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Tamalpais Union High School District plans for $289-million bond measure

The Tamalpais Union High School District plans to place a scaled-back $289-million bond measure on the ballot this November, with officials saying a victory at the polls is critical to ensuring the district can complete time-sensitive facilities upgrades without having to make cuts to staff and programming.

 

The district’s board of trustees at its June 25 meeting asked staff to prepare a formal resolution for the measure and bring it back for a vote on Aug. 6, ahead of the Aug. 9 deadline for ensuring initiatives make it onto the Nov. 5 ballot.



The proposed bond is nearly half the $517-million bond that narrowly failed at the polls in March, garnering 54% support where 55% was needed to pass. It’s also significantly lower than a $440-million proposal that was considered by the board this spring but showed tepid support from voters in a preliminary poll conducted in May.

 

The pared-down measure is the district’s attempt to strike a compromise, allowing it to fund what it says are the highest priority projects for student safety — among them districtwide heating, ventilation and cooling upgrades and roof repairs, a kitchen expansion and new covered eating area at Redwood High School and classroom upgrades at Tamalpais High School — while also taking into account resounding feedback from many district voters who said the price tag of the $517-million measure was just too high.

 

“Clearly the community wants a lower number, and I think we can get support and I think we can be successful,” board member Karen Loebbaka said. “Personally, I advocate for the 289 (million-dollar) number because I think that shows that we really, really did our homework in figuring out where we can cut it down to the time-critical, urgent, must-do needs right now.”

 

In conversations throughout the spring, officials have stressed the importance of passing a measure on the November ballot, saying that if the measure fails, state law dictates the district would have to wait until 2026 to try again.

 


They have said the urgency of some of the work — particularly the HVAC and roof upgrades, which need to be done in the next two to five years — means that if a bond measure doesn’t pass in November, the district will likely have to cut programs to pay for the repairs.

 

“We’d have to reduce elsewhere, and that’s not something we want to do,” Assistant Superintendent of Business and Operations Corbett Elsen said. “The idea of this is, how do we prevent significant budget cuts to students and staff, which would be necessitated if we don’t have dedicated funding.”

 

The $289-million measure, which would need 55% approval to pass, would charge a tax of $17.60 per $100,000 of assessed value on properties in the district, which includes Tiburon, Belvedere, Strawberry and more than a dozen other communities along the Highway 101 corridor south and west of San Rafael, netting the district some $20.7 million annually. For the median district home assessed at $1.1 million, the tax would be about $193 annually, according to district figures.

 

That money would fund an estimated $103.3 million in projects at Redwood High School, including some $73 million toward building new art and music classrooms, expanding the school’s kitchen and constructing a new covered eating area. Officials have said the kitchen expansion and new eating area are a high priority because the school is serving significantly more meals under a new state law that requires all public schools to offer free breakfast and lunch to any student who wants it. They have pointed out the current cafeteria is too small to accommodate serving and eating, saying that students are often forced to eat in their cars or cram into hallways during inclement weather.

 

Other projects to be funded at Redwood under the lower-cost bond include an estimated $22 million in roof and HVAC replacements, a $1.1-million replacement of the turf on Ghilotti Field and a replastering of the campus pool.

 


Tamalpais High School would see $120.6 million in work, including $76.6 million for a new three-building science, technology, engineering, arts and math complex with updated classrooms and a music center. Other projects include an estimated $33.5 million in roof and HVAC upgrades along with a kitchen modernization, resurfacing of the school track, replastering of the school pool and elevator replacement.

 

The district’s third traditional high school, Archie Williams in San Anselmo, would see about $60.3 million in funding, including an estimated $27.4 million for roof and HVAC replacement, $11.3 million to modernize its performing arts center and $2.4 million each to replace its football and baseball fields.

 

Work proposed for the district’s alternative schools, Tamiscal and San Andreas high schools, and the district office would total about $5.5 million, prioritizing roof and HVAC upgrades.

 

The stripped-down measure reduces or defers nearly a dozen projects included in the original $517-million bond, including the installation of new athletic synthetic turf fields, some information technology upgrades, portable classroom replacements at Tamiscal and upgrades to the Redwood High School weight room.

 

While the district didn’t have time to poll potential voters on the $289-million measure, board members said reviewing the feedback gathered in a district-administered community survey conducted in May helped them feel comfortable backing the lower-cost option for the ballot.

 

A couple board members pointed specifically to feedback that the original bond measure was too high for seniors, as state law prohibits offering a senior exemption for bond measures.

 

Member Emily Uhlhorn said the importance of listening to that feedback and settling on an amount that those in charge of a bond-measure campaign could sell to voters.

 


“I think it’s incumbent upon us to do everything that we can to set a committee up for success because of cuts we will face if we don’t pass a bond in the fall,” she said.

 

Colleague Kevin Saavedra agreed, saying that while he was still disappointed the $517-measure didn’t pass, he was sympathetic to voter concerns.

 

“It’s critical that we get this project underway, so, yes, as much as I would have liked for us to get the whole project list, I am supportive of (the $289-million measure),” he said.

 

Reach Emily Lavin at 415-944-3841.


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