Ballot Measures I & J are directed at making much-needed improvements in classrooms throughout the Santa Barbara Unified District, especially the replacement of very old portable classrooms with new construction. These improvements are vital to student learning. I personally believe the physical classroom environment profoundly influences student learning and achievement, and that inadequate lighting, excess noise, low air quality, and deficient heating in the classroom are significantly related to lower student achievement. No infrastructure investment is more important than in our schools.
The Santa Barbara Unified School District is celebrating its 150th anniversary in 2016. Santa Barbara High School is the third oldest high school in California and has been at its present 40-acre campus since 1924 — that’s close to a century ago. Five other schools are almost that old, and most other campuses date to the 1950s and a few to the 1960s. All told, the SBUSD maintains 1.8 million square feet of interior classroom space across 22 schools. This translates into more than 40 acres just of interior space, much of which is worn out and lacking the modern amenities that help students learn.
Measure I is a $135 million bond measure that will support all junior and senior high school facilities in Goleta and Santa Barbara. Measure J is a $58 million bond measure that will improve the SBUSD’s 13 elementary schools located in the City of Santa Barbara. Securing the bonds in a timely and responsible manner will take advantage of historically low interest rates and avoid the need for even more extensive repairs and upgrades later, after conditions worsen. In addition, if state school bonds pass, the SBUSD will be able to qualify for millions of dollars of state bond funding that will not be available later.
The amounts of the two bond measures were determined by the School Board following completion of a comprehensive study of needs at all our campuses by outside consultants and a committee that included a cross-section of community members. And similarly, upon approval of the bond measures, there will be a citizens’ oversight committee appointed to monitor the expenditures of the bond proceeds and an independent audit will be performed annually. Bond funds cannot be used for administrator salaries.
Funds from the passage of Measure I will also allow the SBUSD to acquire the long sought-after National Guard Armory in downtown Santa Barbara. This opportunity will expire on July 1, 2017, so this represents a once-in-a-lifetime chance to add this property as a regional community asset. The 4.7 acre Armory property includes extensive space for both recreational and educational activities, with enough land to provide an athletic field that can be used by schools and community groups.
Passage of the two bond measures will also create local jobs and boost the local economy as most of the construction contracts have historically gone to local contractors and businesses.
The estimated tax rate for Measure I is $12 per $100,000 of assessed valuation, which is different (and almost always lower) than the current market value of a property. For Measure J, the estimated tax rate is $13 per $100,000 of assessed valuation. These amounts will be significantly offset for most property owners by elimination of the current parcel taxes next year—two school taxes that will be coming off property tax bills in 2017.
The Measures I and J campaign is a low-budget, grassroots effort. The financial support for the campaign is coming from members of the community. I am asking you, the voters, to think about the importance of quality public schools to the success of a community and to invest in the future, not just for local children but for all of us.
Ed Heron has been a Santa Barbara resident for 68 years. He’s been a member of the Santa Barbara Board of Education since 2008 and has twice served as its president.