Education Lab

California school builders, others to gather signatures for November 2016 bond measure

School-construction and home-building groups Monday launched an effort to qualify a $9 billion school bond for the November 2016 ballot, only days after Gov. Jerry Brown released a budget plan that minimized the state’s role in paying for building new classrooms and modernizing existing ones.

The last state school bond was in 2006, and the pot of new construction and modernization money is virtually empty, with a $2 billion backlog in applications for assistance. Besides putting students in aging or overcrowded classrooms, officials warn that the situation could trigger a 1998 state law that would double developer fees on new homes.

“Every child deserves access to safe, secure, modern learning environments,” Joe Dixon, the chairman of the Coalition for Adequate School Housing and an assistant superintendent at the Santa Ana Unified School District, said in a statement Monday from the pro-bond Californians for Quality Schools. “This is an investment in the development of our state’s future workforce, and will help ensure our children are prepared to compete in a 21st Century global economy.”

Dave Cogdill, a former Modesto lawmaker who leads the California Building Industry Association, another member of the quality schools group, said the bond would “be a stabilizing force in our fragile economic recovery.” He predicted that 13,000 jobs would be created for every $1 billion spent.

Monday’s filing follows Brown’s release last Friday of a spending plan for the coming fiscal year that included little new state money for school facilities. Brown has made clear that he takes a dim view of the state incurring debt to build schools.

Last week’s proposal called for making it easier for local districts to pass bonds as well as restructuring developer fees in a way that would likely increase them. Any state contribution, it said, should be targeted to districts with the most need.

Defending against calls for increased school facility funding from the state, Brown said that with the approval threshold at 55 percent for local school bond measures, “most of the school bonds are passing, so they do have the local capacity.”

Brown, who started two charter schools while mayor of Oakland, said statewide bond measures are more complicated and expensive than local ones and that, “I think the locals can do it more efficiently.”

Asked if his response constituted opposition to a 2016 bond, Brown said: “Well, it’s certainly not support.”

Going against the wishes of a governor re-elected in November with nearly 60% of the vote is just one of the potential challenges facing supporters of a new school bond.

Temporary sales and income-tax increases approved by voters in November 2012 begin to expire next year. Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson and others have called for extending the increases, possibly with a 2016 ballot measure. Some have warned that having a tax-extension measure benefiting schools and a school bond measure on the same ballot could hurt the chances of both.

Voters have approved about $45 billion in school and higher education borrowing since 1998. All of them — $9.3 billion in 1998, $13.05 billion in 2002, $12.3 billion in 2004 and $10.4 billion in 2006 — were put on the ballot by the Legislature. Organizers of the effort announced Monday they will have to collect 365,880 valid voter signatures to qualify for the November ballot, an effort that could cost more than $1 million. Then there are the costs of TV and radio ads and other campaign expenses.

Proponents released the results of a private poll Monday showing strong voter support for a new school bond. The December survey by Fairbank, Maslin, Maullin, Metz & Associates found that 63% of voters either would definitely support, probably support or lean toward supporting a $9 billion bond. The 38% of voters who would “definitely” support a school bond is several percentage points higher than a poll earlier last year.

School groups and others last summer pushed to place a $4.3 billion school bond on the November ballot. It unanimously cleared the Assembly and a Senate committee, but stalled in August after the Brown administration made clear its opposition.