When discussing the merits of Measure X – the $225 million Fresno Unified School District construction bond measure on the Nov. 8 ballot – it is important to remind voters of a proposition approved by California voters in 2000.
Proposition 39 lowered the bar for passage of local school building bonds from two-thirds approval to 55 percent. Proponents cited California’s need for new schools to relieve overcrowded campuses, and strapped budgets that were preventing many districts from renovating aging facilities.
In an effort to sway voters, proposition authors included two key provisions. One, a local oversight committee serving as the eyes and ears of taxpayers would ensure that school bond funds were used for their stated purpose. Two, a strict cap would limit property-tax increases to pay off school bonds.
Thus, we are recommending a “yes” vote on Measure X, which would help the district better accommodate the needs of students, teachers and the community.
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Voters, of course, want to know about the cost. The good news is that because of an expiring Fresno Unified bond, there would be no property tax increase. In addition, if California voters pass the Proposition 51 school construction bond that is also on the ballot, the district would compete for $45 million or more in state funding for its projects.
We like that the bond funds improvements at every district high school and that many of the schools build upon Fresno Unified’s commitment to beef up offerings in drama, music and athletics – all of which are vital to keeping students motivated, engaged and in school.
For example, new theaters would be built at McLane, Hoover and Edison high schools. The theater/music complex at Sunnyside High School would be renovated. Roosevelt, McLane, Edison and Fresno would see new second gyms.
The community has said loudly and clearly that it wants students to have more (and better) career technical education options.
Measure X answers that call with funding that would expand Duncan Polytechnic’s student capacity from about 1,000 to 1,400 – something that should have been done long ago. The planned improvements include new and renovated classrooms, an expanded Reserve Officers Training Corps facility and renovations to the library.
In addition, the bond would replace portable classrooms, provide air conditioning in cafeterias, upgrade security, and improve student drop-off and pickup zones throughout the district.
Measure X, however, is accompanied by controversy, and it has generated visible, organized and well-funded opposition.
There are critics who say that the district wrote the bond plan without significantly engaging the community. There are critics of individual parts of the plan. They would rather see funding designated for different projects.
Other critics would prefer a much bigger bond for more classrooms and renovations. And, there is the ongoing federal inquiry into the district’s awarding of no-bid construction contracts from the Measure Q bond.
This editorial board has interviewed the proponents and opponents. We have weighed the positives and the negatives. We believe that many of the opponents’ concerns can be addressed going forward if district leadership commits to recruiting – and retaining – a Measure X oversight committee that is fully focused on ensuring that these bonds are spent properly and equitably.
This committee must include people who understand education, construction and accounting, and have the backbone to speak up publicly when the district is heading in the wrong direction or has already steered off course.
Since the passage of Proposition 39, many local oversight groups have been little more than rubber stamps for district leadership. The people living within Fresno Unified’s boundaries can ill afford such a scenario with Measure X or any other future bonds.
We recommend a “yes” vote on Measure X.
But our recommendation comes with this provision: Fresno Unified must commit to full transparency and give the oversight committee the tools it needs to fully protect students and taxpayers. This newspaper will watch to see that the district carries this out.