Education Lab

FUSD trustees considering bond measure to update old facilities. Would voters support?

The Fresno Unified School District headquarters in downtown Fresno. CRAIG KOHLRUSS/THE FRESNO BEE
The Fresno Unified School District headquarters in downtown Fresno. CRAIG KOHLRUSS/THE FRESNO BEE Fresno Bee file

Fresno Unified School District trustees are considering placing a multi-million dollar bond measure on the March 2020 ballot that could help attract and retain teachers, plus improve aging school facilities.

The size of the potential bond measure is still being determined, but it could range from $240 million to $500 million. The board’s considering what amount would most likely appeal to voters, since it would mean raising property taxes.

Currently, the typical property owner in Fresno pays $188 per year in neighborhood school property assessment fees per $100,000 of property value. If the $500 million bond passes, those fees would go up by $60 per $100,000 of property value, according to district staff.

In an October survey of 644 likely voters, 72% were in favor of a $500 million bond. Among that same group, 74% also said they would support a $325 million bond, and 66% would vote for $240 million.

Karin Temple, FUSD chief operations officer, said voters support the higher bond measures because they realize the need to upgrade schools. “They realize projects they might support might not get done with the lower bond amount,” she said.

But when shown the actual property tax hike numbers, voter support dropped to 60%, the survey showed. Sixteen percent were strictly opposed to the measure, and another 6% were undecided, according to the survey.

What would bond money be used for?

The bond money would help fix aging facilities in the district, which would include removing lead paint and asbestos, fixing deteriorating restrooms and plumbing, and upgrading vocational and career centers.

According to the survey, voters saw attracting and retaining teachers as the greatest need.

Chief Financial Officer Ruthie Quinto said it could take at least a decade before the district sees all the money, if the $500 million bond passes.

Although the survey results look promising for the $500 million amount, Board President Claudia Cazares said at Wednesday’s trustee meeting that she is still worried about the impacts, should the measure pass.

“Our lower-income families value every dollar that they have,” Cazares said. “Whether or not they pay an additional $60 could mean food on the table, diapers on their children, shoes on their feet.”

Cazares said she speaks from experience. “They value that more than some people may think,” she said.

Superintendent Bob Nelson also said it may be best to go for the conservative number. He recommended the $325 million option.

To get the measure on the ballot, the board would need to adopt a resolution that includes the specific monetary amount by Dec. 6. The board will discuss the proposed measure again at its Nov. 20 meeting.

Neighboring Clovis Unified recently approved a $408 million bond for the March 2020 ballot.

Ashleigh Panoo: 559-441-6010, @AshleighPanoo