With a $47 million bond measure on the March 3 ballot, the Hope Elementary School District has outlined an ambitious plan to fund crucial upgrades at its three campuses in northwestern Santa Barbara:
» Improving worn-out playing fields and scuffed playgrounds
» Fixing aging and leaky roofs, and replacing temporary portable buildings with permanent classrooms to meet current educational specifications
» Modernization and repairing outdated school facilities, classrooms and restrooms
“They aren’t wants,” Superintendent Anne Hubbard told Noozhawk. “They are needs. We aren’t going for anything fancy.”
The approval of Measure J would authorize the district to issue $47.4 million of “bonds at legal rates, levy approximately 3 cents/$100 assessed home value, generating $2.8 million annually while bonds are outstanding, with annual audits.”
The measure requires a 55-percent approval from voters.
The district studied its urgent and critical facilities needs, and adopted a facilities master plan that outlines all the projects. Staff, teachers, community members and the district board prioritized the crucial needs, the ballot proposition said.
The board concluded that if the needs are not addressed now, the problems will become more pressing and expensive, according to the ballot statement.
“To address the needs,” Hubbard said. “Schools have one way of raising funds outside of selling valentines and bake sales — by putting a measure on a ballot to raise a local tax or bond.”
Facilities are a “massive need” for the more than 900-student district, she said.
Bond money will be used for repairing or replacing deteriorating plumbing and sewer systems; making much-needed safety, health and security improvements to facilities; and upgrading inadequate or potentially unsafe electrical systems.
The ballot statement also says the funds will repair or replace outdated heating, ventilation and air-conditioning systems, improve door locking systems, and replace inefficient or old windows to lower utility costs.
“These buildings are 50 years old or older,” Hubbard said of facilities at Hope, Monte Vista and Vieja Valley schools. “While we do our best, schools are always on a tight budget.”
No funds can be used for teacher or administrators’ salaries or operating expenses, and none of the money can be taken by the State of California.
If the measure is approved, an independent citizens’ oversight committee will be appointed to ensure bond funds are spent as authorized, according to the ballot statement.
There doesn’t appear to be any ballot argument or campaign opposing the measure.
A few Santa Barbara residents wrote the ballot argument in favor of the measure, saying it would improve schools and the quality of education.
“While our staff does a phenomenal job in educating our students, many classrooms and school facilities at Hope Elementary School District are outdated and inadequate to provide children with the facilities they need to succeed,” the measure’s supporters wrote.
“Although our local schools have been well maintained over the years, aging classrooms and facilities must be upgraded since many do not meet 21st-century standards.”
The district has battled back from a $386,000 budget deficit that roiled the school community in 2016. Officials campaigned for, and won approval, of a parcel tax in 2018, and the Santa Barbara County Office of Education declared the district “fiscally recovered” in its 2019-2020 State of the District report.
“When I stepped into this district,” said Hubbard, who has served as superintendent for the last four years, “we were facing this critical budget situation, and at that point, it was just keeping our nose above water.”
The district, which operates on an annual budget of just over $10 million, has met and exceeded its reserve minimums and has developed a positive three-year financial blueprint that has been approved by its own trustees as well as the county Education Office.
A majority — about 89 percent — of the Hope district’s funding “goes to people because we are a people business, and that leaves 11 percent to pay for things like curriculum, paper, facilities and things like that,” Hubbard said.
The district still faces challenges in financing necessary facilities projects and safety improvements.
A local individual, who has worked with the State Architect’s Office, was hired to train the district’s maintenance and operations director on a proper Facilities Inspection Tool. The tool is utilized to inspect school sites and calculate an overall percentage for each campus, as defined by the California Education Code.
“What came out of that was critical failures on every campus,” Hubbard said. “He climbed roofs, and gave us valuable, true and honest conditions.”
Statewide, she added, voters on March 3 also will be deciding on Proposition 13, a $15 billion state bond measure intended to help schools from kindergarten through public colleges and universities with facilities projects.
The state bond revenue would provide matching funds to school districts. If approved, the Hope Elementary School District could qualify for an estimated $250,000.
“That’s just roofing one school,” Hubbard said. “It doesn’t address our millions of dollars of needs that we have.”
California boasts the world’s fifth largest economy, she said, but the state ranks near the bottom nationally in nearly every significant measure of school funding or school staffing.
Even with Gov. Gavin Newsom’s latest version of his state budget proposal, the Hope district does not anticipate seeing much of an increase in funding from Sacramento.
“We are proud to be an important part of the community,” Hubbard said. “We want to keep the spaces and school safe, and reflective of the nice community we live in.”
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