By Marsha Sutton
A facilities workshop held Jan. 18 presented San Dieguito Union High School District board members with the latest findings of a Facilities Task Force formed in December 2008 to explore facilities needs for the district for the next 50 years.
At the meeting, board members gave cautious approval to consider a bond measure to bring before voters in 2012 to fund some or all of the projects. The district will now move forward “with a planning process over the next nine months that will culminate in a “go/no go” decision for a November 2012 bond levy,” said SDUHSD superintendent Ken Noah, emphasizing that no decision has yet been made to proceed with the bond measure.
Noah said trustees “will exercise significant discrimination in determining precisely what should be presented to voters, both in projects and cost, if the decision to place a bond on the ballot is made.”
The need for more dollars has been driven by the state’s severe cuts to education in recent years, as well as diminishing developer fees, deteriorating facilities and the district’s stated desire to provide equity for students at each of the district’s schools.
School districts, Noah said, must prepare a summary of the projects proposed for expenditures of General Obligation bonds and are restricted from using the money to offset general fund operating costs. A bond, he said, would be specifically for school facilities and capital improvements.
A parcel tax, by contrast, can be used for any educational or operational expense, he said, which could include salaries, benefits, teaching positions, supplies, equipment and facilities. Both, however, result in an increase in property taxes.
Passage of a bond measure requires 55 percent of voter approval, while a parcel tax requires a two-thirds vote, making a parcel tax harder to pass. But because there is a lower threshold for passage of a G.O. bond, a community-based, citizens’ oversight committee is required to monitor the allocation of bond money and ensure that bond proceeds are spent according to the intent of the measure, Noah said. Parcel taxes have no such requirement.
Noah further differentiated between the two, saying that most parcel taxes are from four to seven years in length, while G.O. bonds generally result in a tax levy over decades, resulting in a lower annual cost to the taxpayer but for a longer period of time.
The district, Noah said, is not recommending or considering a parcel tax.
Noah said each site will now form a planning group to review the work that’s being proposed for that site, to determine if the earlier assumptions still hold and if there are new considerations that warrant refinement of the site plan.
“Once we’re completed with that, we’ll have a better sense of what the real cost of a bond would be that we would consider submitting,” Noah said.
The district will also consider whether there is sufficient community support for a bond measure. And if California Gov. Jerry Brown is able to extend temporary taxes to address the deficit crisis,
Noah said that might affect the level of support San Dieguito voters would have for a local bond.
“If any of those things don’t come together, then I think it would be awfully difficult to go out for a bond levy,” he said.
Potential funding mechanisms include district-wide General Obligation bonds that would levy a tax on all property within the school district, including those within existing Community Facilities Districts where property owners already pay taxes for schools and other improvements.
The G.O. bonds would be issued in a series of four, with terms of 25 to 40 years each. The initial proposal suggested a tax of $21 per $100,000 of assessed value of the property.
An alternative being considered is to create a School Facilities Improvement District which would allow the district to levy the bond tax on only those properties outside existing CFDs. To raise the needed money, a suggested rate of $28 per $100,000 of assessed value would be needed.
Projects by school site
The long-range facilities plan reviewed student demographics, economic trends, housing development and other factors to determine district facilities needs for the next 50 years. The potential projects include modernization, capital improvements, technology upgrades, demolition, expansion of existing facilities, and new school construction.
The district identified about $292 million worth of facilities projects, although a final bond measure may only include funding for a portion of the projects on the list.
From data shared at a board workshop in March 2010, the breakdown by school is as follows:
Carmel Valley: $5.2 million
Earl Warren: $30 million
Diegueno: $17.5 million
Oak Crest: $18.2 million
Canyon Crest: $15.4 million
Torrey Pines: $65.1 million
La Costa Canyon: $13 million
San Dieguito: $53.8 million
Broken down by area, the estimated cost for total facilities needs in the northern part of the district comes to about $128.8 million. In the south, the estimated cost is about $140 million. Each half contains two middle schools and two high schools.
Canyon Crest Academy and La Costa Canyon High School were originally listed as needing $24 million and $22 million, respectively, but solar projects included on the list – costing $8.6 million and $9 million, respectively – have already been completed.
In addition to these eight schools and Sunset Continuation High School, two new middle schools are projected – one for the northern portion of the district and one for the south. The cost for the northern middle school, where the district already owns the land, is listed at $26.3 million.
The projected cost for a new middle school in the south is $55.3 million, including $8.2 million for land acquisition. This is expected to be offset by about $31 million in state funding and developer fees, bringing the anticipated cost to about $24.3 million.
Canyon Crest and the new middle school would be located adjacent to one another, with a plan for some shared-use facilities.
