Visalia Unified’s $105 million school bond is leading by just 500 votes
By Reggie Ellis @Reggie_SGN
VISALIA – About half of the candidates for school board were undecided and the Visalia area seemed split on whether Visalia Unified School District needed to pass a second bond measure in six years. And those sentiments seemed to translate to the ballot box last week.
As of press time, Measure A was leading by just 543 votes garnering 57.31% of the vote. Under Proposition 39, school bonds require 55% of the vote to pass. If the numbers hold, Measure A will be Visalia Unified School District’s (VUSD) fifth school bond in 21 years but the race is much too close to call. There is just under 50,000 mail-in, provisional and damaged ballots left to be processed, according to the Tulare County Elections Office as of press time. The last day for vote by mail signature is today, Nov. 14. The election may not be certified until as late as Dec. 6.
The $105 million school bond would build a fifth high school and modernize 18 existing schools. About $75 million of the bond will go toward construction of a new high school complete with a theater, stadium, and competition swimming pool. The other $34 million would be used to leverage $50 million in state funds to modernize science labs at the middle school and make safety improvements at 18 campuses in addition to wheelchar accessibility projects, new heating and ventilation systems, energy efficiency measures and new technology for students and staff. Thirty-three of VUSD’s 41 schools are more than 20 years old, meaning they qualify for modernization funding from the state. Measure E, the district’s $61 million bond measure approved by voters in 2012, helped modernize five elementary schools and two high schools, leaving about 19 schools waiting for needed improvements to be funded.
Measure E also allowed the district to build a new middle school, two new elementary schools, add a wing to Redwood High School and upgrade seven elementary campuses with solar panels. But debt payments on Measure E will be made through 2042, meaning there will be a 24-year overlap between it and Measure A. If Measure A passes, Visalia property owners would pay $36 per $100,000 of assessed value, which would add another $78 per year to property taxes in the district. Coupled with Measure E, the average homeowner would pay $114 per year, or under $10 per month.
If approved, Measure A would be the district’s third bond measure in the last 20 years and bring the total to an estimated $260 million in local bond revenue, which would be matched by an estimated $300 million in State funding. Measure G, a $41.5 million bond was passed by Visalians in 1999, was paid off on Aug. 1. Visalia Unified voters are still paying for Measure E, a $60.1 million school bond approved in 2012. Measure E will cost the average homeowner about $36 per year for the next 24 years. If passed, the new bond would cost the average homeowner another $61 per year for the next 30 years and a total of $97 per year until Measure E is paid off in 2042.
If the measure fails, it would be the third VUSD bond measure to fall short in the last 15 years. Measure P, a $16 million school bond, only garnered 52.6% of the vote in 2004. Similarly, Measure M, a $41 million bond, was only able to get 51.6% of the vote.