A Lookout View: Vote yes on Measures K and L

A street sign urging a yes vote on Measures K and L
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

Lookout Endorsement: Our schools need our help. They need to fix roofs and heating, to modernize classrooms, update sports facilities and install better security systems. Santa Cruz County’s patchwork system of public education doesn’t allow the state of California to pay for these “extras.” That’s why we have to pass bonds to support our schools. Lookout endorses a yes vote on Measures K and L.

Editor’s note: A Lookout View is the opinion of our Community Voices opinion section, written by our editorial board, which consists of Community Voices Editor Jody K. Biehl and Lookout Founder Ken Doctor. Our goal is to connect the dots we see in the news and offer a bigger-picture view — all intended to see Santa Cruz County meet the challenges of the day and to shine a light on issues we believe must be on the public agenda. These views are distinct and independent from the work of our newsroom and its reporting.

School bonds regularly pass in Santa Cruz County and rightfully so.

That’s because our schools need us. Our patched-together system of public education funding doesn’t allow the state of California to pay for infrastructure “extras” like modernizing classrooms, adding safety features or fixing and updating sports and other outdoor facilities for our kids.

So from time to time, we need to pass bonds to literally buttress our schools. Bonds are the only lever schools have to help pay for many needed fixes.

We think our kids, our teachers and administrators are worth it, particularly now — three years into the COVID-19 pandemic, which has caused unprecedented damage to teaching, learning and mental health.

That’s why we are endorsing Measures K and L on the November ballot.

The $371 million in bonds would go to Santa Cruz City Schools’ 10 elementary, middle and high schools, which currently serve 6,138 kids. If both measures pass, $19 million would go toward building about 80 units of rental housing for teachers and staff on a 2.5-acre parcel of district-owned land on Swift Street. This is a crucial, critical and wonderfully smart addition to the measures.

We are losing far too many teachers in Santa Cruz County, largely because of the high cost of living and their inability to find housing options they can afford. Santa Cruz City Schools Superintendent Kris Munro says 96 teachers — 25% of the workforce — have left since 2014 due to the high cost of living. We have to take action to stop this drain.

This plan – which admittedly might take years to accomplish — takes a small step to alleviate the housing burden on teachers. It’s part of a greater recognition we see growing that service-oriented public employees — teachers, public safety workers and those in the health professions, among others — need special assistance to be able to live here. In this case, such help might mean keeping a great first-grade teacher, an excellent high school coach or both, plus more.

Measure K would give $249 million for the district’s five middle and high schools, while Measure L would secure $122 million for upgrades to five elementary schools. The wording of the measures makes clear the bond money can’t go to pay school district administrative salaries, pension funds or operating costs. It’s all infrastructure. All to benefit kids and teachers.

Some of the additions will include essential repairs like removing asbestos and lead, fixing roofs, heating and ventilation. The funds can also create labs for career education courses in health sciences and engineering and support cutting-edge additions to better teach reading and the arts. The pandemic has left our kids dazed, socially awkward and behind in key subjects, particularly reading and math. They — and their teachers — need all the help we can give them.

Schools can also use the money generated to improve sports and outdoor facilities, which we know are key to mental health and the social lives of our kids and our community.

Crucially, the funding will also allow our schools to improve security, which could include better locks, cameras and a more effective communication system in case of emergencies.

A Santa Cruz Police Department vehicle in front of Santa Cruz High School.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

Last week’s scare at Santa Cruz High School, which put the school in lockdown for several hours amid (ultimately false) reports of an active shooter, made us all feel more vulnerable — made us all wish for more tools to help teachers, administrators and kids learn and work in a safe, nurturing space.

It’s hard to argue against these sorts of vital additions for our kids.

Good schools make sense, especially since the upgrades to schools also improve our neighborhoods and enhance the value of homes.

For taxpayers, the cost is relatively low, $15 a month ($180 annually) if you live only in the high school district and $30 a month ($360 annually) if you live in both. Proponents of the measures point out that translates to a few coffees a week or maybe a large (fancy) pizza a month. Compared to larger tax bills, it’s nothing.

Passing each measure also qualifies our schools to receive millions in state matching funds, leveraging local tax dollars even further.

A few detractors insist we pay enough taxes already, that we’ve paid enough for schools, including the 2016 Measures A and B that raised $208 million, and that there should be an exemption for seniors and those with disabilities.

We hear your pleas, but we also disagree. We believe this is a whole community commitment we must all make.

Measures A and B began vital work. We can’t leave our schools with partial roofs and unmitigated asbestos.

Our country is in a crisis of democracy and in a deep battle over what kids can and can’t learn in school. Here, in our small community, we have to throw everything we have at education. Now.

Our kids need us. They deserve 21st-century classrooms, sports facilities and labs, and they deserve to feel safe going to school.

The best chance we have to make democracy work is to educate our kids in the best possible way. That means supporting K and L.

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