Voters in the Santa Cruz City Schools high school and elementary school districts will be casting ballots in the November election to decide if the district should issue $371 million in bonds to fund renovating the schools and building workforce housing. If the measures pass, property owners will pay between the equivalent of four cups of coffee per month or one pizza per month, depending on where they live and which of the measures applies to them.
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The Santa Cruz City Schools district is asking voters to approve $371 million in bonds to fund repairing its schools and to build about 80 units of workforce housing.
Measure K would approve $249 million in bonds to upgrade the middle schools and high schools, while Measure L would approve $122 million in bonds to upgrade elementary schools. If both are approved, about 5% of the total $371 million, or about $19 million, is planned to go toward building rental housing for teachers and staff as an initial investment, according to the district.
The housing will be located on a district-owned parcel of land off of Swift Street near the old Natural Bridges Elementary School campus. The district would continue to own the land and the building, but the bond measures don’t include details about how the it would manage the affordable housing program, such as how much rent would be charged or a construction timeline.
Proponents of the measures say they will allow the districts to continue modernizing classrooms, repair aging infrastructure, improve athletic facilities, remove hazardous materials and reduce schools’ environmental impact — work the district started after voters approved Measures A and B in 2016 for $208 million in bonds. Measures A and B were approved by 75.8% and 79.5% of voters, respectively.
The updates would include: repairing and replacing roofs, ventilation and other school infrastructure; removing asbestos and lead pipes and paint; installing solar panels and other renewable energy and water conservation projects; and upgrading classroom and lab equipment for career technical education.
Opponents say this isn’t the right time for another tax and that schools need to be more fiscally responsible.
Who votes and how much will voters pay if the measures pass?
Depending on where Santa Cruz County voters live, they might see one, two or no school bond measures on their ballot. That will also determine how much they will be paying.
What supporters say
Measure K and L supporters include County Superintendent of Schools Faris Sabbah, Capitola City Councilmember Yvette Brooks, Santa Cruz County Chamber of Commerce CEO Casey Beyer and Santa Cruz City Schools Trustee Jacquie Benetua-Rolens.
They say that investing in local schools, regardless of whether or not a voter has a child in the system, is a smart investment as it improves property values and creates strong communities.
Casey Carlson, president of the teachers union, said approving these bonds will provide much-needed funding to ensure students and staff have modernized and upgraded infrastructure to achieve academically and will relieve some of the rent burden on staff by providing affordable housing.
“I’m a whole a homeowner — I know how hard it is to pay all these property taxes. But California is either the 36th, or the 41st, in the nation, for education funding,” Carlson said. “And yet, we’re one of the largest economies in the world, and certainly the state with the largest economy.”
She said without more state funding available, school districts have to turn to local sources to make needed fixes.
State Sen. John Laird said funding isn’t available from the state for the kind of infrastructure upgrades Santa Cruz City Schools need.
“It doesn’t exist in the current form to meet these needs,” he said. “We’re working hard to make state money available that isn’t totally available yet, but it also really helps to have the match from the local [entities] that moves the state money faster.”
What opponents say
Opponents of the measure include Michael Lelieur, Carmen Bernal, Kris Kirby and Robert Farmer. Kirby says the group didn’t raise money and is a grassroots group whose members share a common goal to oppose more taxes.
“I think schools need to be responsible with the money that they get from the state and the feds, and they should be operating and saving money for projects that they want to do,” Kirby told Lookout.
Kirby, who lives in Aptos, said she would not be affected personally by the Santa Cruz City School bonds.
“But I don’t think that matters,” she said.
More about Santa Cruz City Schools
While one board of education and one administrative team manage Santa Cruz City Schools, it is made up of two districts: an elementary school district and a high school district.
Measure K will provide funding for projects at the middle schools and high schools in the Santa Cruz City High School district.
The Santa Cruz City High School District includes two middle schools, three comprehensive high schools, a continuation school, an independent studies program and a homeschool program. In total, the district serves about 4,660 students. Those students live in the city of Santa Cruz, as well as across the county between Davenport and Soquel.
Schools in the district include Harbor High School, Santa Cruz High School, Soquel High School, Branciforte Middle School and Mission Hill Middle School.
Measure L will provide funding for projects at the elementary schools in the Santa Cruz City Elementary School district.
In the Santa Cruz City Elementary School District, five schools serve about 2,000 students who live in the city of Santa Cruz. Schools in the district include Bay View Elementary, DeLaveaga Elementary, Gault Elementary, Westlake Elementary and Branciforte Small Schools.