DOWNEY − The Downey Unified School District says it needs at least $248 million in repairs, but this November, it’s up to Downey voters to decide whether another bond measure is worthwhile.
Despite the price tag, district officials ensure additional money from Measure O is necessary to upgrade aging classrooms and improve school safety at its 22 campuses.
“The buildings are not getting ready to fall down,” said DUSD board member Donald LaPlante. “But our elementary and middle schools were built in the 1950s during the baby boom – they need to be updated.”
That list of updates includes new classrooms, technology, exterior playfields, improved safety, security, and campus accessibility, according to the 2014 DUSD Facilities Master Plan released in June.
Although the master plan indicates more than $471 million in needed repairs district-wide, LaPlante said officials will only ask the public for $248 million to address the more urgent needs.
“Building better facilities takes money,” he said. “And the only realistic way to fund improvements is through a local bond.”
A bond similar to the $65 million Measure D passed by Downey residents in 2002. Over the last 12 years, the DUSD used funds from Measure D to renovate Downey and Warren high schools, which now feature new administrative buildings, science classrooms, auditoriums, and upgraded stadiums.
The last two projects funded by Measure D include the new engineering and Walker Hall buildings on the campus of Downey High School. The engineering building was completed two weeks ago while Walker Hall is expected to open this month.
If approved, Measure O will mainly focus on upgrades at the district’s elementary and middle schools. Considering the $471 million calculated for necessary improvements to district facilities, $168 million of that proposed budget covers just repairs at Doty, Griffiths, Sussman, and Stauffer (formerly West) middle schools, officials said.
In fact, Stauffer needs the most upgrades in comparison to every other school in the district, according to the facilities master plan.
Dr. John Garcia, superintendent of the DUSD, said on Tuesday that he has no doubt the district voters will vote in favor of Measure O.
“Based on our research, the community is supportive of this,” he said. “We want to continue to see our 23,000 kids grow…making sure they have the solid foundation for tomorrow’s careers and tomorrow’s jobs.”
However, John Paul Drayer, Downey’s representative on the Cerritos College board of trustees, is questioning the timing of the bond measure, which he said could pose another financial hardship on Downey homeowners.
“We just went through the worst recession in U.S. history. A lot of people have not overcome the economic collapse,” Drayer said. “They can’t afford extra taxes.”
If Measure O is approved by 55 percent of the voters in November, homeowners must pay no more than $60 per $100,000 of assessed property value each year. For most, that totals $168 per year.
Drayer believes a community campaign to raise funds from local residents and businesses could have garnered enough to fix at least the district’s more pressing needs without taxing homeowners.
LaPlante, on the other hand, labeled the idea “not viable.”
“If what we needed to raise was $100,000, that might work, but we need $480 million,” LaPlante said. “If they truly believe we could do a fundraiser, they’re delusional.”
Published: Sept. 11, 2014 - Volume 13 - Issue 22