At this time, we’re housing our children in school buildings where their own parents attended classes 30 or 40 years ago. The average age of schools in the Gilroy Unified School District is 30 years old and five schools are more than 50 years old. The District has taken great care of the schools but they need to be renovated and rebuilt.
Over the years, more and more families have moved to Gilroy. We need to build a new elementary school to accommodate the resulting increase in student enrollment. The district recently completed a thorough facilities needs assessment and determined that our schools’ facilities needs are close to $800 million.
Our school board sponsored a $170 million general obligation school bond measure on the June 7 ballot—Measure E—to address these needs. Measure E will cost $60 per $100,000 of assessed valuation annually, which is between just $1 and $2 per day for the average homeowner. Also, the passage of a local bond measure will make the district eligible for matching funds if a state bond passes in November.
The only way school districts can address large facilities needs is through the passage of a local general obligation bond. A common misconception is that developer fees cover the cost of building a new school when, in fact, only 25 to 30 percent of the costs of a new school are covered by these fees.
The district has been a good steward of past bond measures, completing over $400 million in projects at most of the district’s schools and building new schools, including Antonio del Buono, Christopher, Eliot, Las Animas and Solorsano. Measure P funds not only paid for construction costs but also the salaries of some staff who managed those projects. The attorney general has ruled that this is an appropriate use of bond funds.
Some members of the community have raised questions about the activities of an independent bond campaign committee. I can assure the public that these committees are perfectly legal as their work is separate from the district’s. District employees may exercise their First Amendment rights as members of the public and citizens by joining such committees, but all activities must be outside of their normal work hours and duties. These committees can raise funds for campaign activities. Funds raised by bond campaign committees must be deposited in a separate bank account and reported to the Fair Political Practices Commission. Donations come from many sources, including companies that currently do business with the district. The district must adhere to a public bid process with strict regulatory oversight in awarding future construction projects and preferential treatment for companies that donate to the bond campaign is prohibited by law.
Although our schools have been well maintained over the years, Measure E will allow the Gilroy Unified School District to upgrade aging classrooms and facilities and build a new elementary school to meet 21st century standards and maintain the high quality of education provided to all local students.
Deborah Flores is superintendent of Gilroy Unified School District. She wrote this column for the Dispatch.