May 30, 2014

Measure M would raise $60 million for upgrades to 17 schools

Fifty-five percent must approve bond measure for it to succeed.

Backers of the $60 million Measure M bond measure on Tuesday’s ballot are hopeful that Merced voters will look kindly on efforts to shore up deteriorating infrastructure at 17 elementary and middle schools.

Fifty-five percent of voters living within the Merced City School District must approve Measure M; consultants determined last fall that 65 percent of local voters likely would support the bond.

Not all residents, however, feel that way.

Allan R. Schell, a Mercedian since 1969 and retired in 1983 as city manager, opposes Measure M. He said there is no doubt that things identified in the bond plan are needed, but alternate means to finance them should have been identified.

“Sixty million is a lot of money,” Schell said. “A lot of things can change. We’ve seen public officials at every level not fulfill their pre-election statements. The feds are really good at this. They could have taken this in smaller bites.”

On the other hand, RoseMary Parga Duran, district superintendent, said all 17 schools will benefit from the bond. She said it’s hard to gauge support, but that 66 percent said earlier they would pass the bond.

“Many district schools are old, deteriorating and in need of repairs and upgrades,” Duran said. “Our classrooms, science labs and computer technology are also outdated. Upgrades are needed to prepare students for 21st-century jobs and careers.”

Board of Education member Darrell Cherf, co-chairman of the Yes on Measure M committee, said the outcome is looking good, but everybody who feels strongly about the bond needs to get out and vote.

Cherf said about a couple of hundred people have been involved in the Measure M campaign, with at least 10 people participating at each school. He said the district has a lot of old schools that need upgrades; Hoover Middle School, where his children attended, is more than 60 years old.

Bruce Pettyjohn, a Merced resident since 2000, is another Measure M opponent. He said he believes funding education is the answer to many of society’s issues, placing another burden on homeowners seems unfair and an easy way to sneak a new tax on the books.

“I know bonds can have a life of roughly 30 years, but they also can collect far more than originally designed. They also require folks that are not able to vote on these bonds (to) pay for them, if they own property here in the county. Perhaps limiting the voters to those that own property, here in the county and live in the county, would help ensure that those required to pay the bond are also allowed to decide the issue,” Pettyjohn said.

The tax will be on top of bond debt due from a similar measure passed in 2003, slated for use in renovation, electrical upgrades, new multipurpose buildings, larger libraries and construction of two elementary schools. According to debt schedules from bonds issued in 2004 and 2005, Merced City Elementary District property owners will be paying off $41.8 million on those issues through 2030.

In 2003, the district’s enrollment was only slightly off its peak of 11,563 in the 2001-02 school year. The number of children attending Merced City schools fell during the recession and slipped again this school year to 10,613.

Board member Adam Cox, who is also the Measure M committee co-chairman, said a high percentage of support has been identified in calls to prospective voters. Committee members have been doing outreach including phone bank work.

“So far, we’ve been pretty pleased with what we are hearing from the community,” Cox said.

If Measure M passes, residents would pay $30 per $100,000 of assessed valuation on their annual property tax bills.

Jack Mobley, a Merced resident for 25 years and is running as a write-in candidate for Assembly, opposes Measure M. He said a bond is not an equitable tax, affecting just property owners.

“There’s no doubt schools need some work done as soon as possible,” Mobley said. “A lot of the problem stems from the way money is structured from the state. If restrictions were lifted, local school boards would be able to address issues. We spend enough money on taxes; it’s money coming out of my pocket.”

Bond committee literature states Measure M funds, when combined with state money, would be used to improve fire safety and school security, repair leaky roofs, plumbing and deteriorating restrooms, repair inefficient or faulty electrical systems, and remove asbestos and lead paint.

Carol Schell of Merced also opposes Measure M.

“The bond measure puts too much money and control in the hands of too few people over too long a period of time. The bond issue is going to take 56 years to pay off. This is a mortgage of the parents, the students, their children and grandchildren,” Schell said.

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