By Shawn Raymundo
Before a crowded room of excited students, parents and local stakeholders, the Capistrano Unified School District Board of Trustees on Wednesday, Oct. 16, voted unanimously in favor of placing a pair of regional bond measures to upgrade schools on the March 2020 Primary Election ballot.
Wednesday night’s vote at CUSD headquarters in San Juan Capistrano marked the district’s latest major step in its continued efforts to secure funds to help upgrade educational facilities and renovate schools in Aliso Viejo, Dana Point, Laguna Niguel and San Clemente.
While both the trustees and spectators shared a sense of enthusiasm while cheering the passage of the resolutions to advance the measures, Board Vice President Martha McNicholas stressed that there’s still plenty of work that needs to be done in order for the bonds to pass this spring.
“This is just the beginning,” she said. “We need all of your help to push this forward.”
Board President Gila Jones later echoed McNicholas’ statements, reminding the audience that “these bonds aren’t going to pass themselves; we need your help.”
The two bond measures—with one to go before voters in San Clemente and Capistrano Beach, while the other will be decided on by voters in Aliso Viejo, Dana Point and Laguna Niguel—propose a levy of $34 for every $100,000 of assessed taxable property value.
Collectively, Aliso Viejo, Dana Point and Laguna Niguel make up the Western Schools Facilities Improvement District, or SFID 3. If voters in those cities pass the bond, it’s expected to provide CUSD with $293 million in proceeds.
A large percentage of the funds raised from the Western SFID bond would pay to construct new buildings and renovate facilities at Dana Hills High School, Aliso Niguel High School and Niguel Hills Middle School.
At Dana Hills High, the funding will help pay for the installation of a heating, ventilation and air conditioning system in the gym, construct classroom buildings to replace the old portable classrooms, as well as build a theater for performing arts and athletic facilities for fitness and aquatic programs.
The bond measure for the San Clemente region, titled the Southern School Facilities Improvement District, or SFID 2, is expected to yield $113 million in proceeds.
The bulk of those funds—close to $90 million—will be prioritized for the renovation, modernization and replacement of aging classrooms and buildings at the 54-year-old San Clemente High School. Other upgrades include replacing roofs, plumbing, electrical systems, air conditioning, walls, flooring, paint, furniture and technology infrastructure to name a few.
Those funds for the high school will also pay to construct a student services building that will include administrative and health offices, a library and food services, as well as construct a performing arts theater and athletic facilities.
The remaining proceeds from the Southern SFID bond will pay for upgrades to the local middle and elementary schools such as Concordia Elementary School, Las Palmas Elementary School, Palisades Elementary School and Truman Benedict Elementary School, among others.
In 2016, CUSD proposed a districtwide $889 million Measure M bond, but it failed, receiving only 45% approval—55% is the threshold to pass.
Trustee Patricia Holloway, who represents CUSD’s Area 3 covering San Clemente, noted that in the aftermath of the failed Measure M bond, the district felt it necessary to be more specific in the improvements it’s proposing.
To make those specifications, CUSD contracted the construction company Kitchell Corporation to assess all the needs of every school within the district. The Facilities Condition Assessments, most commonly referred to as the Kitchell Report, made a specific list of improvements that were prioritized by the district.
“These are lingering problems that need to be addressed so this bond measure will address those projects,” Holloway said, adding: “By prioritizing these projects, we are being very efficient in targeting our funds.”
If the bonds pass, CUSD has made a commitment to establish an Independent Citizens’ Bond Oversight Committee comprising residents from their respective SFID regions “to ensure bond proceeds are expended only for the school facilities projects listed in the Bond Project List,” the resolutions state.
The resolutions also note that none of the proceeds from the bonds would go toward salaries for teachers and administrators. It also anticipates the final fiscal year of the tax collection to be 2048-2049.
The vote on the resolutions come on the heels of district releasing the results of the latest tracking polls that were recently conducted to see how the measures would fare in the upcoming election.
While the measure in the Western SFID maintained strong support from voters in those cities, support among San Clemente voters has remained on the bubble, tracking at about 54% to 55% approval.
California’s Primary Election will be held on March 3, 2020.
Shawn Raymundo is the city editor for the San Clemente Times. He graduated from Arizona State University with a bachelor’s degree in Global Studies. Before joining Picket Fence Media, he worked as the government accountability reporter for the Pacific Daily News in the U.S. territory of Guam. Follow him on Twitter @ShawnzyTsunami and follow San Clemente Times @SCTimesNews.