Norwalk school board eyes $300M facilities bond

NORWALK - School board members were all but in agreement on Monday - the Norwalk-La Mirada Unified School District should investigate the possibility of placing a multi-million dollar bond measure on the ballot next year. Hoping to generate funds for school renovations, system upgrades, and technological enhancements, the board of education unanimously approved a district-wide feasibility study to determine the cost of a facilities overhaul.

According to Estuardo Santillan, assistant superintendent of business affairs, school district facilities at nearly every elementary, middle and high school need upgrades such as air conditioning, lunch shelters, locker rooms, and parking expansions.

During an hour-long study session on the bond, staff also recommended renovating the district office, modernizing Excelsior Stadium, rekeying district facilities, and updating the phone and energy management systems.

District officials expect the renovations to reach upward of $300 million.

"We have two opportunities to be on the ballot - June 3 and November 4, 2014," said Tim Carty, financial and strategic advisor to the school board. "Which date is best? Well, there are several factors to consider. Voter turnout, competing tax measures...and we don't know what the economic conditions will be in 2014."

Under the current proposal, residents living in the school district area would pay $60 per $100,000 in assessed value on their homes.

"Despite a boom and a bust, the property value rate continues to grow on average," Carty said. "Assuming the valuation growth rate holds up, we will collect $300 million over a 15-year period."

In 2002, voters approved a similar bond initiative. Overwhelming approved by 73.59 percent of district voters, Measure S raised $165 million to modernize classroom facilities and upgrade restrooms, roofs, and plumbing.

Since 2003, residents have paid an average of $58.58 per $100,000 in assessed value as a result of the measure.

While the school board agreed new upgrades were needed, board member Chris Pflanzer questioned the $300 million price tag.

"This looks like a wish list," said Pflanzer flipping through the list of potential upgrades. "I can't see the division between the needs and the wants. I have a challenge moving forward until we know the needs."

Board member Darryl Adams responded, maintaining the feasibility process would reveal the facilities most in need of renovation.

"The 2014 clock is ticking. We have to develop our survey and make a decision to move forward because our window just gets shorter and shorter," he said. "I get the feeling you don't want to be on the hook for something. I hear your concern, but let's accomplish the pre-vetting.

"If the survey comes back with 30% approval then we wouldn't go forward anyway," he added. Superintendent Ruth Perez reassured board members that they would be granted final approval before contracts were awarded.

Now that staff has been directed to initiate the feasibility study, the district will next establish a team of legal, financial, and strategic consultants who will poll the community to gauge community support for a new bond measure.

Regular updates from the study will be provided for the school board and a final recommendation including cost analysis and a strategic plan will be presented in January 2014.

"80 percent of the voters in this district don't have children in school. We have to vet it with those whose input we need," said Carty on Monday. "The plan has to be something that works...for the two political bodies in Norwalk and La Mirada, for the schools and families."