Grass Valley School District looks to scale back potential bond | TheUnion.com

Grass Valley School District looks to scale back potential bond

Grass Valley school officials are pondering the potential success of facilities bond measure, after a survey conducted earlier this year came back with lower numbers than they hoped for.

The Grass Valley School District plans to put a school bond on the June ballot, and over the last year has been refining a wish list and calculating how much funding is needed.

The cost estimate for everything on the district's list stands at $40 million; after the district broke that list down into priorities, the health, safety and preservation needs penciled out to approximately $22 million. The maximum threshold for a general obligation bond — which would require a 55 percent yes vote to pass — is $24 million.

The district developed a 40-question survey that went out to about 300 community members, along with a letter outlining the need for the bond and inviting residents to tour the schools.

But after reviewing the survey results, district officials are looking to improve their chances come Election Day.

"We were looking for (support) in the low 60s," said Assistant Superintendent Brian Martinez. "What we got was 59 percent."

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With a survey margin or error of 5.7 percent, there is little certainty the bond measure as originally proposed would succeed.

The survey showed a higher level of support for repairs and facilities updates, Martinez said. Health and safety issues such as asbestos removal also scored high, he said. There was low support for the building projects the district had been considering, however.

"It was good," Martinez said of the survey process. "We are refining our project lists."

The school district is eliminating building projects like new gyms and playgrounds and moving some of the future growth projects to the lowest priority, unfunded list.

Martinez and Superintendent Eric Fredrickson say that doesn't mean those projects are gone for good; if the district can get state matching funds, they would consider reinstating them.

"We are also considering lowering the bond amount from $24 million down to a little under $19 million," Martinez said. "We think that will help with a yes vote."

The district last week authorized a second survey with those changes to go out in mid-January to about 300 more residents, at a cost of $17,250. The second survey also will test out some measure language, adding in the tax impact, Martinez said.

The board has to decide at its Jan. 30 meeting whether it will move forward with putting the bond on the June ballot.

In the meantime, the district is continuing to work to educate the community about the need for the bond, asking for input and conducting school tours. Officials already have hosted visits to Bell Hill Academy and Grass Valley Charter School; next up will be Lyman Gilmore School on Jan. 10 and Scotten School on Jan. 24, with both site visits scheduled to start at 2:30 p.m.

"This is a chance for voters to see what would be funded (with the bond)," Martinez said. "It's one thing to talk about it, it's another to see it."

The district, formed in 1853, lays claim to the oldest school buildings and the oldest continuously operated school site in California; Hennessy School, now the home of Grass Valley Charter School, was built in the 1930s and Bell Hill Academy dates back to the 1950s. No modernization improvements have been done since about 2000, Martinez said.

"Our facilities are in need," he told The Union in October. "We've done our best with the resources available — but when the rains come, the roofs leak."

According to Martinez, those leaky roofs had to be repaired with a $300,000 loan from the county Superintendent of Schools.

The last time the Grass Valley School District went out for a bond was 50 years ago, Fredrickson points out, adding that none of the funding generated by the recently passed bond measure by Nevada Joint Union High School District goes to Grass Valley's elementary and middle schools.

"That's the message we need to push," he said.

Contact reporter Liz Kellar at 530-477-4236 or by email at lizk@theunion.com.