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Modesto school district seeking $131 million in bonds. Here’s where that money will go

Principal Scott Genzmer, middle, shows facilities and district guests the 50’s era classrooms and portables at Franklin Elementary School in Modesto, Calif., on Tuesday, Sept. 25, 2018. Modesto City Schools has two bond measures on the November ballot to generate funds for renovating elementary school facilities.
Principal Scott Genzmer, middle, shows facilities and district guests the 50’s era classrooms and portables at Franklin Elementary School in Modesto, Calif., on Tuesday, Sept. 25, 2018. Modesto City Schools has two bond measures on the November ballot to generate funds for renovating elementary school facilities. aalfaro@modbee.com

Mark Twain Junior High in Modesto won’t get an external makeover from proposed bond measures on the November ballot.

But its science classrooms would be upgraded with sinks and lab tables with hookups for conducting experiments. Officials with Modesto City Schools said during a tour of the school last week that middle school science classrooms throughout the district are in need of upgrades.

Marla Mack, associate superintendent of education, said the school district will adopt the state’s Next Generation Science Standards next year. And the new emphasis is for students to learn science by doing science.

Voters in Modesto City Schools will decide on two bond measures Nov. 6 with a primary thrust of renovating elementary and junior-high campuses, many of which are more than 50 years old. The proposed upgrades to junior high science classrooms are just part of an effort to equip schools with technology so that students are prepared for careers in the 21st Century.

If approved, Measures D and E will be the first MCS bond issues since ballot measures in 2001 that paid for costs of building Enochs and Gregori high schools and funded repairs at school campuses. The current proposals apply to the kindergarten-to-eighth-grade elementary school district.

Measure D includes $74 million in bonds for health and safety improvements at 22 elementary schools and four middle schools. The oldest school planned for repairs, Wilson Elementary, was built in 1929, and the newest, Hanshaw Middle School, is more than 25 years old.

Officials say the schools suffer from leaky roofs, undersized cafeterias, old plumbing and electrical systems, deteriorated pavement and poor lighting and security. Some campuses need traffic Improvements in front for safe arrivals and departures, while others lack air-conditioning for gyms or require better access for students with disabilities.

Measure E calls for $57 million in bonds for science lab and classroom enhancements and for replacing portable buildings that have outlived their use. MCS has about 350 portable buildings, many delivered to campuses decades ago.

The two measures combined would generate $6.55 million a year by increasing annual property tax rates about $50 per $100,000 in assessed value, or $100 annually for a $200,000 home. The bonds require 55 percent approval.

The ballot measures outline projects that can be funded by proceeds from D and E, but the school board will set the priorities and timing for improvements at specific campuses. Officials said there are problems to address at all 26 school sites; campuses with the greatest needs will receive more attention than schools recently upgraded.

If the measures are approved, a citizens’ committee will watch over spending. According to the ballot measures, the funds can’t be spent on salaries for administrators and teachers nor on district operating costs. Officials said polling data showed more than 70 percent public support for the bond proposals.

To pay for projects outlined in the measures, Modesto City Schools may use a combination of sources including bond-sale proceeds, development fees and any available state funding.

“I see huge need for repairing facilities that are 50-plus years old,” said MCS Superintendent Sara Noguchi, who was hired as top administrator in June. “Our classrooms are not where they need to be for teaching 21st Century skills.”

Modesto City Schools has estimated a need for $1 billion in renovations and improvements when high school campuses are included in the mix. High school renovations are not on the ballot this time, however.

“When you look at the billion-dollar book, the high schools have as many needs as the elementary campuses,” Trustee Chad Brown said last week.

One focus of Measure D is elementary school cafeterias, some of which remained the same size as enrollment doubled at campuses over the years.

At Shackelford Elementary in south Modesto, the small cafeteria starts serving food at 10:45 a.m. for kindergartners; other grades are served in 10-minute shifts until 6th graders are finished eating at 12:50 p.m. The school, originally built in 1945, also needs a redesign out front to create a single access point for visitors, district staff said.

A larger cafeteria is just one of the urgent needs at Franklin Elementary near Emerald Avenue and Maze Boulevard. On a tour with district officials last week, Franklin was described as an old facility where things are falling apart, including portable classrooms with peeled paint and rotted siding; makeshift offices that are nothing more than converted trailers; cracked blacktop; and little shade for the kids.

There is no turn-in for buses in front of the K-6 school, which has nearly 900 students. The gravel parking lot on the opposite side of Emerald Avenue is donated by E.&J. Gallo Winery.

Principal Scott Genzmer helps direct the traffic as students go home at the final bell. “The classroom environment to me says a lot,” Genzmer said. “It affects the childrens’ mindset if it is not very nice.”

Another project at Mark Twain could remove the cooking stoves and other kitchen equipment from a home economics room that’s now used for an after-school program. The room could be repurposed for career technical education, said Tim Zearley, associate superintendent of business services.

The gymnasiums at La Loma, Roosevelt and Mark Twain middle schools are without air-conditioning, making them unusable for activities on warm days. District officials said schools across Modesto within the district boundaries have a need for repairs and technology enhancements.

MCS has been spending $1 million a year on maintenance work for the old facilities.

The ballot measures are supported by the Modesto Teachers Association and a group called Modesto Students First. Supporters have organized a precinct walk Oct. 6 from 8 a.m. to noon.

“The facilities directly play into the ability to have a safe and healthy experience for students in our community,” said Erin Black, who is helping with the Yes on D&E For Safe, Modern Modesto Schools campaign. “If you have not had a bond measure passed in over 17 years, it’s the thing to do.”

No formal arguments against Measures D and E were submitted to the Stanislaus County elections office.

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