February 25, 2014

School board approves $60 million bond measure for June ballot

Merced City School District trustees on Tuesday unanimously approved a $60 million bond measure for the June ballot to upgrade 17 elementary and middle school campuses in Merced.

Merced City School District trustees on Tuesday unanimously approved a $60 million bond measure for the June ballot to upgrade 17 elementary and middle school campuses.

The board addressed the issue during its meeting at Don Stowell Elementary School, where the bond issue was the main item of business Tuesday night.

If voters approve the measure on June 3, the bond would cost taxpayers $30 per $100,000 of assessed value, district officials said.

. More than 65 percent of likely voters polled by the district said they would support the measure, Greg Spicer, associate superintendent for administrative services, told the board. The sample size and cost of the survey were not available Tuesday.

The plan shows $119 million in high-priority improvements for safety and technology upgrades. Spicer said the plan has been in the works for more than a year. More than 200 people took part in the planning process in meetings at schools and at town hall-style gathering.

Darrell Cherf, board president, said the district would use the money to fix deteriorating roofs, water and gas lines, and heating and air conditioning systems and add wireless computer ports at the district’s 17 schools, which serve 10,617 students.

“We’re not building any new schools,” Cherf said, “we’re upgrading so the schools can continue to provide services into the future.”

Superintendent RoseMary Parga Duran said the funding would be critical for the district.

“Every (school) site will benefit from this funding,” Parga Duran said. “We haven’t been able to do anything for the last six years because all the schools have been so strapped.”

More than 50 people attended Tuesday’s meeting, including Eugene Gantney, a Merced-based contractor who voiced support for the measure. Gantney suggested the board favor local businesses when contracts go out to bid, saying the measure would benefit more of the community.

“They (the schools) all need a lot of work,” Gantney said. “I think we’re well on the way to getting the community involved to support this, and it’s really needed.”

Spicer said the bond would be helpful in letting the district offer 21st-century learning opportunities. However, he said he’s unsure what state funds will be available, and the state won’t offer a general obligation school bond before 2016.

There will be future state resources to finance modernization and safety upgrades, Spicer believes, but whether they materialize and the forms they take may depend on the state economy.

More than $390 million in needs have been identified at Merced schools. The most critical needs, totaling $119 million, are part of a list of upgrades that likely will be carried out over 15 to 20 years, Spicer said.

“The next step is to organize a campaign to get the message out to the community to let them know that this bond measure is moving forward and it would be nice if they would support it,” Spicer said. “Every school has some needs.”

Board member Susan Walsh praised staff efforts to move the bond measure to the ballot. She said the money is badly needed.

“It’s time we step up to the plate for the children in our district,” Walsh said.

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