Next month, voters in the Ravenswood City School District will be asked to tax themselves and entrust the district with $110 million to pay for school upgrades. We believe the dire need for new facilities, coupled with the district's strong track record of managing bond money over the last six years, is enough to warrant a "Yes" vote.
Ravenswood has arguably been too leery of asking for money in the past, with a long lapse in bond measures until the modest $26 million Measure H in 2016, followed shortly thereafter with the $70 million Measure S bond in 2018. Voters overwhelmingly approved both these measures, which helped finance school construction projects that are mission critical to give children a safe, healthy learning environment.
This money hasn't gone toward luxuries — it paid for structural upgrades to keep roofs from collapsing, make sure the locks worked, and replace failing pipes.
Now the school district is returning to voters, this time asking for an even larger $110 million bond measure to keep up the good work. The focus for this bond includes modernization of school classrooms that date back to the 1950s and portable classrooms that are well past their useful lives. The problems stretch beyond classrooms, with Belle Haven Elementary's cramped multipurpose room so outdated and small that they cannot support full assemblies or spectators for events.
Studies show that school districts serving low-income students disproportionately spend more per student on maintenance and operations, which includes high-cost repair work that must be done to keep shabby old buildings in working order. Ravenswood should not have to keep spending money scrambling to fix flooding issues and inking contract after contract with termite control companies.
And if the last few years have taught us anything, even the less flashy upgrades like improving HVAC systems will be an important investment. During the coronavirus pandemic, many school districts faced the urgent task of upgrading ventilation so that children and teachers alike could safely go to school with less risk of catching the coronavirus. The proposed bond would give Ravenswood a financial path to making those upgrades.
These improvements will come at a cost to taxpayers, and voters should be clear-eyed about the addition to annual property tax bills. The measure would cost $30 per $100,000 of assessed value, and over the life of the bond is estimated to require a repayment of $195 million. But evidence shows that Ravenswood has been diligent with its Measure H and Measure S money, with publicly available audit reports showing district leaders have been good stewards of taxpayer dollars.
The opposition argument, written by tax-averse residents living outside the district, are scattered and disingenuous. They conflate annual per-pupil spending with the capital improvement budget and rally against technology upgrades on the bizarre grounds that they will one day be outdated. They also cite an enrollment decline as a reason not to fix and replace existing aging classrooms. These arguments are not compelling.
The benefits of Measure S are already in the works, as the district embarks on extensive $50 million upgrades to Cesar Chavez Ravenswood Middle School. It's time to extend those improvements to the elementary schools as well. The students deserve the same 21st-century school facilities as their wealthier neighbors, and the only way for that to happen is with the community's support. Vote "Yes" on Measure I.
The Palo Alto Weekly editorial board will provide its endorsements for the June 7 primary in next week's edition.