Tonight, the Modesto City Schools board will consider a staff recommendation to add a swimming pool and a veterinary science building at Enochs High School at a cost of $4.9 million, about $2.2 million of which would come from the pockets of Village I homeowners.
Property owners in two other Mello-Roos taxing districts, in southwest Riverbank (Crossroads) and in the Snyder-Pelandale-Bangs area, would pay about $1.6 million.
An additional $1 million or so in interest should be added to that tab, although the staff report doesn't do that. It doesn't even try to define what the two facilities would mean in terms of prolonged Mello-Roos taxes for those individual property owners. (Most Village I homeowners are paying about $390 in Mello-Roos taxes this year, and are anxious to know how much those will go up and how long they'll last.)
Instead, the report contends that the Village I residents still have an obligation to contribute to more school projects, based on factoring in a generous 4 percent inflation per year since the taxing district was formed in 1994.
Staff further argues that a pool and a veterinary science building were always planned for Enochs and that most of Modesto's high schools have pools and therefore Enochs should, too.
The pool would cost an estimated $3.5 million and the vet science building about $1.4 million. There are other funding sources for the vet science building, including a $666,360 state grant already approved. The district has the option of using federal stimulus money. Our concern isn't so much about this building
But we seriously question whether a pool is justified at Enochs, and we're even more troubled that this is presented in the same way that so many building projects have been presented to the school board -- based on past practice and what they want, with minimal regard on the cost to the public.
This is a prime opportunity for the Modesto school board to probe true need and true costs. Such as: How many students use the pools and for how much of the year? How many P.E. classes use them and for how many days total? Do you have the staff levels for students to use the pool safely? How many students participate in swimming and water polo teams? What are the annual utility bills and maintenance costs? What would be the pros and cons if Enochs students used the pool at Beyer, a mile and a half down Sylvan Avenue?
As presented, this report suggests that the only responsibility of the Modesto school board is to decide whether to put the pool on its wish list -- and not to determine and to consider the impact on their taxpayers.
The Schools Infrastructure Finance Agency has separate legal standing, but it is a joint powers authority created by Modesto high school district and the Stanislaus Union and Sylvan elementary districts. In reality, the decisions made by those school boards determine tax amounts.
Modesto school board members should only approve a pool at Enochs if they are willing to look the people paying Mello-Roos taxes in the eye and say, we know it will cost you this amount, counting interest, and will prolong your tax bills over this number of years, but we believe it is worthwhile for reasons X, Y and Z.
Based on the staff report they're getting tonight, they can't make that argument.
The Modesto school board meets at 6 p.m. at 425 Locust Ave.