Opinion

Here’s why Modesto’s elementary schools need your support

John Muir Junior High student John Paul Bellemane sweeps the walkway after school. Modesto City Schools has two bond measures on the November ballot to generate funds for renovating elementary school facilities; the first bond request to improve elementary schools since 2001.
John Muir Junior High student John Paul Bellemane sweeps the walkway after school. Modesto City Schools has two bond measures on the November ballot to generate funds for renovating elementary school facilities; the first bond request to improve elementary schools since 2001. aalfaro@modbee.com

Modesto City School District has provided a quality education to students in the greater Modesto community for over 150 years. Aging classrooms, science labs and educational facilities need repairs and upgrades to meet modern academic and safety standards.

While the district has discussed and planned for school facility improvements for many years, starting in 2017 the Modesto City Schools Board of Education conducted a series of public workshops to identify and prioritize school facility improvement projects. This process included input from facility experts as well as parents, teachers, staff and members of the community to identify the upgrades needed at each school site in order to meet modern safety standards, current academic standards and to address priorities at individual school sites.

While we have been able to make some repairs and upgrades to a few of our facilities, it has been nearly 20 years since the last significant upgrades were made to most of our Modesto schools.

Many basic repairs have been identified at most of our schools, such as replacing leaky roofs, making classrooms accessible for students with disabilities and upgrading outdated cafeterias, restrooms, plumbing, heating, air conditioning and electrical systems. Urgent student safety upgrades were also identified, like upgrading fire and earthquake safety and improving campus security, including lighting, security cameras and fencing to control access. Updates to classrooms and science labs are needed to support quality academic instruction and 21st century learning.

After carefully considering potential options for funding school improvements, it was determined that locally approved and locally controlled bond funding is the only realistic means to finance facility improvements of this scale. General obligation bonds, approved by local voters, are the mechanisms virtually all school districts use to fund periodic repairs and renovations. School districts cannot rely on the state of California to fund school facility improvements and the limited state dollars available require local matching funds that could be provided by a local bond measure.

With the total estimated cost of identified school improvements far exceeding the amount that could be generated by law under a single bond measure, the Board of Education made two important decisions.

First, while needs were identified at all schools, it was decided to focus first on the needs at local elementary and junior high schools where the facilities are the oldest and the needs are most urgent.

Second, given that the last bond measure to improve Modesto schools was passed in 2001, the board opted to place two measures on the ballot. This expands the number of projects that could be completed, expedites the timeline for project completion and maximizes the number of current students who benefit from these improvements.

Through these conversations at public board workshops and regularly scheduled board meetings, Measures D and E were developed to provide $131 million to address the most urgent upgrades needed at Modesto elementary and middle schools. These two measures are designed to work as a package to ensure students are safe while also providing modern classrooms and educational facilities needed to support quality instruction that meet academic standards.

Measure D – the Modesto City Elementary School District Student Health and Safety Measure – will improve school security including lighting, security cameras and fencing to control access to all campuses. It will upgrade classrooms to ensure the health and safety of students.

Measure E – the Modesto City Elementary School District Classroom and Science Lab Enhancement Measure – updates learning facilities to support quality academic instruction to prepare students to succeed in high school, college and modern careers.

By law, all funds from both measures will benefit Modesto schools only; no funds can be taken by the state or other districts. No money can be used for administrator salaries or pensions.

Measures D and E require strict fiscal accountability protections including mandatory annual audits and an independent citizens’ oversight committee comprised of local residents to ensure funds are managed and spent properly.

Measures D and E are supported by Modesto’s most respected leaders, including the Modesto Teachers Association, all seven members of the board of education, Mayor Ted Brandvold and members of the city council, the League of Women Voters of Stanislaus County and many others.

Modesto’s schools are aging and Measures D and E are the only practical solution to ensure our students attend school in safe, modern classrooms. This is a responsible plan that was developed with significant care, public input and attention to the needs of our students. Let’s put Modesto students first and give them the tools they need to succeed by coming together to vote Yes on D and E for our schools.

Submitted by five members of Modesto Students First 2018: Jose Sabala, co-chair; Kate Trompetter, parent; Randy Clark; Reggie Rucker, and Chad Brown, member of Modesto City Schools Board of Education.

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