Rialto Unified schools
Repairs due, officials say
Josh Dulaney, Staff Writer
Posted: 08/28/2010 07:33:56 AM PDT

RIALTO – Temperatures hitting the 100-degree mark greeted students returning to physical education classes last week inside Eisenhower High School’s gym.

And those usually start by 10:30 a.m.

Officials with the Rialto Unified School District said it was just another reason voters on Nov. 2 should pass a $98 million bond for school improvements throughout the district.

“It’s not going to paychecks, it’s going to facilities,” said Joe Martinez, school board president. “When you look at some of the newer schools in comparison to some of the older schools, there’s quite a difference there, and we want to make sure no one is overlooked.”

The general obligation bond, known as Measure Y, would extend a $60 million bond, known as Measure H, passed by Rialto district voters in 1999.

Measure H, which has helped the district build four new schools, costs the average homeowner about $29 per $100,000 assessed valuation annually, and is scheduled to be paid off in 2028.

Measure Y would extend the bond an additional 25 years.

Bond officials estimate the lowest likely tax rate for Measure Y would cost homeowners about $22 per $100,000 of assessed valuation annually.

Bond officials estimate the highest tax rate for the bond would be $60 per $100,000 of assessed valuation.

Administrators said the bond would enable the district to improve all 29 of its schools by providing career and technical classrooms, upgrading playing surfaces for sports, and installing renewable energy components to reduce annual operating costs.

The 50-year-old Eisenhower High School has become symbolic of many of the district’s aging facilities.

While much is done to maintain the campus, officials said it’s like an old car that, while much-beloved, is draining resources for upkeep.

The school’s portable classrooms are more than 20 years old.

Officials said there are about 200 portable classrooms districtwide, each costing roughly $6,600 a year.

“One of the things that we are looking to do in this district, we are looking to replace these portables with permanent classrooms,” said Anna Ulibarri, director of facilities for the district.

Eisenhower’s decades-old air conditioning system labors to cool about 80 percent of the school.

Carl Carlsen, the district’s director of maintenance, operations and transportation, said the district is constantly having parts made and ordered to keep the system running.

“It’s ancient,” Carlsen said. “Every year it gets to be more of a task to keep it going.”

As she stood outside the gym Wednesday, Amanda Rice, a 17-year-old senior, said the inadequate air conditioning makes it hard for students to concentrate.

“Sometimes it affects how some people take in the learning,” Rice said.

Principal Nancy O’Kelley said while the gym may provide a heightened home court advantage for the basketball teams, it’s “miserable” during assemblies.

“You’re just sitting there mopping your face (from sweat) because there is nothing else you can do,” she said.

O’Kelley also would like to see a new theater to replace Eisenhower’s 64-seat facility.

Officials are confident the bond will pass, citing a district-commissioned survey of 400 likely voters between June21 and July 1 that found 65 percent would support the bond.

They also noted that voters in 1999 approved Measure H with 77 percent of the vote, at a time when a minimum of 66.6 percent of the vote was required to pass a school bond.

But in a paltry turnout, just 3,400 voters actually approved that bond.

Measure Y could be a tough sell to residents who in June shot down Measure RR, an advisory measure seeking voter input on restoring a property tax to pay for a portion of the city’s contribution to the Public Employee Retirement System.

Voters soundly defeated Measure RR by a “no vote” of 73.76 percent.

Robert Smith, a 73-year-old voter, suggested the district cut salaries at the top, rather than asking homeowners to foot the bill for school improvements.

“I’m just curious what they’re going to do with their bloated overhead,” Smith said.

It’s a common refrain heard from homeowners and taxpayer-advocacy groups.

“Everybody has to tighten their belts,” said Kris Vosburgh, executive director of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association. “(Homeowners are saying) I had to postpone the addition to my house, you have to postpone more classrooms.”

Vosburgh said his organization is not opposed to school bonds per se, only the relatively new stipulation that only 55 percent of voters need to pass them.

Until the passage of Proposition 39 in 2000, two-thirds of the vote was required for local bonds that are repaid exclusively by property owners.

The lower vote threshold means almost all local school and community college bonds will pass, regardless of merit, unless residents actively oppose them, Vosburgh said.

Vosburgh said the bonds are unfair because they put the burden of paying for schools on homeowners.

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