Education

Support extending tax increase for school improvements? Los Banos wants to know.

A crane lifts part of a building onto its base as construction continues on installing new classrooms to Mercey Springs Elementary School March 2, 2017.
A crane lifts part of a building onto its base as construction continues on installing new classrooms to Mercey Springs Elementary School March 2, 2017. vshanker@losbanosenterprise.com

The Los Banos Unified School District is gauging residents' interest in extending a 1995 tax increase in hopes of funding what officials say are much needed improvements.

The school district hired True North Research, an Encinitas-based firm, to conduct a telephone survey that asks what Los Banos area taxpayers' priorities are, whether they would vote for a bond extension and if they trust the school district with the funds.

"Doing a campaign for a bond election is very time consuming and costly," LBUSD School Board President Anthony Parreira said, noting that a referendum for an extension of a current 1995 bond can't be funded by district dollars.

A bond measure passed by Los Banos voters in 1995 to build and repair local schools increased their annual cost by $50 per $100,000 of assessed value, according to the survey. The tax increase from the bond measure is set to expire in the 2020-2021 fiscal year.

The estimated extension the school district is exploring would result in $65 million in bonds that would extend the current increase for 30 years.

"We wanted to get a feel from the community on support for that endeavor," Parreira said.

Among the issues addressed by the survey are whether voters would pass the new bond measure, what the money should be used for if it passes and why voters would not support it.

Some of the potential uses of the money includes building a new elementary school or adding classrooms to relieve overcrowding, improving safety, upgrading S.T.E.M. and fine arts capabilities in classrooms, repairing roofs, plumbing and electrical systems, improving parking and pick-up and drop-off spaces and repairing or replacing athletic facilities.

In addition to why residents would vote in favor of the measure, the survey also asks why they would be against it.

Some of the reasons include concerns about the total cost and tax rate extension, distrust with the district due to alleged mismanagement and the arrest of former board member Tommy Jones for bribing former board member Dominic Falasco for his vote on a construction project.

Jones and co-defendant Greg Opinski, whom are charged with bribing Falasco to vote for Opinski as the construction manager for the expansion of Mercey Springs Elementary, have pleaded not guilty and await a scheduled trial date of Feb. 27.

Along with gauging interest in the bond extension, Superintendent Mark Marshall said the survey would help the school district structure a bond measure that addresses voters' interests.

"If voters aren't interested in supporting a bond, it's better to identify that now (through the survey) and save thea dditional effort and expense associated with putting a measure on the ballot," Marshall said.

Marshall said the cost of the survey to the school district is $24,675.

Along with the survey, Marshall has been engaging the public to find out what the school district is doing well and what can be improved..

At Marshall's latest "Community Cafe" event, a local survey found that people at the gathering think the school district provides great education and that staff are friendly. Some of the top areas of improvement are a need for more afterschool programs and activities and better school food.

Anyone wishing to provide additional comments to the school district have been invited to participate in an online survey at www.surveymonkey.com/r/FN6M53B.

The next community event is tentatively scheduled for February at Los Banos Junior High School.

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