School district eyes another ballot measure to finish construction

Dave Brooksher

Redwood Times

The Southern Humboldt Unified School District (SHUSD) may ask local voters to support another ballot measure allowing access to roughly $10 million in bond funds remaining from the $25.2 million originally authorized under Measure L. The district has nearly reached the state of California's limit of $60 in school bond related property taxes for each $100,000 in assessed real estate value, so they may ask voters to approve a new local maximum of $102.50 per $100,000 in assessed real estate value.

No additional funding would be generated, but SHUSD board president Thomas Mulder argued that it would allow the district to retire the bond sooner and at a lower overall cost to local taxpayers. It would also provide a lump sum of money to complete the district's ongoing construction projects before interest and labor costs increase.

According to SHUSD superintendent Catherine Scott, recent polling suggests that there may be enough public support for such a measure to pass in 2014. Isom Advisors, a Bay Area consulting firm that specializes in school financing, surveyed 340 people with 65% of them saying they would currently support another ballot measure. Passage would require only 55% voter approval.

If the district pursues this option, it will appear on a local ballot in June or November of 2014. The board of trustees will revisit the issue next month at two meetings scheduled for Thursday, Jan. 16 at Agnes Johnson Elementary in Weott and Thursday, Jan. 23 at Redway School.

The board also heard a staff report regarding the district's financial and budgetary status. Based on current projections, the SHUSD expects that it will be able to meet its financial obligations for the next three fiscal years. The controversial new Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF) is expected to result in an $83,000 increase in funding for Southern Humboldt.

During the remainder of this fiscal year the district will receive more than $925,000 for transportation from the state. They will no longer have to contribute nearly $200,000 to the general fund in order to maintain the school busing system, as has been necessary in recent years.

"We're pretty confident that we can run transportation for that amount of money," said SHUSD business office manager Bambi Henderson.

Despite the rare good news, the district remains cash-strapped and understaffed.

"Although Prop 30 was approved by voters, we must recognize that there is no new funding for schools, the tax increases are temporary, and we are still funded significantly below the 2007/08 levels." Henderson wrote in a staff report.

The board also adopted a revised code of conduct for student athletes, reducing penalties for first-time offenses involving drugs or alcohol. The minimum suspension from athletic activities for first offenses was cut from one year to six weeks, or the remainder of one sports season, whichever is longer.

Athletic suspensions lasting a full year will still be imposed for second offenses.

"A lot of guys are here to play sports. To keep a kid involved might keep him in school," said coach Andy Olsen from South Fork High School. Olsen added that longer athletic suspensions can potentially adversely affect other student athletes, particularly at such a small school where losing multiple teammates could mean having too few players to compete.

The change was also recommended by South Fork High School principal Lisa Grey, who said that the old rules were stricter than those in other districts around Humboldt and Del Norte counties. After the new code of conduct was passed by a vote of the trustees, superintendent Scott also made supportive remarks.

"I like that we're in alignment with the teams we're competing against," superintendent Scott said.