Solana Beach school board OKs $105M bond for ballot

After more than a year of preparing for a potential general obligation bond, the Solana Beach School Board unanimously voted on Aug. 4 to move forward with the $105 million bond measure on the November ballot.

With a need for school improvements across the district, Superintendent Terry Decker said the bond is an opportunity for the community to support public schools and protect property values.

“We want to continue ensuring that we provide our students with an environment that’s flexible and supports the kind of 21st century learning experiences that they need in order to be successful moving forward,” Decker said.

Founded in 1925, the Solana Beach School District has seven elementary schools and a child development center. In 2014, the district opened its seventh school, Solana Ranch Elementary School, in Pacific Highlands Ranch. Other schools, however, opened decades ago and need to be updated or completely replaced.

Skyline School, for example, is a very different learning environment than Solana Ranch. While Solana Ranch is new and modern, Skyline was built in 1955 and modernized in 2000.

Skyline opened just one year after the old Earl Warren Middle School across the street, which San Dieguito Union High School District is currently rebuilding with use of its Proposition AA funds, a general obligation bond that passed in 2012.

“We have a commitment to parity, to providing an equitable environment for all of our children,” Decker said. “We have the ability to speak to parity when it comes to our staff and our instructional program, in terms of curriculum, but we certainly do not have parity when it comes to our facilities. We have brand-new learning environments and some that are very aged and very much in need of replacement.”

There are a variety of needs at aging campuses such as 45-year-old Solana Vista and 30-year-old Solana Highlands schools. These schools need to be modernized in order to run more efficiently, he said.

However, the district’s Long-Range Facilities Master Plan identifies various projects at every school site, from replacing or upgrading outdated classrooms, science labs, libraries and school buildings, to restoring deteriorating roofs, plumbing and electrical systems, and from improving student safety and campus security, to providing students access to educational facilities, science and technology needed to prepare for high school, college and careers. It also accounts for the addition of an eighth school in Pacific Highlands Ranch to meet student needs and reduce overcrowding.

“Because of our teachers and our staff and our administrators, we offer a first-rate education with third-rate buildings, especially in Solana Beach,” said board member Richard Leib, a 20-year resident of Solana Beach. “This is an opportunity for us to go to a first-rate education with first-rate facilities, which I think is super important.

“I think our students deserve it, I think our parents deserve it, and I think our teachers deserve it. Actually, all homeowners within the district deserve it because we offer such a great school district, I think it’s well worth the investment to continue that and offer those people a good school.”

The district also needs to replace portable classrooms with permanent buildings. Decker said 17 percent of the classrooms in the district are portables.

“We want to be able to move those off the campuses, and instead, put our children in permanent structures that really meet the needs as they move forward,” he said.

Under Proposition 39, general obligation bonds require a 55 percent voter approval and limit tax rates to $30 per $100,000 in assessed home value. If passed, the bond would represent an increase of $272 per year for the average homeowner in the Solana Beach School District.

“These funds will be used for construction, reconstruction and modernization,” Decker reiterated. “All the funds stay local. The state can not reach in and take out any of the funds from a local school bond. The funds will not be used to fund either teacher or administrator salaries.”

As part of that transparency, Decker noted that Prop 39 also requires an independent oversight committee of citizens. In addition, there are annual reports and audits that will come before the board.

There will also be a statewide $9 billion school construction bond on the ballot in November, in which districts will be able to qualify for matching funds for facilities projects. If the statewide bond passes, the district will be eligible for $20 million in matching funds so its $105 million could turn into $125 million.

“I think we have a very involved community that believes this is the right thing to do for our kids and for our community,” said board vice president Debra Schade. “I think it’s the right time.”

“At this time, I believe the district has a need, not just a want to go for a bond,” board member Julie Union agreed. “The stage is set, and I don’t see how timing is going to be any better in the future.”

Prior to the vote, the board formed a school facilities improvement district.

While preparing for a potential bond, the district’s bond counsel discovered a standing agreement between the school district and land developer Pardee Homes that precludes the district from including two neighborhoods in a bond initiative. The development agreements, which date back to 1998 and 2004, contain language that limits certain elections and tax measures until 10 years after the last building permit has been issued.

To date, approximately 900 of the 1,997 homes have been constructed, said Caroline Brown, the district’s executive director of capital programs and technology.

Therefore, in order to move forward with the bond measure, the district formed a school facilities improvement district, or SFID, over all of the district’s territory other than the Pardee properties in Pacific Highlands Ranch. This action followed the board’s July 14 adoption of a resolution that stated its intention to form a school facilities improvement district.

Both communities are already included in community facilities districts, also known as CFDs, in which special taxes are placed on homeowners’ property tax bills to fund schools and improvements. Thus, residents in those areas will not be allowed to vote on the school district’s bond measure. The projects financed by the SFID will generally be located within and principally benefit the territory within the SFID.

If voters pass the district’s bond, Solana Beach School District plans to start with the reconstruction of Skyline.

The district plans to submit plans for the project to the Division of the State Architect by the fall. The Division of State Architect provides design and construction oversight for K-12 schools, community colleges, and various other state-owned and leased facilities.

If plans are approved by spring 2017, construction could begin in June 2017 for a new school to open in fall 2018.

“The goal is to get our children into high-quality facilities as soon as possible,” Decker said. “Another component here is to ensure that our community sees that if they support us with a bond, we’re going to hit the ground running and we’re going to move quickly.”