New Los Banos middle school in limbo after governor rejects bond

cpride@losbanosenterprise.comAugust 22, 2014 

A decision by Gov. Jerry Brown to oppose a school construction bond has left the Los Banos Unified School District scrambling to figure out how to pay for a second junior high.

Brown has indicated he will not agree to place a $4.3 billion school bond, or its earlier $9 billion version, on the November ballot. The proposed bond measure, Assembly Bill 2235, was in a state Senate committee late last week when the governor made his final decision.

The window for placing the bond on the ballot closed this week as state election officials indicated further delay would jeopardize ballots being prepared for the Nov. 4 election.

A $11.1 billion water bond is already on the November ballot. Californians have not passed a school bond since 2006.

H.D. Palmer, a spokesman for Brown, explained in a telephone interview and email why the governor opposes the bond measure. Palmer said the proposal “creates new general fund debt service costs at a time when the administration is focused on paying down existing debt.”

Palmer also said a school bond isn’t consistent with how Brown wants to fund construction for schools and does not take into account the Local Control Funding Formula, which provides some districts with substantially more money than the former school funding system.

Steve Tietjen, Los Banos Unified superintendent, said Brown wants the local communities to assume the debt.

“The governor is pushing the decisions down on the local level. He does not want the state dealing in longterm debt,” Tietjen said.

Los Banos was counting on the state being able to pass a school bond this November so matching funds would be available for construction of a second junior high school.

Los Banos Junior High, which was built for 900 students, reported 1,497 last week. Tietjen said although the figure reflects nearly 100 fewer seventh- and eighth-graders than the 1,589 projected, he expects enrollment to climb in coming weeks.

Tietjen said the district has at least two options it will consider in the coming months: The first is to build a smaller facility than the $23 million junior high it is planning, accompanied by a longer building schedule. The second is to institute a pay-as-you-go plan.

“We will discuss this with the board in the coming months, and even the new board after November. This isn’t a decision that’s going to be rushed,” Tietjen said.

Last year the school board voted to issue $7.8 million in bond anticipation notes, from a local $44 million 2008 bond used for the construction of Pacheco High School. The anticipation notes would have would allowed the district to be placed on the list for construction dollars when state funds became available.

The district is in the environmental phase of the junior high project, another step that would have moved it higher on the list to receive state construction dollars if they became available.

The district wanted a second junior high built by 2017.

Tietjen said Los Banos Junior High has the portables available to accommodate the existing school’s bulging population. He said the largest impact can be found on the students’ learning environment.

“Kids seem to feel pretty anonymous given the number of students in that space,” Tietjen said.

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