Poll: Merced voters likely to support school bonds

dyawger@mercedsunstar.comNovember 13, 2013 

— Voters would likely support a 2014 bond measure to upgrade the Merced City School District’s 17 aging campuses, Board of Education members learned Tuesday night.

About 66 percent of potential voters responding to a survey said they would support a bond addressing technology and safety upgrades; only 55 percent approval would be needed. The bond is seen as the main way to finance the most pressing needs, which will be identified in a facilities master plan to be completed next month.

“We are really happy with what we heard last night,” Greg Spicer, associate superintendent for administrative services, said Wednesday. “It sounds like the community is supportive of the type of measure we’re talking about; modernization and safety needs at the schools we have.”

Board member Susan Walsh said community members understand and appreciate what the school district is doing and are willing to be partners. She said the board would hold at least one study session before the facilities master plan is adopted.

“It’s not a surprise our buildings are old,” Walsh said. “A vast majority of people are willing to do more to improve the education of kids. We – teachers, principals and aides – work really hard and nobody’s getting rich. We do it for the love of the kids.”

Board President Adam Cox said the voter survey by the Oakland-based opinion research firm of Fairbank, Maslin, Maullin, Metz and Associates showed 65 percent voter support for a June bond election and 66 percent for a November election. He said board members appear to prefer a June election.

“I was pleasantly surprised,” Cox said. “There is community support. Ten different questions were asked and voters ranked them. Eighty-three percent wanted adequate technology and equity among schools.”

Cox conceded there is disparity in conditions among the district’s school sites. He is looking forward to seeing the facilities master plan report in December and said there are a lot more needs than there is money to cover them.

The polling of 400 likely voters was conducted Oct. 27-30. The district commissioned the survey to obtain public feedback on project priorities at its school sites, and to assess the viability of a potential 2014 local educational bond measure.

“Many of our schools are old, deteriorating and in need of repairs,” Superintendent RoseMary Parga Duran said. “Basic repairs are needed to ensure safe and comfortable learning environments for local students.”

Survey respondents placed high importance on repairing potentially faulty electrical systems, leaky roofs and plumbing, improving school safety and security, and the removal of asbestos.

Board member Darrell Cherf hailed the findings and said they are more powerful since they represent likely voters, not just random citizens. He said the district needs to build schools on the north side of town.

Voters appear to prefer spending the remainder of the last bond, Measure S, to have students attending Rudolph Rivera Middle School range from kindergarten through middle school rather than building a brand-new elementary school. There is about $6.5 million left in bond funds, which would be enough to complete the Rivera expansion project, Spicer said.

Spicer said the draft facilities master plan would be presented at the board’s Dec. 10 meeting for action at the January meeting. The district is making the transition to common core instructional practices, and there is some question as to whether the district has the facilities to pull off the move into a 21st-century learning environment.

“The Merced City School District is committed to improving education for all students in every school,” Parga Duran said. “A future bond would help to repair neighborhood elementary and middle schools throughout the entire district.”

Sun-Star staff writer Doane Yawger can be reached at (209) 385-2407 or dyawger@mercedsunstar.com.

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