Sometimes timing is everything. Ten years ago, in the June 2008 election and by a 77 percent margin, voters in the Palo Alto Unified School District overwhelmingly approved a $378 million bond measure to fund about half of the identified capital needs, including major projects at both high schools, all three middle schools and about half of the district's elementary schools.
Just four months later, the economy crashed and the Great Recession drove interest rates down to near zero and construction costs fell dramatically. For the district and its taxpayers, this meant much more bang for the buck, and except for problems with one major contractor, the 2008 measure more than delivered on its promises.
With those funds now running out, the school board hopes the timing is right to seamlessly continue the construction program by asking for approval of a new $460 million bond to fund, among other things, new multipurpose buildings at elementary schools, new classrooms at the middle schools and renovation of Gunn's Spangenberg Auditorium, the Paly Haymarket Theater and the Paly tower building. A 55 percent majority vote is needed.
The estimated new tax rate, including the continuing re-payments of the 2008 bond and final years of the 1995 bond, will be about $100 per $100,000 of assessed valuation, or $1,000 per million dollars of assessed valuation (not fair market value). This will amount to a relatively small increase — $20 per $100,000 — above what homeowners are currently paying.
While the district's timing for making this ask of voters isn't ideal given the financial and management turmoil of the last few years and the hit many taxpayers will take under the new tax laws, those problems don't diminish the continuing need for capital improvements to the schools.
There is also a significant benefit to rolling one bond program into another, since personnel and construction-management processes can continue without needing to gear up after shutting down the current bond program.
We hope voters — who, like us, have been frustrated with the district's management failures of the last few years or who may feel tapped out by bond measures and the parcel tax (which only funds operational needs) — will recognize that most of our campuses still have major needs and that funds will also eventually be needed to rebuild some portion of the former Cubberley High School site for school purposes.
We urge a "yes" vote on Measure Z.