Voters in McFarland and Wasco will decide the fate of three school bond measures in March that, if passed, will lead to the construction of new facilities and revitalization of several schools.
McFarland Unified, Wasco Union Elementary and Wasco Union High school districts face growing student populations, but lack space to accommodate all the students. Several of their classrooms and schools also fail to meet basic standards to ensure a safe and rich learning environment. As a result, they are asking for voters' help to make vital improvements.
With the passage of Proposition 39 in 2000, each bond measure must receive at least a 55 percent supermajority vote to pass.
McFARLAND UNIFIED SCHOOL DISTRICT
Over the years, the McFarland Unified School District has completed several improvement projects without taxpayer money. It eliminated the need to spend millions on new classroom buildings by converting McFarland Middle School (sixth through eighth grade) to McFarland Junior High School (seventh and eighth grade), and used one-time monies saved by the district to build sports facilities and soon a two-story classroom building at the high school, explained Superintendent Aaron Resendez.
But there's only so much that can be done without asking for the community's help.
In March, voters will decide whether to pass a $30 million bond that will go toward the construction of a multipurpose room at McFarland High School and various renovation projects at elementary schools.
Enrollment is growing, which makes fitting students in one space a problem. A large majority of students are left out during pep rallies, many sports fans are turned away during competitions so that the fire marshal doesn't shut the gymnasium down and the cafeteria can't seat every student. The multipurpose room — which includes a cafeteria, auditorium and gymnasium — would help serve an ever-growing population.
"I told architects, 'I need you to over-engineer. Don’t build me something that solves my problem right now.' My hope is I can retire down the line and it still serves our students," Resendez said.
The cafeteria would accommodate 1,000 students, the gymnasium would seat 1,780 attendees and the auditorium would have seating for 3,240, according to district figures. The district also shares its spaces with local agencies and organizations, so if they "need a big venue, we want to provide that," he added.
Repair projects at Kern Avenue and Browning Road elementary schools with bond measure funds would include fixing roofs and sidewalks.
WASCO UNION ELEMENTARY SCHOOL DISTRICT
Due to increasing enrollment the past several years and some severely outdated classrooms and facilities, the district has decided to take education, technology standards and safety regulation to the 21st century with a $16 million bond. The money, if passed, would be spent in three parts.
The first phase, starting in 2021 and consisting of $5.2 million, would be used to build a new administration office and bus unloading zone to replace the current maintenance, operations and transportation office. It would also be used to put in athletic fields for sports such as baseball and softball.
"We need them. (The original architects) didn’t anticipate the outdoor sports in the past," Superintendent Kelly Richers said.
The second phase, which would begin in 2023 and consist of $5.1 million, will go toward permanent classroom replacements at Palm Avenue Middle School and John L. Prueitt Elementary School. Thirty-year-old temporary portables are currently being used.
The final phase beginning in 2026 and totaling $5.4 million would see the construction of an alternative school for students who are not successful in traditional school settings and a central kitchen. The district feeds about 10 other nearby school districts, Richers explained, so the need is high for an updated space in which to prepare healthy meals for students.
WASCO UNION HIGH SCHOOL DISTRICT
In 2018, the district sought a $40 million bond for a gym at Wasco Union High School and an aquatic facility. However, it fell just shy of reaching the 55 percent supermajority, securing 54.6 percent of the vote, Assistant Superintendent Robert Cobb said.
It was a tough loss, but not the end of the road, and this March the district is once again pursuing the construction of a gym through a $38.9 million bond.
"The last time it was heavily renovated was the ’50s or ’60s," Cobb said. "It was built for 750 students, and our enrollment now is roughly 1,700."
When the school has pep rallies, it's impossible to seat all students in the existing facility, Cobb said, and it becomes a standing-room-only rally where "the entire floor is covered."
The new gymnasium would seat about 2,000 students and have more room for physical education classes and athletic events. The existing gymnasium would also be modernized to allow for more activities to take place simultaneously.