Solana Beach School District voters to decide on $105M bond measure

With a need for school improvements across Solana Beach School District, most voters in the district will decide Nov. 8 whether to support a $105 million bond measure to replace and upgrade facilities.

If passed, Measure JJ would replace or upgrade outdated classrooms, science labs, libraries and school buildings; restore deteriorating roofs, plumbing and electrical systems; improve student safety and campus security; and provide students access to educational facilities, science and technology needed to prepare for high school, college and careers.

“It’s really the only way we’re seeing right now that we can fund school construction because there’s not a light on the horizon of a better option,” said Caroline Brown, the district’s executive director of capital programs and technology.

Founded in 1925, 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.

“The master plan that was developed over the last few years really speaks to projects at every school site across the district,” Superintendent Terry Decker said.

Aging campuses such as 61-year-old Skyline and 45-year-old Solana Vista need to be redesigned and reconstructed. The district’s Long-Range Facilities Master Plan, however, identifies various modernization projects at every school site, from upgrading classrooms to improving student security.

For example, the district needs to replace portable classrooms with permanent buildings. A total of 17 percent of the classrooms in the district are portables, including 68 percent at Solana Vista, 37 percent at Skyline, 22 percent at Solana Santa Fe and 3 percent at Carmel Creek.

The master plan also accounts for the addition of an eighth school in Pacific Highlands Ranch to meet student needs and reduce overcrowding.

“This is the one approach to funding that we feel will provide us with what we need in order to reach out across the district and meet all those goals,” Decker said about the bond.

After more than a year of preparing for a potential general obligation bond, the Solana Beach school board unanimously voted in August to move forward with the bond measure on the November ballot.

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.

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.

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.

Since last school year, district staff members have held more than 30 meetings at school sites and with community groups throughout the district, such as the Carmel Valley Community Planning Board and Friends of the Solana Beach Library. Staff discussed the district’s master plan and the then-potential bond measure.

The district continued its outreach efforts after the board placed the bond on the ballot, with additional meetings covering reconstruction and modernization projects the bond would cover.

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

District staff plans to submit its plans for these projects to the Division of the State Architect this 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.

“We made the choice as a district to begin the planning process,” Decker said. “We’re investing upfront in the planning so that if the community supports us with a bond, we can move forward with construction.

“It puts our children into newer facilities just that much more quickly. It also helps to show our community that we’re very serious about making inroads on these needs and getting things done in a timely manner.”

The district would receive its first bond issuance in spring 2017.

If plans are approved by spring 2017, construction could begin in June 2017, with the new Skyline to open in fall 2018. Solana Highlands would be modernized over the summer of 2017, with most updates completed by fall 2018.

Meanwhile, the district would begin planning for its next round of projects in fall 2017.

The district would receive its second bond issuance in spring 2019. Funds would help redesign and reconstruct Solana Vista and modernize Solana Santa Fe.

“After that we’re into modernization and smaller projects,” Decker said.

“By then, other schools meet their 25-year age and then we can qualify for the 60 percent match on modernization funds,” Brown added. “So that timing would be perfect.”

Solana Beach School District isn’t the only school district seeking support in San Diego County.

There are seven school districts with bonds on the ballot, including Fallbrook Union High School District, Grossmont Union High School District, Bonsall Unified School District, Cajon Valley Union School District, Cardiff Elementary School District, National School District and Solana Beach School District.

In addition, three community college districts in the county — Grossmont-Cuyamaca Community College District, MiraCosta Community College District and Southwestern Community College District — are also asking voters for bond money.

“It really is solving the problem that the whole state has in funding school construction,” Brown said about Measure JJ, Solana Beach School District’s bond measure.

“School construction dollars at the state level has run out,” she said. “They have $2 billion in approved, unfunded projects. They are going to try to answer part of that question with Proposition 51.”

A statewide $9 billion school construction bond called Proposition 51 will also be on the ballot in November.

If the statewide bond, passes, school districts will be able to qualify for matching funds for facilities projects. Solana Beach School District would be eligible for $20 million in matching funds so its $105 million could turn into $125 million.

“It’s something to add to our pot,” Brown 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 explained during the August school board meeting. “All the funds stay local. The state cannot 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, 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’s really two layers of oversight,” Decker said.

If the bond passes, the district will have 60 days to establish the committee of citizens, following the certification of the election results.