Farmersville may put school bond on ballot in 2022

Farmersville Unified will be sending surveys to community members next month to see if they would support a $7 million school bond on next year’s primary ballot

FARMERSVILLE – Farmersville Unified is considering a school bond next year to make improvements at five of its six school sites.

On May 11, the Farmersville Unified School District (FUSD) board held a Facility Planning Workshop Update to discuss the list of improvements at every site except the district’s newest school, Freedom Elementary, for grades 4 to 6. Under the plan, Hester, FUSD’s kindergarten to first grade school, would get a brand new, five-classroom wing for preschool. Both Snowden and Farmersville Junior High School (grades 7 to 8) would replace five old portables with a new wing of permanent classrooms, including restrooms, and purchase property to expand Snowden for additional parking and a new bus barn. The district plans to build a new cafeteria/multi-use building at Farmersville High School and relocate the high school ag farm and continuation high school to property south of the high school.

The district is currently discussing a $7 million school bond which would help pay for developing the bus barn and additional parking at Snowden, building a new cafeteria/multi-use building at Farmersville High School and relocating and building the high school ag farm on vacant land behind the high school.

The bond is being proposed for the June 7, 2022 primary election and would come just eight years after its last school bond. In November 2014, Farmersville voters passed a $4.8 million bond measure with two-thirds of the vote. Measure A was used to construct an aquatics center at Farmersville High School, Career and Technical Education opportunities, health and safety improvements to school sites, and increase student access to computers and modern technology.

“Obviously… there are concerns about timing of any bonds. But really, the needs of our students are top priority, and will continue to push forward to improve our facilities based on the needs of students,” Superintendent Paul Sevillano said. “And so that’s really what our focus is, to make sure that we do meet the needs of our students with our facilities.”

The total cost of the improvements is $9.7 million, most of which would be covered by the bond and $1.6 million reimbursed by the state’s career and technical education fund for the Vocational Education center at the high school built in 2017. The $3.5 million shop building includes four 200-square foot labs for the high school’s new academies including: building trades and ag technology, as well as a classroom and a fabrication shop for welding, carpentry and equipment repair.

The district said additional funding sources will be considered, such as developer fees and any one-time funds that may become available. The $7 million bond measure would provide $500,000 to expand Snowden’s footprint and $625,000 to add parking at the elementary school, $1.5 million to develop the new parcels near Snowden, $800,000 for a new bus barn, $4.74 million for a high school cafeteria and $1.5 million for a new ag farm. The district is counting on the other half of the $6.8 million high school cafeteria and $2.6 million ag farm being funded by the state but is dependent on California voters passing a statewide school construction bond in 2022.

California voters shot down the last statewide school construction bond measure on the ballot in March 2020. Proposition 13, not to be confused with California’s landmark property tax legislation in 1978, was a $15 billion statewide school construction bond which only gained 44 percent of the vote. Visalia Unified counted on the bond’s passage to provide half of the funding for a proposed fifth high school and with its own local bond, Measure A, provide the other half of the estimated $150 million campus. When the state bond failed, the school board essentially decided to reallocate the money to other projects despite selling voters on the idea of a new high school complete with a new swimming pool, stadium, theater, gymnasium, baseball and softball fields and agriculture and career and technical education complexes.

“If those projects cannot be funded than we would adjust our plan accordingly,” Sevillano said. “We will obviously make decisions that are fiscally solvent for our district.”

Sevillano said there have been discussions at the state level about a statewide school construction, according to its consultant SchoolWorks, but nothing has been formally approved for the June 2022 ballot. Sevillano said SchoolWorks is sending out a survey to parents next month and will report the results to the board in September.

“We are shifting our instructional programs to 21st century learning, so we need 21st century facilities to support those. We’ve got some facilities that have tremendous needs and we would like the support of the community,” Sevillano said. “The board will make a decision whether to move forward or not based on that survey.”

If the bond passes, and after the money is spent, the district could then file for financial hardship with the state. In order to qualify for hardship, chief business officer Jason Kaff said the district must be at or over 60% of its overall bonding capacity while also showing kindergarten enrollment growth, the formula used by the State to determine whether districts have exhausted all resources in an attempt to meet their facility needs. Farmersville Unified still owes on its last bond measure ($4.8 million), so another $7 million bond would put the district beyond its gross bond capacity of $10.3 million.

“It’s somewhat of a counterintuitive process,” Kaff said. “This is getting everything in place so that when we file for hardship, we have all our ducks in a row.”

Sevillano said Farmersville has expanded its preschool program by partnering with VDA, Inc., which runs the state-subsidized preschool program in town, which it housed at Hester beginning last August, and also increased its preschool enrollment from just a couple of classrooms to needing the new wing. Any gains in preschool typically translate to growth in kindergarten enrollment for the district.

“We want to make sure we have a separate wing for them,” Sevillano added.

FUSD estimates hardship status could fund the new five-classroom wings at Hester, Snowden and Farmersville Junior High and relocate and build Deep Creek Academy (DCA), the district’s continuation and alternative education high school, on the property it will share with the ag farm behind the high school.

“The goal is to move [DCA] adjacent to the high school, where most students can ask our career technical education programs and also have other resources on the high school campus,” Sevillano said.

The property behind the high school was originally purchased to build a new junior high school more than a decade ago.

“Once we added Freedom to the high school area, now you really can’t put another school there due to the traffic issues,” Sevillano said.

FUSD has been extremely successful in leveraging hardship funding through the state. From 2010-2013, the district was granted nearly $18 million in hardship funds used to upgrade to all of its elementary schools, expand Freedom Elementary School for sixth graders, expand the District Office, build a new campus for its continuation high school Deep Creek Academy, remodeling Farmersville Junior High School and improving the infrastructure at Snowden.

That could provide nearly all of the $14.1 million needed to build the new classroom wings at Hester, Snowden and the junior high as well as build the new continuation high school campus.

“Project budgets will need to be watched as overspending results in the lack of funds for future projects,” the report stated.

The district could then use this money to offset the cost of purchasing a few parcels adjacent to Snowden Elementary totaling 3.4 acres. This new property could house the proposed bus barn for the district’s transportation department.

The median property value in Farmersville is about $150,000, according to DataUSA, meaning the average home owner will pay $90 per year on the new bond, or about $7.50 per month. That’s in addition to what homeowners are paying for Measure A, about $5 per month. Bond’s are typically paid off in 30 years, meaning district voters will be paying on both bonds through 2042.

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