Measure E: A $120M upgrade to schools

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Voters who live in the Sonoma Valley Unified School District will be asked when they go to the polls on Nov. 8 to approve Measure E, a $120 million bond measure needed, according to District officials, to bring the schools into the 21st century.

The school district’s Facility Master Plan has identified $220 million in upgrades, some of which would be covered by a bond issue while others can be met through deferred maintenance. Of the estimated $220 million in upgrades, Sonoma Valley High School alone had an estimated price tag of $112 million while the rest of the district combined had about $110 million.

If approved, property owners will pay $42.50 for every $100,000 of assessed valuation – not market value. Someone with a residence with an assessed value of $200,000 would pay $85 a year.

The district passed smaller bond measures in 1994, 1997 and again in 2010. The 2010 measure was for $40 million and a large chunk of that went to the solar power system.

“Our focus is on warm, safe and dry; technology and the 21st century classroom,” said Sonoma Valley Unified School Disrict Superintendent Louann Carlomagno.

The district surveyed 400 likely voters to see what their priorities are, and mailed out another 13,000 surveys to every household in the district.

“The survey allowed parents to rank their priorities,” said Selma Blanusa, the campaign’s chair.

The proposed project list for the bond covers three pages and includes modernizing, upgrading, renovating, replacing and expanding a litany of things. But, as of now, the list isn’t site specific.

Some of the money earmarked for technology would go for the purchase of Chromebooks. “We’re moving into 1-to-1 devices,” Carlomagno said. “Everybody’s going to get a Chromebook. This is a game-changer for many students.”

The Chromebooks, which use cloud technology instead of a hard drive to store data, would last students three-to-four years, Carlomagno said. She said some of the technology the district purchased with the 2010 school bond is antiquated.

The district is rolling out the Chromebooks slowly – this year, 10th and 11th graders are getting them.

“We’ve got a lot of kids who are socio-economically disadvantaged,” said school board member Dan Gustafson. “We’ve got to get technology into their hands.”

And he pointed out that most of the schools were built for the baby boomers and are now 60-to-70 years old.

Blanusa said the district’s campuses are a “step back in time.”

“Those buildings are old and drab,” she said.

“If we want 21st century classrooms, we’re going to have to build them,” Carlomagno said. “We’re educating kids for jobs that don’t even exist now.”

Sonoma isn’t the only school district looking for an infusion of money to upgrade its facilities. Napa just passed a $269 million measure. Novato has a $220 million measure on the November ballot, while Cotati has an $80 million measure.

The measure needs 55 percent to pass. No one has filed a ballot argument opposing Measure E.

While some districts have used developer fees from growth to upgrade their schools, that hasn’t happened in Sonoma Valley.

“We don’t have a lot of new development,” Gustafson said. “We went out for two parcel taxes that failed. We don’t have parcel taxes, we don’t have developer’s fees. We have to borrow money to keep our schools up-to-date.”

While the survey revealed there wasn’t a lot of interest in a performing arts center, there is still an interest in a pool at the high school.

“If the pool proposed by Sonoma Splash moves forward, that’s great,” Carlomagno said. “But if it doesn’t, we need to put a pool in.”

The state has a school facilities bond measure on the ballot and, if it passes, would provide matching funds for various projects in the Sonoma Valley schools.

Blanusa said the schools should be the highest priority in the community.

“They’re critical for our community,” she said. “Now is a good time to work on our facilities.”

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