Election 2022: Silicon Valley schools seek funds for upgrades, programs
San Jose students take part in a lesson. Photo courtesy of East Side Union High School District.

Santa Clara County residents will be asked to approve millions of dollars in education funding come November.

A yes vote would mean several local school districts could tackle Silicon Valley’s ongoing digital divide and teacher shortage. But if the measures fail, schools will be challenged to get the necessary funds to attract teachers and upgrade facilities and necessary school programs.

Although the needs are great according to school board trustees and superintendents, not everyone is on board. Voters should look to the school districts’s track records with previous measures to inform their decisions, said Susan Shelley, spokesperson for the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association. Residents are directly impacted by measures that increase property tax bills.

“It’s really up to the voters to look at that and say, ‘Well, what happened to the money we already gave you?'” Shelley told San José Spotlight.

Measure N—East Side Union High School District 

East Side Union High School District is asking residents to approve a $572 million bond measure to support career and technical programs while also allowing for classroom upgrades. If approved, $35.7  million will be raised annually at three cents per $100 of assessed residential property values until 2050. The measure requires 55% voter approval to pass.

The bond also focuses on bridging the digital divide made apparent during the COVID-19 pandemic, said J. Manuel Herrera, East Side Union High School District board president. Funds would be used to increase student access to computers and tablets.

“People had the idea that somehow we’ve made progress,” Herrera told San José Spotlight. “But the pandemic really exposed the gap that persists in that either students didn’t have their own equipment to take home or they were in homes without broadband access.”

Measure S—Alum Rock Union School District 

Alum Rock Union School District is asking residents to renew a $71.5 million bond, which is also addressing the digital divide through science, technology, engineering, art and math classroom improvements. The bond was previously approved in 2012, and would raise $4.4 million annually at two cents per $100 of assessed property values. The measure requires 55% voter approval to pass.

Funds from the bond measure would also go toward constructing subsidized teacher housing, said Andres Quintero, president of the Alum Rock school board. The district aims to address teacher shortages by creating housing geared toward entry-level teachers to help offset the high cost of rent in the county.

“We’re trying to address that issue by developing our own housing by offering it to teachers and our workforce,” Quintero told San José Spotlight. “This is just the next step in allowing us to invest in such a way that allows us to attract high quality, well-prepared teachers.”

Measure S raises concerns in light of the school district’s decreasing enrollment numbers, said Mark Hinkle, president of the Silicon Valley Taxpayers Association. Declining school enrollment is occurring across districts, which experts say is closely tied to the lack of affordable housing in the area.

“Why do you need more classrooms if you have 1,700 fewer students? When school districts put ballot measures on the ballot, they have to pay for the election,” Hinkle said. “That’s obviously money that’s not spent on infrastructure, teachers, pensions or administration.”

Measure O—Campbell Union High School District 

Campbell Union High School District officials are calling for the renewal of an $85 parcel tax for the next decade, which would raise $5 million annually. The funds will be used to support career training programs and mental health services. The measure requires two-thirds voter approval to pass.

Teachers and staff could potentially face a pay cut if the measure fails, as the district uses funds from the parcel tax to provide an additional stipend to employees, said Stacey Brown, president of the Campbell Union High District school board. The parcel tax could also affect the amount of mental health services the district provides.

“We’ve been able to significantly increase our counselors over the last six years by utilizing some of the funding in the parcel tax,” Brown told San José Spotlight. “If the parcel tax funding goes away, then we’re gonna have to cut back on some of those counselors.”

Measure P—Oak Grove School District 

Oak Grove School District is putting a $236 million bond measure before voters to upgrade labs and other facilities, as well as increase technology access for students. If approved, $13 million would be raised annually at three cents per $100 of assessed residential property values. The measure requires 55% voter approval to pass.

School officials were not immediately available for comment.

Measure R—Union School District 

Residents in the Union School District are asked to support a $128 million bond for infrastructure improvements that include roof repairs, new classrooms and labs. If approved, $7 million annually would be raised at two cents per $100 of assessed property values. The measure requires 55% voter approval to pass.

Funds will allow for repairs on the district’s plumbing and electrical systems while also improving buildings for earthquake safety, Superintendent Carrie Andrews told San José Spotlight.

“There is a direct relationship between providing clean, safe school facilities and up-to-date technology with successful teaching and learning and a foundation for success for every student,” Andrews said.

Contact Loan-Anh Pham at [email protected] or follow @theLoanAnhLede on Twitter.

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