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With $700M Wish List, Fresno Unified Mulls $500M Bond Measure



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Less than a month remains before the deadline to get a bond measure on the March 3 ballot, but Fresno Unified School District is still waiting for the results of a second community survey to gauge support for bond measures totaling $325 million or $500 million.
Both would likely result in property tax rate hikes. A district official said Monday that the survey by FM3 could be delivered to trustees today. Chief operating officer Karin Temple said in a board communication that the survey was started on Oct. 24 and was still being conducted last week.
Meanwhile, the board will consider at Wednesday’s meeting a lengthy list of potential projects totaling in excess of $700 million. Whether a project is selected will depend on its specific features, whether there’s enough money to build it, and whether there’s board member support for it.
The high-dollar projects on the wish list,  a compilation of projects proposed by board members, school site staff, the community, and facilities/maintenance staff, include:

  • $60 million to $70 million for a new elementary school.
  • $65 million for the initial phase of an alternative education campus at the former site of the old Fresno County juvenile hall at Ventura and Tenth streets.
  • $50 million for a stadium at Hoover High, including $15 million to buy and develop additional land.
  • $22 million to reconstruct Fresno High’s cafeteria.

No Location Identified For New School

District spokeswoman Vanessa Ramirez said a board member has proposed adding an elementary, although a region or area was not identified. It would be in addition to Juan Felipe Herrera Elementary, which is scheduled to open in southeast Fresno in August 2021 at a cost of $44 million.
The cost for a new elementary would be higher than Herrera because it would include purchasing 10 acres of land and assumes higher construction costs in the future, Ramirez said.
Overall construction costs are based on current information and a square-foot cost estimate, and not the type of contracting method such as a project labor agreement, she said. The board is considering a union-friendly PLA for the Herrera school.

Claudia Cazares

Board president Claudia Cazares said Tuesday that the most likely location would be in central Fresno, possibly in the Fresno-Clinton or Fresno-McKinley areas, where older schools have been more impacted by overcrowding. But there aren’t a lot of locations in those neighborhoods with enough vacant land for a school site, she acknowledged.
“I don’t consider us late. We’re out the door and ready to vote in the next couple of weeks, and that’s what we’ll do.”FUSD board president Claudia Cazares
Other proposed projects also include constructing dedicated early learning classrooms or complexes at seven elementary schools, cafeteria renovations at 17 elementary schools, library/student union renovations at Hoover and Roosevelt high schools, library reconstructions at 12 elementary schools, second gyms at McLane and Roosevelt high schools, renovation of Bullard’s south gym, and theater/performing arts classrooms at Edison, Hoover, McLane, and Roosevelt high schools.
Cazares said the Hoover community, which she represents on the school board, is gung-ho about getting a stadium so the football team doesn’t have to be bused to all its games — and also to have a home-field advantage, something it lacks now.
She said she thinks the board has enough time to set a project list for a bond measure on the March ballot, in part because the district has kept a running total of capital projects in the Measure X database. Measure X was a $225 million bond measure approved by voters in 2016.

Strong Voter Support in First Survey

The first survey conducted in August by FM3 indicated strong voter support for bond measures of either $160 million or $240 million, even though the larger measure would boost the tax rate by about $18 per $100,000 of assessed value on top of the current rate of $189 per $100,000. But board members, noting that the district’s capital needs far outstrip either of those two proposals, asked for a second survey to gauge voter support for more expensive bond measures.

Fresno’s trustees are eager to get a bond measure on the March primary ballot because of the potential for state matching money if voters approve Proposition 13 (formerly known as Assembly Bill 48), a $15 billion proposition on the ballot that would provide $9 billion for K-12 schools.

Still Time to Meet Ballot Deadline

Under a district timetable, the Fresno Unified School Board would consider the proposed bond projects at a Nov. 20 workshop. The bond measure resolution would be considered at a subsequent public meeting.
The bond resolution would include the bond amount, a comprehensive description of projects that may be financed with bond money, a 75-word “short form” version of the ballot measure, and a tax rate statement.

Clovis and Central unified school boards, also hoping for a slice of the state school construction pie, have already voted to put bond measures on the ballot. Clovis is asking voters to approve a $408 million measure, adding about $25 per $100,000 of assessed value, for a total of about $179 per $100,000.

Central voters will consider a $120 million bond measure, raising the tax rate by the maximum allowed — $60 per $100,000 assessed value, on top of the current rate $150 per $100,000, for a total of $210 per $100,000.
Cazares agrees that Fresno Unified could have been further along in its bond measure preparations, like its neighbor districts. If it has to, the board will schedule extra meetings in order to approve a bond measure resolution and provide the required language to the Fresno County Elections Office by the Dec. 6 deadline.
But with a list of vetted projects from the Measure X database already in hand, she said, “I don’t consider us late. We’re out the door and ready to vote in the next couple of weeks, and that’s what we’ll do.”

Nancy Price is a multimedia journalist for GV Wire. A longtime reporter and editor who has worked for newspapers in California, Florida, Alaska, Illinois and Kansas, Nancy joined GV Wire in July 2019. She previously worked as an assistant metro editor for 13 years at The Fresno Bee. Nancy earned her bachelor's and master's degrees in journalism at Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism. Her hobbies include singing with the Fresno Master Chorale and volunteering with Fresno Filmworks. You can reach Nancy at 559-492-4087 or Send an Email