Measure E, the Three Rivers Union School bond, was approved overwhelmingly on Tuesday, Nov. 6, by local voters. The $4 million school bond passed with 64% of the vote in unofficial returns.
A school bond election gives a community an opportunity to vote on paying for the construction and renovation of school facilities. It is basically a request to give the elected board of trustees the authority to sell bonds when facilities are needed.
The bond required 55% approval to pass: 511 people voted for the bond and 284 against it. It's the first TRUS bond to be introduced to voters since 1985.
The measure received less than 1,000 total votes. The Tulare County Elections Office has until December 7 to count about 55,000 vote-by-mail and provisional ballots countywide so nothing is final until the election is certified, so although more Three Rivers votes will be tallied, it is unlikely that the outcome of Measure E will change substantially.
Here is the question as it appeared on the ballot to which voters answered YES or NO:
To improve the quality of education; repair or replace leaky roofs; replace outdated and energy-inefficient heating, ventilation and air-conditioning systems; and modernize/renovate outdated classrooms, restrooms and school facilities; shall Three Rivers Union School District issue
$4,000,000 of bonds at legal interest rates, raising an average $239,000 annually as long as bonds are outstanding, at a rate of 3 cents per $100 assessed value, have an independent citizens' oversight committee with NO money for administrative salaries?
The voters have spoken and the TRUS district is now authorized to issue up to $4 million in bonds at an estimated tax rate of $30 per $100,000 of assessed property value to fund facility upgrades and improvements.
"I am so excited that Measure E passed and will now provide the necessary funds to begin much-needed improvements on our campus," said Sue Sherwood, TRUS superintendent/principal. "I want to thank the community of Three Rivers for stepping up and saying 'yes' to our kids and our school. I also want to thank the 'Committee for the Improvement of Three Rivers School' for all their hard work in getting the word out and talking to supporters."
Three other school districts of the 48 in the county had bond measures on the ballot: Visalia, Ducor, and Stone Corral.
Unofficial results have Visalia Unified School District and Stone Corral Elementary School District receiving more than the necessary 55% approval to pass the measures. Ducor Union Elementary School District is in a dead heat; 64 voters saying yes and 64 no votes. And to those who think their vote doesn't count, to pass, another 5% of yes votes in the form of absentee and provisional ballots must be received, which as it currently stands is less than five votes.
About Three Rivers School District— Unification for Three Rivers School was approved by voters in 1927. The original school buildings, which were demolished ca. 1990 to make way for the construction of McDowall Auditorium, were built in 1928.
The district consists of one elementary school that serves the community’s children in kindergarten through eighth grades. The two easternmost wings of classrooms are over 50 years old.
Currently, school enrollment is 130 students. There are about 20 staff members, which includes teachers, administrator, office, cafeteria, and instructional aides.
The superintendent of the district for the past 25 years, Susan Sherwood, is also the principal and eighth-grade teacher. She has announced her intention to step down as superintendent/principal at the end of the 2018-2019 school year, but will continue to teach eighth-grade for a couple more years before retiring.
TRUS enrollment had a period of decline in the mid 1970s. Then it rebounded, increasing exponentially from a low of 160 students in 1983 to a high of 289 in 1990.
But for the past three decades, TRUS enrollment has experienced a steady decline. And with less students comes less funding from the State of California.
However, whether there are 300 students or 100, the classrooms, restrooms, and other facilities remain the same and require maintenance, upkeep, and repair.
“Now the real work begins as we take the necessary steps to get this process going,” said Sue. “We will be establishing an oversight committee, according to the specifications of the law, after the election is certified. I promise to keep the community updated as we establish priorities and make plans for future projects.”
Parcel Taxes and Bonds: Funding for California schools
Since 1978, school boards have not had the authority to levy property taxes. They can, however, ask voters to support local funding for schools through parcel taxes and bond measures.
Measure E, which was passed by Three Rivers voters on November 6, is a school bond. Since 2004, TRUS has placed four parcel tax measures on various ballots; of those, just one passed, a $26 property tax increase in June 2005.
Here’s the difference between the two methods:
School Bond— A local school bond measure generates funds for repair, construction, or replacement of school facilities. In a bond election, voters decide whether to authorize a school district to issue bonds in a specified amount (Measure E is $4 million).
Investors who buy the bonds are paid back, with interest, by an increase in property taxes.
Prior to 2001, for a local bond measure to pass, it had to receive a 2/3 supermajority of votes. Few districts were able to meet this threshold, so few bond measures passed.
Meanwhile, schools in California were falling into states of disrepair due to lack of funds. In November 2000, voters approved Proposition 39.
This measure stipulated requirements, that if met by districts, would reduce the threshold to pass a bond measure from the previous 2/3 supermajority to a 55% supermajority.
Prop 39 bond measures (including Measure E) require:
—The bond proposal be placed on the ballot of a statewide primary or general election, a regularly scheduled local election or a statewide special election.
—The tax rates levied do not exceed prescribed maximums.
—That no proceeds be used for salaries or operating expenses.
—Annual financial and performance audits.
—Citizens’ oversight committees.
—That districts make “reasonably equivalent” facilities available to public charter schools upon request.
Parcel Tax— Districts can tax the owners of property within a school district through the use of a parcel tax. A parcel tax is not based on the value of the property but, instead, is most often assessed as a flat fee on each parcel (but it can also be assessed on a per square footage basis). Parcel taxes are used for general district operating expenses as a way to supplement insufficient state funding for programs that are important to a community.
Parcel taxes require 2/3 voter approval to pass.
The school board authorizes the district to place the measure on the local ballot. The language in the ballot measure specifies how the proceeds will be used and the duration of the tax.
Most parcel taxes are levied for a finite period of time — typically three to seven years, after which they automatically expire, or “sunset.” Some districts have been successful in passing parcel taxes that do not sunset.
Citizen oversight is not a legal stipulation for passing a parcel tax, however, many districts include the creation of an oversight committee in the ballot language. This assures taxpayers that the money raised will be spent in accordance with the voter-approved language.
With or without citizen oversight, school district officials are required to give a public update to the school board each year on the amount of funds generated by the tax and how the funds are being spent.
The difference between a bond and a parcel tax— The easiest way to remember the difference between the two assessments is:
—Bonds are for Buildings.
—Parcel taxes are for Programs and People.
Both bonds and parcel taxes generate revenue that is controlled by locally elected school boards in accordance with voter-approved ballot language. The State has no control over how the money is spent. Revenue from each tax is used for specific purposes that are very different.
The amount of tax that property owners pay for a bond depends on the current assessed value of the property.
The amount of tax that property owners pay for a parcel tax usually depends on the number of parcels they own.
Measure E was the only local issue on the General Election ballot. Additional election results, such as the too-close-to-call County Superintendent of Schools, will be reported on as more ballots are counted. For countywide results, go to www.tularecoelections.org. For statewide contests, go to https://vote.sos.ca.gov/.
Three decades of TRUS bonds / taxes
Passed: Measure C (1985)— This bond measure was approved by 69% of voters. The McDowall Auditorium with its gymnasium, cafeteria kitchen, and restrooms was built with these funds. Construction was completed in 1993.
Failed: Measure Z (2004)— A parcel tax that received 61% approval but failed to meet the 66.6% threshold needed to pass.
Failed: Measure V (2010)— A parcel tax that received 56% approval but failed to meet the 66.6% threshold needed to pass.
Failed: Measure I (2012)— A parcel tax that received 62% approval but failed to meet the 66.6% threshold needed to pass.
Passed: Measure E (2018)— The current bond measure was approved by 64% of voters. It will be used to upgrade aging facilities.