Five questions about Measure S

By Peter Jacklin

In the November 2016 election, Orange Unified School District voters passed a property tax levy of $288 million to “... repair and modernize aging high school classrooms, labs and school facilities.”  Voters approved the bond measure with a 60 percent majority. Each of the four high schools in the district is to receive $72 million from the bond revenues.

At the time of this writing, no bonds have been issued. 

Now, more than six months into the program’s life, the board has approved one new science building for each of the four high schools. Each science building covers about 14,000 square feet and has 12 classrooms. The costs of these buildings range from $45 million to $69 million. 

Why four high schools?
The district is forecasting the loss of 500 students per year for the next three years, coupled with a loss of 500 students for the last school year. Cumulatively, that’s a loss of 2,000 students by the year 2020, or the equivalent of one high school. The need to eliminate one high school may occur as soon as 2023.

One has to ask why the board is making a $72 million investment in a high school that will not be needed 24 years before its financing is paid off.

Why four chemistry labs?
Each of the four science buildings has four chemistry labs. Chemistry labs are expensive to construct and to operate. Each lab can service 40 students. That’s 160 students per school period and 800 to 1,000 students per day. It’s difficult to imagine that one-third to one-half of the school’s population will be chemistry students, even if chemistry is a required course.

Why brick and mortar buildings?
School enrollment is a difficult forecasting challenge, at best. Enrollment is governed by a number of factors, including the economy, local housing prices and the number of children per family.

Considering the enrollment stress on most school districts in the county, one would think that more flexibility in school infrastructure is needed. Wouldn’t it be better if classrooms could be moved to where they are needed? This cannot be easily done with brick and mortar buildings. It can be done with factory-fabricated buildings, which cost much less than brick and mortar buildings. Tustin Unified School District has recognized this, and has built several fabricated buildings on campuses quickly and at a significant discount in cost to the taxpayer.

How far has the OUSD Board strayed from its promises?
As the bond measure appeared on the ballot last year and in the informational material sent to voters by the district, no mention was made of new construction projects.

The words “repair,” “modernize,” “complete earthquake safety retrofits,” and “upgrade career training facilities, science labs, libraries” were in both documents, giving an incomplete, perhaps incorrect, assessment of the scope of work that is now being planned.

What is being proposed and what the trustees have approved is so far off the advertised mark that the Canyon High School student representative to the board asked, in public session, why more funds had not been allocated to repair the bathrooms and remove the mold at her high school. She received no answer.

Will these questions be answered?
This may be the most important question of all. Time will tell. I am not optimistic.