Pasadena Unified Takes First Steps Towards $850 Million Bond Measure in 2020

Survey shows community support for improving ‘condition and quality of schools to retain quality teachers’ and other issues which could fuel proposed bond’s passage

Published : Thursday, August 29, 2019 | 4:45 AM

Pasadena Unified School District Superintendent Brian McDonald and Pasadena School Board Members shown celebrating the opening of a new $11.5 million 24,500 square foot sports complex at Marshall Fundamental Secondary School on December 16, 2016. The complex was paid for by funds from the 2008 Measure TT bond issue. Photo courtesy PUSD

The Pasadena Unified School District is taking the first steps towards asking Pasadena voters to approve a new $850 million bond measure next year.

A survey of public attitude towards a new $850 million Pasadena Unified School District bond initiative showed substantial support for such a measure. Image from report by FM3 Research to be presented to the Pasadena School Board on Thursday, August 29, 2019.

Thursday night’s School Board meeting will feature results of a survey conducted in July and August for Pasadena Unified in which FM3 Research polled 1,008 random voters in Pasadena on the possible outcome of a new bond initiative. The survey showed strong district-side support for the proposed measure.

The move comes eleven years after the 2008 passage of the District’s last bond initiative, Measure TT, which repaired and upgrade school campuses, and one year after the successful passage of Measures I and J.

Measure TT was approved by more than 55% of voters, authorizing the issuance and sale of $350 million of general obligation bonds, of which roughly $25 million remains unspent, according to Pasadena School Board Member Kim Kenne.

Voters in the City of Pasadena also recently passed Measure J, a ballot measure where one-third of the new Measure I municipal sales tax revenues are distributed to the District. Pasadena Unified took in $5 million this year from that tax.

Measure Y, a $240 million bond passed in 1997 and was paid off in full last year.

The new bond measure would fund the modernization and new construction of school buildings, according to School Board Member Kim Kenne.

The ask would come, paradoxically, against the backdrop of projected school closings and consolidations due to the District’s continuing declining enrollment numbers. One School Board Member told Pasadena Now he expects the Board may be asked to close as many as four campuses this year, merging their student bodies into remaining schools.

Tonight’s Board meeting will review the survey results gauging the public’s attitudes on a new bond.

According to a survey of public attitude towards a new Pasadena Unified School District bond initiative, support for the measure drops when voters consider a lesser bond authorization of $650 million, instead of $850 million. Image from report by FM3 Research to be presented to the Pasadena School Board on Thursday, August 29, 2019.

Interviews conducted in English and Spanish asked voters two forms of the same question: “Shall Pasadena Unified School District issue $850 million in Bonds, requiring annual independent financial audits, citizen’s oversight, and with all funds used for neighborhood schools?”

Since State law AB195 requires that bond measures include language regarding costs, voters were also asked: “Shall Pasadena Unified School District’s measure authorizing $850 million in bonds, at legal rates, levying 6¢ per $100 assessed valuation, raising approximately $85 million annually while bonds are outstanding, be adopted requiring annual independent audits, and citizens’ oversight?”

Support is lower with the additional language, but voters still approved both questions.

Ironically, according to the survey, support for the measure drops when voters consider a lesser bond authorization of $650 million, instead of $850 million.

Support for the measure also exceeds the 55% threshold among voters likely to vote in the March 2020 Presidential Primary election.

Bond measure support also exceeds the 55% threshold in each Trustee District and is strong whether or not voters have children at home, said the survey.

Pasadena Unified Board Member Michelle Richardson-Bailey said Wednesday that she was tentatively in support of the measure, and would like to see two large K-12 campus complexes built on opposite sides of the school district, with the funding.

“It would be great,” she said, “if the community would support a bond for the school district. It would really show the community’s support and interest in educating our youth, and I think that’s important.”

Board Member Scott Phelps also pointed out the successes of Measure TT, as well as the “sparkling audits” that the construction measure received for its work.

“We’ve had the best audits that I’ve ever seen,” Phelps said Wednesday.

Phelps also pointed out the construction of a number of schools built with Measure TT funding, including the new Blair and Sierra Middle Schools.

The District also built a new athletic complex at Marshall Fundamental, and brand new gyms at McKinley and Washington schools. Measure TT built a number of new fields at various schools, including Pasadena High School, as well as a brand-new TV studio at John Muir High School, said Phelps.

Meanwhile, the FM3 report concluded that the $850 million bond measure is “viable” for either the March or November 2020 ballots, adding that “it would be beneficial for passage of the measure if state law is changed to suspend or repeal AB195 requirements, but the viability of the measure does not totally depend on it.”

According to the survey, voters’ top funding priorities include improving the condition and quality of schools to retain quality teachers; improving access to instruction in science, technology, engineering and math; making basic repairs to schools including removing hazardous materials; providing safe drinking water for students, and providing arts and music classrooms.

The FM3 report also noted that there has been little change since 2017 in the strong support for a bond measure.

The district should consider a full focus on a bond measure for the March 2020 election and then return to planning for a possible parcel tax for November 2020 after the bond election is completed, the report noted.

“To solidify the viability of the measure, it is important to communicate with residents about how bond measure funding will be used and accountability provisions included in the measure,” concluded the report.

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