Michael Phelps, training in Mammoth’s high-altitude aquatic center? It could happen … if a school district bond measure with one attached to it makes it to the ballot AND you vote for it. (Photo: www.usatoday.com)
Board of Education discusses the Parcel Tax renewal, and a new take on an MHS bond
The last time the Mammoth Unified School District placed a bond on a ballot was in 2008. At the time, Measure K was a $65 million initiative intended to spruce up the elementary and middle schools, as well as fund construction of a brand new high school building. It was soundly defeated by Mammoth voters, already nervous about a pending recession and a sea of other bond measures at the state level.
Cut to Monday night’s Mammoth Unified School District Board of Education meeting, where a similar proposal surfaced again during the discussion portion of the agenda. It may not be called Measure K, and no formal draft of any bond exists yet, but the Board did contemplate new concepts for a bond issue against some of what it determined were fundamental flaws with how Measure K was initiated and put in front of voters.
For starters, the $65 million figure was deemed too high, turning off voters with no kids in the school who didn’;t stand to benefit. As the conversation turned away from new construction and looked at renovation, figures of $30 million and less were batted around, though some on the Board said that many issues with the current high school building would remain. Some staff, however, have indicated that a remodel could be done for as little as $10-11 million.
If a $65 million bond is to be floated, however, all generally agreed it should contain something that would grab the public’s attention, giving rise to the idea of a new indoor geothermally-heated aquatic center, that could be built within the district’s Gateway Master Plan sphere of influence. Such a center would, according to Boardmember Dr. Andrew Bourne, engage the larger community so that everybody gets a little something.
“Apart from what it would mean to the school, second homeowners and others in the community would have access to it year round,” he posited. “The Town would be able to use it for some good public relations purposes and athletic programs could use it for high altitude training.”
Boardmember Greg Newbry, while not against the idea, stated that education should be priority one, and that as opposed to potentially competing with the upcoming property tax renewal measure (see parcel tax section later in this story), the bond should be considered a “want” as opposed to the parcel tax renewal, which he considers a “must have.”
Another problem with Measure K: too little lead time to present it to voters. If the Board is going to get something on the November 2010 ballot, it better move soon. The June 2010 ballot deadline has already been missed.
Bourne suggested it might be advantageous to have a workshop that would include talks with local “consultants,” such as Mammoth Lakes Trails and Public Access topper John Wentworth and High Sierra Energy Foudation Executive Director Rick Phelps. Bourne said he thought Wentworth might provide insight on how to pass a bond, pointing to his success in passing Measure R, which garnered 72% of the vote in the June 2008 election. In case the Board decides to pitch the aquatic center as part of the bond, he also said that Phelps could be helpful, having “taken the lead on geothermal,” in addition to being well versed on Town policy and having established working credentials with the Mammoth Community Water District, which will be major player in Mammoth’s proposed geothermal heating district.
The Board is considering scheduling such a workshop in January.
Parcel Tax extension
Meanwhile, the Board also took up a possible special election to extend the provisions of Measure S, which funds about 5% of the district’s budget via a $59 parcel tax.
The tax, which generates roughly $580,000 annually, is set to expire after the December 2011 and April 2012 assessment period. Among other items, dollars from Measure S go to fund almost half of class size reduction salaries, 13% of textbooks and supplies, almost 14% of network and technology support, as well as subsidizing FTEEs in both the library and music categories.
District Business Manager Jim Maxey informed the Board that a special election could be held as late as March and before June 2012 and still make the assessement scheduled for the following September.
Newbry said that, based on previous studies, the measure extension would stand a better chance at passage during a special election, as opposed to during a general election. Unless the state legislature lowers the requirement for passage from 66% to 55%, the measure will need a 2/3 majority. The main difference between a special election and placing it on a general June or November ballot is the cost: roughly $20,000 for an off-cycle election, as opposed to minor costs for a general ballot listing.
Maxey is looking into a longer term duration for any tax as an amendment to the extension, and a few different fee scenarios, including a potential increase. Board Chair Gloria Vasquez indicated that a slightly higher rate would be consistent with historical precedent, adding that several years ago when Measure S was first proposed, the Board had first discussed a lower amount ($29) than the $59 that was approved by voters. (Ed. note: Thanks to a nudge from Kirk Stapp, who strongly advocated going for the higher rate).