Bond could fund Sequoia arts, technology

A $140 million facilities bond that could fund high-tech and vocational classrooms in the Sequoia Union High School District’s four high schools may go to local voters in 2008.

The district’s last bond, approved by voters in November 2004, raised $70 million. The money was used to build performing-arts centers at Carlmont and Menlo-Atherton high schools as well as purchase property for Summit Preparatory Charter High School and the district’s adult school, finance director Ed LaVigne said. Those funds, however, will run out within two years.

One aim of the new bond would be to keep the district’s construction team, which is working on a performing-arts center, and leave intact plans for plenty of upgrades aimed at training students for college and careers.

A recent survey of 600 voters in the district found that more than 65 percent favored a bond that would cost them $10 per $100,000 of assessed property value, LaVigne said. The approval ratings went even higher for big-ticket items, such as funding classroom technology for the next 10 years, building classrooms for vocational technology training, making classrooms more energy-efficient and building biotech labs.

The bond would require approval from 55 percent of voters.

“That tells us that if we got the message out, we could pass a bond,” trustee Don Gibson said. “If you don’t come up with a solution like this, then you’re fighting taking it out of your general fund, which means something else has to give.”

Simply keeping computers up to date, a task that once cost $50,000 per year, now costs $1 million per school year, Gibson said.

The high school district is also obligated by state charter law to build a campus for the East Palo Alto High School, which is operated by Stanford University, because many of its students live within the Sequoia District boundaries, according to trustee Gordon Lewin.

District leaders are beginning to study technology-based high schools in San Jose and Whittier, and hope to add biotechnology labs at each high school to match the one at Carlmont, Lewin said.

“These are not cheap, but the days of the test tube are gone,” Lewin said.

Trustees will study potential support for a bond, and begin to prioritize which projects could be built for $140 million, over the next two months.

If they go forward with a bond, it could appear on the February, June or November 2008 ballot, LaVigne said.

bwinegarner@examiner.com

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