins. The next window is in July and requests will be valid until January 2013.
“School districts that are on the unfunded list and that submit a certification promising to begin construction within 90 days of receiving an apportionment are part of the Priority Funding round,” says Silverman.” The time limit for projects apportioned outside of a priority round is 18 months.” There are approximately $1.8 billion in projects on the unfunded list.
In the second Priority Funding certification 30-day filing period, which ended on February 9, the OPSC received requests for 250 projects from 117 districts, representing approximately $768 million in unfunded approvals and adding up to about half the unfunded list, according its Building Blocks newsletter.
Silverman says that Priority of Funding rounds over the last two years “have provided over $2.2 billion in funds for over 819 projects in 2010 and 2011. The cash is used to modernize and construct school facilities in California. This will create thousands of jobs and stimulate the economy.” OPSC’s current workload is available online and reflects the projects that are in the pipeline for processing.
Matching State and Local Bond Funds
If a district has a local bond measure approved in either June or November, they could use the local funds as a match for their state projects that are in the pipeline for processing, on the OPSC’s unfunded list. OPSC’s New Construction Program provides state funds on a 50/50 state and local sharing basis for eligible projects. For information on filing an application see the School Facility Program Handbook, which contains detailed information on new construction eligibility and funding.
There is also a Modernization Program, which provides state funds on a 60/40 state and local sharing basis for improvements and enhancements to existing school facilities.
State monies are still available through the High Performance Incentive Grant, which is a supplemental grant available for projects with high performance attributes, such as energy efficiency, recycled materials and water efficiency in both new construction and modernization projects.
Because bond measures are the main way school districts raise money for new schools and renovations, it’s one of the few aspects of public school spending that is controlled by voters, and not legislators. In the midst of a deep recession and major cutbacks to schools and colleges in 2010, there were 108 local ballot measures in 31 of California’s 58 counties and about two-thirds were passed. Sonoma County approved 58 of 77 school bond measures that year.
On the June ballot will be five measures representing different school districts within Sonoma County totaling $83 million. According to an editorial in the Press Democrat, which is recommending approval of all the bonds, each of the measures “authorizes an almost identical list of projects: solar panels and energy-efficient windows, classroom technology.”
For a listing of many of the ballot measures coming up on the June ballot in California, along with historical analyses of past bond elections, click here.