Modesto City Schools may ask voters to approve $198M bond for high school upgrades

·4 min read

Modesto City Schools may ask its voters in November to approve a roughly $198 million bond to pay for repairs, upgrades and other improvements at the district’s eight high schools.

The district has sent out two mailers since April to voters and parents of students in its high schools about the potential bond measure and the condition of its high schools. And a polling firm is gauging voter support for the bond.

At their June 6 meeting, school district board members are expected to hear the results of the poll as well as other information associated with the bond.

The board members would have to make a decision at their June 20 meeting on whether to place a bond on the Nov. 8 ballot, said Tim Zearley, associate superintendent for business services. The bond would require 55% voter approval to pass.

This comes as Modesto considers whether to place a 1% sales tax on the November ballot. The tax would require a simple majority to pass.

The school district is considering a roughly $198 million bond. A district fact sheet states the bond would cost about $29 annually for every $100,000 of a property’s assessed or taxable value. (Assessed value is not a property’s market value.)

Zearley said the bond’s total cost over its 25-year life — including its interest costs — is estimated at $334 million.

The city and the school district are considering asking voters to pay more during a time of economic uncertainty and rising prices. (The average price of a gallon of regular gas was $5.87 in Modesto on Thursday, according to AAA.)

“It scares me a little bit,” school board Vice President Chad Brown said. “... This is really a crazy time.”

But Brown said the school district has built trust with voters through being a good steward of Measures D and E, the $131 million bonds voters passed in 2018 for repairs, upgrades and other work at the district’s elementary and junior high schools.

“If you look at the campuses before (the bond measures) and look at them now, it’s amazing,” he said. “Those bond dollars are at work doing exactly what we said we’d do.”

Brown said he plans to “listen very carefully” to what the district’s consultants have to say about voter sentiment before “weighing in” on a bond measure.

Modesto spokeswoman Diana Ruiz-Del Re said city officials anticipate presenting a sale tax measure to the City Council on June 28. She declined to comment on the possibility of voters being asked to approve both a bond and sale tax in November. “... We won’t speculate on a bond that hasn’t been proposed,” she said in an email.

The district’s last bond measure for its high schools was in 2001. Voters then approved Measure T, a $65 million bond to help build two new high schools. The campuses are Enochs, which opened in 2006, and Gregori, which opened in 2010.

Modesto City Schools is considering asking voters in November to approve a nearly $200 million bond to upgrade the facilities at Modesto High and its other high school campuses.
Modesto City Schools is considering asking voters in November to approve a nearly $200 million bond to upgrade the facilities at Modesto High and its other high school campuses.

The proposed bond also is for the district’s five other comprehensive high schools: Modesto, Downey, Davis, Beyer and Johansen. Zearley said Modesto High has been at its current location since 1947. The other high schools are from about 30 to about 70 years old.

Zearley said the bond also would pay for work at Elliott Alternative Education Center, the district’s continuation school for high school students. He said the center is housed in a former elementary school that opened in the 1940s.

The seven comprehensive high schools enroll more than 15,600 students. The district has a total enrollment of more than 29,000 students and 34 schools.

The district states on its website that besides keeping the high school buildings and facilities in good and safe condition (including fixing leaky roofs and upgrading HVAC systems), the bond would let it:

Equip classrooms with learning technology to prepare students for college and careers

Improve student safety and campus security systems, including security fencing and electronic lockdown systems

Improve access for students with disabilities

Provide access to facilities for arts, athletics and physical education at all high schools

Zearley said the bond would let Modesto City Schools access additional state money for its high schools. He said the district can use the bond to put up matching funds for state bond money dedicated for modernizing high schools.

He estimated the district has received about $120 million from the state and federal government in pandemic relief funding. He said much of that has been spent helping students make up for lost learning. He said the relief money cannot be spent to build or renovate school facilities.

This is one of two mailers since April that Modesto City Schools has sent to voters and parents of students in its high schools about the potential bond measure and the condition of its high schools.
This is one of two mailers since April that Modesto City Schools has sent to voters and parents of students in its high schools about the potential bond measure and the condition of its high schools.