Silicon Valley school district exhales as bond measure passes
Fremont High School, located in Sunnyvale, is part of the Fremont Union High School District. Photo by Lorraine Gabbert.

Santa Clara County voters approved funding more than $24 million in education in June, but one school district held its breath for days hoping the bond measure would pass.  

Fremont Union High School District’s Measure G required 55% voter approval and just squeaked by with 55.71% in the June 7 primary. The district asked residents to approve a $275 million school bond to upgrade classrooms, labs and facilities. The measure will raise about $18.2 million annually until 2052, at a rate of 1.5 cents per $100 of assessed residential property values.

Mail-in ballots put the school district over the top, said Superintendent Graham Clark. According to the Santa Clara County Registrar of Voters, 964 people cast their ballots for Measure G in person on election day and 17,761 voted by mail.

The new funding is critical, Clark said. The district is halfway through upgrading buildings between 50 and 100 years old. Much of the work includes new heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems, fire alarms and sprinklers, technology, painting, roofing and flooring, he said. It will also go toward upgrading libraries, music and art and career technical education classrooms.

A major project, especially with COVID-19, is increasing ventilation with filters to keep the air safe and pure, Clark said. Handicap accessibility around campuses is another concern, with funding needed to repair cracked concrete lifted from tree roots.

Classrooms also need to be updated with mounted data projectors and improved wiring and Wi-Fi, he added. And the district’s outdated science labs require gas, water and electricity for experiments, as well as ventilation hoods for chemical fumes. 

“Our thoughts were, ‘If we’re not going to have more money, how are we going to make this money stretch as far as we can?’” Clark told San José Spotlight. “I’m glad we passed it so we can keep modernizing the classrooms.”

If the bond measure hadn’t passed, Clark said the district would have evaluated each project for cuts, considering for instance if the roof could last another five or 10 years.

“In the short term that can save money, but in the long term it just ends up costing more and becomes more disruptive,” he said. “As a school district we try to do most of our projects in the summer. If they extend into the school year, it displaces teachers and students.”

Most of the district’s current projects are funded from Measure CC, a $275 million school bond measure passed in November 2018, Clark said. The funding went toward building classrooms and upgrading facilities at its five high schools located in Cupertino, Sunnyvale and San Jose. 

For Fremont Union High School District school board member Naomi Nakano-Matsumoto, watching the returns on election night was nerve wracking. If the bond measure hadn’t passed, it would have affected the district’s ability to keep its aging schools up to code and in good condition, she said.

“We were on pins and needles for a while,” she told San José Spotlight. “We don’t do bonds or parcel taxes unless there is a need.”

The funding will also provide the district with the opportunity to build out a robotics program. The district would like to see a state-of-the-art maker space at each school where students can engage in engineering and robotics-themed classes and clubs, as well as a district robotics center with tooling.

“Creating a great learning environment is having modern facilities and equipment… so our students have the best educational opportunities,” Nakano-Matsumoto said.

School board member Rosa Kim said the district checked election results daily. It took 29 days for 100% of votes to be tallied. 

“We are grateful. It was very close,” she told San José Spotlight. “We need this for our students.”

Clark appreciates the voter’s support. He said the district works to use its funding responsibly.

“This money will help us create the kind of facilities that provide the best education possible for our students,” he said.

Contact Lorraine Gabbert at [email protected]

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