FREMONT -- The panel overseeing a $157 million bond measure says the school district spent the money properly to upgrade its aging 42 campuses, completing the promised work on time and under budget.
The health and safety bond that voters approved in 2002 paid for renovating Fremont's schools over the past decade, including seismic retrofits, improved plumbing and heating systems, roofing repairs, and safety upgrades for playgrounds, electrical wiring, and automobile traffic, the oversight committee said at a school board meeting last week.
Recent refinancing, and interest earned on bond sales, gave the district more money for added renovations, pushing total expenses to $173 million, according to the committee's report. The additional school projects included paving new parking areas, replacing a walkway cover, installing a library air conditioning system and renovating Valhalla Theater at Irvington High, the district's only performing arts school.
"We showed the citizens of Fremont that the board and the district can be fiscally responsible," said Peggy Herndon, an oversight committee member and a former school board trustee. "And we're looking at having the same success with the next bond."
Fremont's next proposed bond -- a $650 million measure school trustees have placed on the June ballot -- would be Alameda County's largest.
One panel member who praises the district's money management opposes the new bond.
"The timing is not good because people are still hurting, and there's a lot of unemployment out there," said Sally Morgan, a former bond oversight committee member.
The longtime Fremont resident served two years on the committee, during which she and others visited school sites and inspected upgrades. Despite her skepticism about another bond, that experience proved that the district "handled the 2002 bond very well," she said.
But Morgan, calling herself a taxpayer watchdog who abhors government waste, said she remains leery about taking on new district debt because a bond's final expense always climbs much higher than the original amount. Fremont Unified's debt service for its $157 million bond, for instance, nearly doubled, reaching about $311 million when interest is included, district leaders said.
"I don't think most people understand that," Morgan said. "There has to be a better way to fund schools."
The district will pursue the $650 million bond because its 33,000 students and their parents deserve better, Superintendent James Morris said.
Interest on that issue could raise its ultimate cost to about $1.75 billion, said Raul Parungao, the district's assistant superintendent of business services. The new bond would finance technology upgrades, classroom renovations, asbestos removal and other facility improvements, district leaders said.
Morris said he sees a disconnect between Fremont's rising housing values and thriving Silicon Valley economy and the lackluster condition of its weathered schools, some of which were built in the 1950s.
"It's incredible how vibrant the city is, yet the schools continue to get older," he said. "The 2002 bond was a good step, but nobody ever thought it would fix everything that needs to be fixed."
While district test scores remain high, its campuses have not kept pace, said Ann Crosbie, a Fremont school board member.
Overcrowded classes, outdated tech equipment, and crumbling classrooms can hinder learning, negating the district's many positives, Crosbie said.
"We're at a tipping point," she said. "We've invested in student programs, but now we have to invest in our facilities or they'll start to negatively affect our programs."
Contact Chris De Benedetti at 510-353-7011. Follow him at Twitter.com/cdebenedetti.
The Fremont Unified School District's bond oversight committee has reported that the school district properly spent the $157 million bond voters approved in 2002. The district upgraded Fremont's 42 campuses, completing the work on time and under budget, the panel said.
Here's how the money was spent.
Seismic retrofit $43 million
Restroom upgrades $25 million
Roofing $15 million
Electrical safety $7 million
Heating and cooling $18 million
emergency $8 million
Student dining $21 million
hazardous materials $20 million
field safety $16 million
Total: $173 million
Source: Fremont Unified School District bond oversight committee