This summer, the Public Education Bond Act (AB 247) has cleared two key California Senate committees with strong support, making it highly likely it will appear on the statewide ballot in the fall of 2024. The estimated $14 billion bond will fund a wide range of critical facilities needs across the state, including transitional kindergarten (TK) and career technical education (CTE), an increasingly popular type of programming.
School district officials and facility directors have been tracking the state bond for months because it could set in motion a large number of coinciding local bonds.
PLANNING AND COST CHALLENGES
The more you understand the bond process the more you appreciate the difficult work district leaders are engaged in. Calculating the size of bonds is an exercise in trying to understand and predict the future.
Consultants and developers help districts determine the assessed valuation that may be captured as well as the number of housing starts and the District’s generation rate.
With average cost-per-square-foot going from $400-500 just a few years ago to now upwards of $700-1,000, escalation is a real challenge for planners. Consultant Bill Savidge is a licensed architect with 25 years of school facilities experience, including several district leadership positions and an executive role at the State Allocation Board. Since 2018, he has helped Davis Joint Unified School District implement its successful $150 million Measure M bond. That bond funded several recent HMC-designed projects—CTE spaces and multipurpose rooms on four campuses. “Measure M was based on the master plan. We used preliminary construction estimates with contingency line items based on the midpoint of construction cost, assuming a 5.5 percent escalation.
“We also set aside a 5 percent program reserve of the total and included an additional soft-cost contingency. Through these set-asides, we were able to get to realistic budgets and, so far, we have returned a significant contingency to the district. Our success relied on the lease-leaseback delivery method to partner with a builder early in the process so we could be proactive on cost.”
STRATEGIES FOR BOND CAMPAIGN SUCCESS
A needs assessment is where the whole process starts, engaging an architect and engineers to review district facilities and develop a master plan that outlines needs and priorities. This information will be used not only to determine the size of the bond but to help inform voters. Additionally, it is important to understand your district’s state matching eligibility. For new construction, this formula involves enrollment and growth. Modernization eligibility is based on the age of permanent and modular buildings.
In the run-up to an election, timing is critical. A political campaign consultant will often be hired to poll potential voters to determine viability and bond size. They will run the outreach and communication efforts, making the case to the voters and determining areas of the district where outreach is most needed. In voter communication you have to make the case that a district is getting academic results— voters are more likely to give money if they know it will be well spent toward results. A ballot measure must be announced no later than 89 days before election day. A financial consultant helps structure the bond and navigates the regulations around how and when you can draw against bond proceeds.
A MEASURE FOR A NEW HIGH SCHOOL IN SAN BENITO USD HIGH SCHOOL DISTRICT
The county of San Benito and City of Hollister in particular, with its proximity to the Silicon Valley, is experiencing the type of growth that will soon require a second high school. HMC Principal Architect Sherry Sajadpour is assisting the San Benito HSD in visioning and master planning ahead of a likely bond measure in the fall of 2024. She explains the approach “begins by creating a customized plan, a roadmap that actively involves the community throughout the process, this ensures that their perspectives and concerns are considered at every stage, resulting in a stronger sense of ownership and commitment to the vision, leading to a more successful master plan which is reflective of their communities’ unique needs and aspirations.
Our approach involves collaborating with various stakeholder groups actively listening, learning, and gathering local knowledge and data. Subsequently, we will utilize this information to develop design concepts and budgets. As we progress toward the 2024 bond, the designs and costs will be refined, and priorities will be established. This comprehensive journey spans at least 18 months, followed by the bond approval process, design, and construction phases, culminating in the opening of a new high school in the fall of 2028.”
The project in Hollister is just one example of the tremendous amount of time and careful consideration that happens in advance of a bond measure. And that is as it should be, as these elections are a crucial part of delivering the educational mission of California’s public schools.