ALAMEDA -- Island voters will consider approving $179.5 million in general obligation bonds to fund improvements at local public schools now that Alameda Unified School District trustees have moved to place the measure on the November ballot.
The decision follows trustees approving an implementation plan for the bonds that calls for about half of the money to go toward work at the elementary and middle schools, including new roofs, plumbing and electrical systems, as well as for technology upgrades and for replacing some portables with permanent classrooms.
The remaining half of the money would be set aside for work at the high schools, though trustees would not issue a bond until after officials have created an overall plan for the campuses, including possibly consolidating the schools.
If voters pass the bond measure, property owners will pay a maximum of $60 per $100,000 of assessed value of their property annually. Trustee Trish Spencer cast the lone vote against placing the measure on the ballot when the Board of Education considered it June 24, saying she was concerned that it made the district vulnerable to a lawsuit because the measure's language was vague regarding projects that it would fund.
"This is very open and broad, and I am concerned legally it does not pass the specificity test," Spencer said.
She noted the ballot statement does not tell voters that the term of the bonds would be for up to 25 years and that no exemption will be offered to seniors or the disabled.
A future home for the district's main office or improvements at Woodstock Child Development Center are also not included among the projects, Spencer said.
Trustee Niel Tam, a former principal, said he has worked in schools without heat and with roofs that leaked when it rained.
"These are not good environments for students to be in," said Tam, who seconded Trustee Mike McMahon's motion to put the measure on the ballot.
Barbara Rasmussen, a former school board member, urged trustees to support it.
"We don't have time," Rasmussen said. "It's too many years out until we can do this again, and our schools are desperate."
She was echoed by Jennifer Hastings, PTA president at Edison Elementary School, who said she has encountered "rats' nests" of electrical cords and other problems.
"It's affecting the learning environment," Hastings said. "It's also something that's getting increasingly worse."
But Nick Cabral, a longtime Alameda resident, said district officials should have done more long-term planning regarding facilities before going to the voters, including looking at closing smaller campuses and creating a single high school.
"It's going to be a hard sell," Cabral said about the bond measure, "and in my heart I don't think you are ready."
The bonds will be issued as current interest bonds, according to district officials. Independent auditors and a citizen oversight committee will monitor the spending, which can only go toward facilities and not administrator salaries.
The two-part implementation plan, which trustees approved June 10, is based on a facilities master plan that was crafted after community meetings, enrollment studies and campus visits. It identified $585 million worth of repairs, upgrades and improvements needed to modernize and make safe the district's schools.
Trustee Barbara Kahn said "there are a lot of unanswered questions" about the bond measure and the projects it would fund. But she said decided to support placing it on the ballot because voters will still get the final say on whether to approve it.
Reach Peter Hegarty at 510-748-1654 or follow him on Twitter.com/Peter_Hegarty.