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State school bond lagging in polls, threatening local projects

warren hall

Woody Colvard, director of facilities planning at the Kern High School District, walks through the basement of Bakersfield High School’s Warren Hall. The hall, which was built in 1893, shows exposed cables and plumbing on the ceiling. Its renovation is on a list of projects KHSD would like to fund through a local school bond.

A $9 billion state construction bond that local school leaders are banking on passing this November is trailing in preliminary polls, which could leave some local districts struggling to complete projects they’ve already promised to voters.

Just 47 percent of 1,702 voters polled this month support Proposition 51, which would provide billions to schools for construction and modernization efforts, according to a California Public Policy Institute report released this week. Another 43 percent would vote no, and 10 percent were unsure.

State bonds require 50 percent plus one vote approval to pass.

Some school district leaders, including those in Wasco and at the Kern High School District, have told The Californian that if the state bond measure doesn’t pass, it would spell trouble for their districts.

Wasco Elementary School District Superintendent Kellie Richers said in June that if the state bond measure failed, he wouldn’t be issuing any of the $19.1 million in bonds district voters approved in the primary election. His district wouldn’t be able to afford construction of a $21 million school, he said.

At KHSD, Deputy Superintendent of Business Scott Cole was more blunt when asked in July what would happen if the state bond didn’t pass.

“For us if that doesn’t happen, then we’re done,” Cole said. The district has a local $280 million bond measure, but has proposed a $390 million project list that would rely on state matching funds that would only be secured by Proposition 51’s passage.

The polling numbers released Wednesday are a stark contrast to those in April, when 63 percent of voters polled said they would support the measure.

“Generally we’ve seen pretty decent support with the concept of state bonds, but maybe this just is the way people are taking in the details,” Mark Baldassare, president and CEO of the Public Policy Institute of California, said. “This tells us it has a way to go before it has majority support, but it’s within the realm of the possible.”

There’s no clear cut reason why the bond measure has seen a dip in support since April; however, voter fatigue could play a role. There are 17 state propositions on the ballot, not including another 10 proposed school bonds in Kern County.

“What voters are telling us is they feel there are too many measures on the ballot. They find it’s confusing and the ballot measures themselves — many people feel they’re confusing, and so I think, that puts the pressure on the proponents of ballot measures to make the case for support,” Baldassare said.

The Coalition for Adequate School Housing, the statewide group backing the bond measure, has called on its supporters to join a social media campaign to turn the tide.

“This has been clear since we qualified for the ballot: voters will support Proposition 51 if they know about it and hear positive messages about it. Absent that education, which is dependent on a robust campaign, they will sadly vote no,” the group said in a statement on its webpage.

Gov. Jerry Brown opposes the proposition, referring to it as “a blunderbuss effort” and “the developers’ $9 billion bond.”

CASH is backed by $7 million, most if it contributions from construction companies, architects and developers. Its chairwoman is Kern County Superintendent of Schools Chief Facilities Officer Jenny Hannah.

Just hours after the PPIC report was released, The Sacramento Bee and Los Angeles Times published editorials against Proposition 51, noting that the school construction system needs to be fixed, rather than perpetuated.