By KERRY BENEFIELD
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Santa Rosa City Schools officials are moving forward with plans to put a bond measure on the November ballot after a survey found voters likely to support projects aimed at upgrading and modernizing facilities and equipment.
Nearly 60 percent of polled voters would support both potential bond measures — one for the elementary district and one for the secondary. The threshold needed to pass a school bond is 55 percent.
The two districts — which are overseen by the seven-member school board and which function under the same operating budget — would have separate votes.
“We obviously need a tremendous amount of work on our plants,” said trustee Ron Kristof. “I want to see us have fine facilities.”
Sonoma County’s largest school district has turned to voters to support four bond elections since 1991; all were successful. Two bonds focused on the middle and high school campuses, and two bonds targeted elementary campuses. The last was passed in 2002.
The survey, which polled 700 likely voters between between Jan. 30 and Feb. 11, found that at least 70 percent of respondents across both districts would support improving student access to computers and modern technology, upgrading inadequate electrical systems, repairing deteriorating plumbing and sewer systems and replacing outdated heating, ventilation and air-conditioning systems.
In the high school district, projects that tested below a 50 percent threshold for support include upgrading athletic facilities; constructing a resource facility for school and community to improve health for students and families; paying off district loans that went to constructing and modernizing facilities; acquiring land to construct additional classrooms, restrooms and school facilities; and purchasing facilities the district is currently leasing.
The poll also tested how much voters would be willing to pay per year.
“There is a little sensitivity in my opinion of some of the projects and some of the tax rates,” said Greg Isom of Isom Advisors, who conducted the poll.
Board members have not determined a list of projects or decided on a per-parcel tax amount for the bond.
But board members said communicating the district’s needs will be key to a successful vote.
“They say we need time to educate the community,” trustee Larry Haenel said. “We need to get right on it.”
Associate Superintendent Doug Bower said the district is facing a “mounting list” of maintenance and facilities needs after years of budget cuts.
“We have spent virtually no money on facilities in the past five years,” he said.
In addition, technology needs have evolved as have requirements for science and pre-kindergarten programs.
Board President Bill Carle pushed for particular attention to be paid to how technology is funded — asking staff members to look into shorter term bond issuances to cover the shorter lifespan of both hardware and software.
“We all recognize that buying technology with bond money that is paid off over 25 or 30 years doesn’t make a lot of sense,” he said.
Trustee Laura Gonzalez was absent.
Staff Writer Kerry Benefield writes an education blog at extracredit.blogs.pressdemocrat.com. She can be reached at 526-8671, kerry.benefield@press democrat.com or on Twitter @benefield.