What the local school bonds mean for taxpayers and to the campuses in need of upgrades
Entering any side of the campus shared by Marigold and Loma Vista elementary schools, it becomes apparent quickly why the Chico Unified School District has put a facilities bond measure on the ballot.
Both the traditional K-5 and the special services school consist of vintage buildings supplemented by portable classrooms—none aging gracefully, some deteriorating conspicuously. Driveways and parking lots are narrow, perimeter fencing fragmented.
“I know parents are concerned about safety—our campus is wide open,” said Marigold Principal Shawneese Heath. “We’ve made it as safe as we can with the facilities we have, and the parking we have.”
Other elementary schools have comparable challenges. So, CUSD is asking voters to approve a $152 million bond: $130 million for district schools, $22 million for charter schools within CUSD boundaries.
That is Measure K. There’s also Measure J, a $190 million facilities bond request from the Butte-Glenn Community College District for expansion and infrastructure updates, as well as Proposition 51, a $9 billion statewide bond initiative for K-12 schools and community colleges.
Measure J appears on ballots in both Butte and Glenn counties. As a general obligation bond, it must receive 55 percent support total (not subdivided by the counties), as must CUSD’s Measure K.
For both districts, the new bonds come in the wake of significant construction funded by earlier bond issues, for which property owners continue to pay tax assessments. Measures J and K include the opportunity to refinance old bonds to save each district—thus, the public—on interest payments, but the main selling point is upgrading facilities. None of the money can go to salaries or pensions.
CUSD filed its measure first, and Butte College President Samia Yaqub admitted her district heard the words “bad timing” after filing its measure. But neither she nor CUSD Superintendent Kelly Staley view the bond requests as competing—in fact, they are championing both together.
“We are looking at seamless K-[college] education,” Staley said. “We see [both bonds] as adding back to what this community values.”
Here is a snapshot of each district’s bond measure.
Measure J: Butte College
Bond issuance: $190 million
Total cost: $332 million (full bond issue including interest, estimated)
Property tax: $25 per $100,000 (assessed value, annually)
Projects: New science and welding buildings; new facilities for public safety training; further expansion at the Butte College Skyway Center (one of the Chico campuses); renovated buildings for math department and veterans center; athletic facility upgrades; replacement of PVC gas lines; improved traffic flow, parking and ADA accessibility.
Rationale: Even with extensive construction from 2002’s Measure A, Butte College finds itself impacted and constrained. The welding program has a two-year wait list. Science classes fill fast. Law enforcement trainees must practice scenarios at odd hours because regular campus buildings offer the only spaces available.
Yaqub, at Butte College since 1989 and president since 2015, said Measure J modifications address “bottlenecks, particularly in the sciences. If we expand our facilities, we can offer more classes that are going to get students into allied health programs, get students transferred [to universities]—and we know those are where the jobs are right now….
“The jobs in the next five years that we don’t know about, we know that they are going to require some technical skills; and welding is a nationally recognized program [at Butte] where students come out and get high-paying jobs—and these students come from all walks of life.”
Campuswide, the college requires upgrades in technology and infrastructure—namely gas lines, which date to original 1970s construction when plastic (PVC) was permitted. Measure J also would allow Butte College to move its veterans center from a peripheral portable to a central building.
Measure K: CUSD
Bond issuance: $152 million
Total cost: $270 million
Property tax: $60 per $100,000
Projects: Renovations of Hooker Oak School and Marigold, Neal Dow, Shasta, Emma Wilson, Rosedale and Sierra View elementaries; reconstruction of Loma Vista Elementary; athletic upgrades at Chico and Pleasant Valley high schools.
Rationale: CUSD had no bond program for renovations from the 1970s through 1998, then deferred maintenance due to budget cuts during the economic downturn. With bond funding from its Measure A (high schools) and Measure E (junior highs), “we do now at the six-through-12 level have some beautiful schools that are truly 21st century,” Staley said. “We need to do that across the board.”
If Measure K passes, portables at elementary schools would be replaced by permanent structures. The district has identified seven grade schools most in need of upgrades, but with Prop. 51 funding could add more: Chapman, Citrus, McManus and/or Parkview.
Changes would be more than cosmetic. Staley, the superintendent, and Heath, the Marigold principal, both say that education methods have evolved beyond the physical limitations of CUSD campuses. Hands-on learning, collaboration among teachers/classes and utilization of technology require “wired” classroom pods that would come via Measure K.
“It’ll be transformational,” Heath said. “There are surface things [that will be obvious], but instructionally it will be a game-changer.”