An eye-popping $1.5 billion in local school bonds will appear on Kern County ballots in November. Voters are being asked to help finance the construction of new schools to accommodate an increasing number of students, expand existing schools and repair decades-old deteriorating schools.
Admittedly, the combined size of these local school bonds is a lot for voters to consider. But each bond measure reflects a pent-up need for improvements that have been delayed by the 2008 recession and the years-long economic recovery effort.
Kern County school districts are not the only ones appealing to voters in November for financial help. Throughout the state, many other districts have placed bond measures on ballots. In much the same way as people buy homes, the bonds provide immediate funds for school improvements, with property owners assessed fees — generally over a 25-year period — to pay off the “mortgages.”
With school districts often overlapping, some property owners, such as those in metropolitan Bakersfield, will see new fees from separate school bonds appear on their tax bills. But elected local school trustees have judiciously assessed their districts’ needs and structured bond measures to reduce the financial impacts on property owners.
The Bakersfield Californian urges a yes vote on bond measures for the Kern Community College District (Measure J), Kern High School District (Measure K) and the Bakersfield City School District (Measure N). These are just three of the 11 school bond measures that will appear on Kern County ballots.
The newspaper is not making recommendations regarding the other eight. Voters who live in the Antelope Valley Community College District, McFarland Unified School District, Muroc Joint Unified School District, Fruitvale School District, General Shafter School District, Greenfield Union School District, Lost Hills Union School District and Standard School District are in a better position to decide on the merits of those bond measures.
However, the prominent roles that the Kern Community College District, Kern High School District and Bakersfield City School District play in the quality of life and economic vitality of metropolitan Bakersfield warrant The Californian’s full support of the combined nearly $900 million in bonds proposed by these three districts.
Kern Community College District’s Measure J is sorely needed and well-structured: The KCCD, which provides traditional, two-year higher education courses and associate degrees, as well as critical job training, has placed a $502 million bond measure on the ballot. The measure has earned the endorsement of the Kern County Taxpayers Association, a tax watchdog organization, for its cost-savings framework.
Instead of financing a single 30-year bond, the district is financing several shorter four-year bonds to reduce interest rates. School bond financing typically results in taxpayers doling out $1 in interest for every dollar the district spends. Dividing the money into shorter phases is expected to cut interest rates to about 10 cents or less per dollar spent.
District officials provide general concepts as to how the bond money will be spent. The projects and scope of improvements will depend on passage of the bond and the district’s ability to receive matching funds and grants from other entities. However, projects range from adding classrooms and educational buildings to improving sports facilities.
The district, which includes college campuses in Bakersfield, Ridgecrest and Porterville, serves as an economic hub for the entire county. It provides job training to support many industries, including training for the region’s first responders. It also helps veterans returning from military service transition to jobs in the civilian workforce.
Community colleges play an underappreciated role in the economies and, consequently, the cultures of the communities they serve. That’s the case everywhere, but in areas like the southern San Joaquin Valley, that’s especially true.
The poverty rate is high, and accompanying health and social issues persistently challenging. Unemployment numbers are susceptible to the relative lack of economic diversity, and educational attainment levels are low, limiting the potential of the labor market. The way to redirect this course is education.
The region’s quality of life hinges on its ability to lift up the men and women who will be its economic future. And that starts with a fully functioning set of local community colleges. Measure J will help make that possible.
Kern High School District’s Measure K repairs and prepares for the future: The KHSD cherishes its more than century-old tradition. Regrettably, some of its school buildings go back that far as well. Consider Bakersfield High School’s Warren Hall, which was built in 1893. This storied building is long overdue for renovation.
Modernizing Warren Hall is at the top of a list of projects that will be addressed in the Kern High School District’s $280 million bond measure that is on the November ballot.
The list also includes building two career training centers; a new high school in south Bakersfield; a special education facility; and completing about $103 million in renovations at Foothill, North, Arvin and Bakersfield high schools. Money also will be allocated for the district’s regional occupation center and adult school.
District officials say the bond is needed to keep up with enrollment growth, which is expected to rise to more than 40,000 students by 2025.
District trustees have identified improvement needs beyond those addressed in this November’s $280 million bond.
To minimize costs to property owners and in recognition of the impact declining oil prices are having on property values, trustees split off $160 million, which will be addressed by a bond measure that is expected to be placed on the 2020 ballot.
Bakersfield City School District’s Measure N addresses aging classrooms: Aging classrooms is also a big motivator in the BCSD’s decision to place a $110 million bond on the November ballot.
Randall Rowles, the district’s director of maintenance and operations, notes that 75 percent of the district’s 44 campuses were built more than 50 years ago. Two of those schools are more than 100 years old and many have original building components.
“We have some very old schools,” said Steve McClain, the district’s assistant superintendent of business services. “They’re not ready for the demands of 21st-century learning.”
A recent district survey revealed that bathrooms are falling apart, classrooms are overcrowded, drop-off areas for parents and buses are inadequate, and heating and air conditioning systems are beyond their usable lifespan.
In addition, the district is bracing for increased enrollment. Forty-two percent of the district’s classrooms are in portable or “temporary” buildings to accommodate the existing student enrollment. State guidelines recommend the number be kept to 20 percent or 25 percent.
Today’s and tomorrow’s Kern County students need and deserve quality schools and educational services. One of the most important things a community can provide is an education-dependent future for its children.
Support Measures J, K and N.