The district’s total wish list comes to about $292 million, although it’s $274 million once the $18 million for the two already completed solar projects is deducted. Expenses for Sunset Continuation High School and miscellaneous costs make up the difference.
Noah said both new middle schools are needed. “The question is by when,” he said. Although there has been a slowing in growth, he said the timing is mostly economically driven. “At some point in time, we’re going to need the facilities in both areas.”
Projects at Canyon Crest Academy include construction of a new $12-million two-story classroom building, which would increase the school’s capacity to 2,200 students. Current enrollment is nearly 1,900. About $7 million in athletic field upgrades and $8.3 million in soft costs make up the rest.
This amount would be offset by about $12.2 million in anticipated money from the state and developers.
Although Canyon Crest was originally marketed as a small school compared to Torrey Pines, Noah said keeping CCA’s enrollment at 1,800 is not necessary when the school can handle 2,200.
“The long-range planning committee felt that a school of 2,200 was very doable,” he said, adding that it was difficult to deny access to CCA if there is demand and room.
At Torrey Pines High School, new construction is estimated to cost about $13.8 million, while modernization expenses are estimated at about $28.6 million. A solar project would cost $8.4 million, with other miscellaneous expenses estimated to be about $21.9 million. About $7.9 million is expected from the state, leaving a $65.1 million bill – the most expensive project on the list.
Enrollment at Torrey Pines is currently about 2,560 but is expected to grow in 10 years to 3,600 students. Maximum capacity at Torrey Pines is listed as 3,488 students, with preferred capacity of 3,011.
Carmel Valley Middle School needs the least amount of facilities improvements, according to the district’s report. Enrollment is currently about 1,470 and is projected to increase in 10 years to 1,675 students. Maximum capacity is 1,545, and preferred capacity is 1,331.
Noah said the addition of a new middle school in Pacific Highlands Ranch would ease over-enrollment at CVMS, and put each school at about 1,000 students.
Earl Warren, the middle school with the fewest students, requires the most money. Current enrollment is 704, projected enrollment in 10 years is 803, and capacity is 1,005.
No modernization is recommended for Earl Warren. Rather, the plan calls for $18.7 million in new construction, $6 million in site improvements and $7.4 million in miscellaneous costs.
“Earl Warren would have a significant renovation,” said Noah, who noted that Earl Warren is no longer central to an attendance area due to shifting populations. This may mean the school’s focus eventually transforms into “something unique that would make it a school of interest,” he said.
On the report’s “must do” project list are federal and state compliance codes for disabilities, fire, safety, hazardous material and infrastructure issues. The “should do” list includes technology upgrades, furniture and equipment, libraries, labs, gyms, athletic fields, theaters and performing arts needs. Also on the list is the need for parity among schools, energy efficient systems and the replacement of portable classrooms.
The Facilities Task Force consists of 28 members and includes six teachers, six parents, five representatives of business and community organizations, two students and a number of other district and regional officials.
The San Dieguito Union High School District serves over 12,000 students in grades 7 through 12 and stretches from Carmel Valley in the south, east to Pacific Highlands Ranch and Rancho Santa Fe, and north to the southern edge of Carlsbad.
To better understand voters’ knowledge of the San Dieguito Union High School District and their receptivity to a possible bond measure, the district authorized a telephone survey, which was conducted last December. About 600 randomly selected registered voters residing in the district who were deemed “likely to cast a ballot in the November 2012 statewide election” were contacted.
Key questions of concern for the district were how the community views education compared to other pressing issues and what types of facilities or facility improvements the community would support.
The survey found that 63 percent of voters correctly identified the name of their high school district. Seventy-five percent identified government waste and inefficiency as the most serious local problem.
That was followed by 67 percent most concerned with the lack of jobs, 63 percent with the effect of budget cuts on public schools, 60 percent with the economy, 53 percent with illegal immigration, 48 percent with drugs and drug abuse, 31 percent with the amount paid in local property taxes, and 26 percent were most concerned about the quality of public education.
When asked if they would support a $350 million bond for local middle and high schools, 32 percent said definitely, 27 percent said probably, 21 percent said definitely not, and 11 percent said probably not. The margin for error is 4 percent.
Other survey findings included a list of voters’ top priorities for education, which were hiring and retaining qualified teachers, ensuring that bond money is not used for administrators’ salaries, fixing leaky roofs, expanding career and technical education, requiring annual audits, upgrading technology, and removing asbestos and lead paint.
A summary showed that the strongest supporters of a bond measure were Democrats, women, voters ages 18 to 49, and those with school-age children. Republicans were evenly split on bond support. Independent voters, identified as key, accounted for 61 percent of voters in the district. Support varied little from city to city within the district, nor was there much difference between voters living within or outside of a Community Facilities District.