By Tina Richards

Orange Unified School District will take advantage of the statewide increase in residential developer fees levied to fund the facilities needed to meet the demands of a student population that increases along with new housing.

California reassesses statewide developer fees every two years, and recently increased the levy from $3.48 to $3.79 per square foot of new residential construction. The assessment also applies to homeowner additions of more than 500 square feet. Before imposing the fee, individual school districts are required to demonstrate the need for the funding by studying projected localized growth, higher student enrollment and its attendant costs to the district, in terms of facilities and administration.

In OUSD’s case, the justification study performed by Cooperative Strategies of Irvine found that projected elementary school enrollment -- declining -- was well within existing capacity, but high school enrollment would exceed it.  Although student numbers are going down in the short term, the district is expected to grow by some 1,251 single-family units and 3,253 multi-family dwellings through 2027.  That translates, using “student generation factors” calculated by Cooperative strategies, into 1,614 additional pupils.

The cost to keep up
Cooperative Strategies calculated the cost of the resources needed to accommodate the additional students to be $5.96 per sq. ft. for single family units and $13.31 per sq. ft. for multi-family attached housing (apartments, condos, townhomes).  Because the cost exceeds the state levied $3.79 per sq. ft., OUSD is justified to take advantage of the increased California school fees.

Orange Unified plans to use those funds to make required ADA improvements and other upgrades to Fred Kelly Stadium.  It is allowed to do so, according to the district, because the stadium is a resource used by students.  It is, in fact, a resource currently used by all four high schools in the district.  Most high schools in other districts have their own dedicated stadiums.  

In 2010, the federal Department of Education Office for Civil Rights (OCR) told OUSD it had to install ramps, handrails, parking, water fountains and restroom facilities to make the stadium ADA-compliant.  

The district’s deadline to make those improvements has since been extended twice because funding is scarce.  OUSD has provided accessible parking and loading zones and improved ADA access; however, it has not yet achieved compliance with all of OCR’s mandates.  In addition, the 49-year old stadium needs new restrooms, plumbing, electric power, visitor facilities and bleachers.  The Fred Kelly renovation is expected to cost at least $21 million.

How much is too much?
Several OUSD board members were, however, reluctant to impose yet another tax on their constituents.  Rick Ledesma noted that the district just passed the school bond and that “based on principle, should not be adding another fee.  Our community needs a break.”

Brenda Lebsack asked if the district had approached any major donors (the Ducks, the Angels, Disneyland) as an alternate funding source, noting the Angels’ past support of field improvements at Orange High School.  That, she was told, was a special program, wherein OHS was selected among many competing high schools.

“It’s not so much a tax, as a school investment,” Tim Surridge advised.  “The community is responsible to support public schools.  Our needs are greater than our resources.  I don’t want to put us at a disadvantage.”

The vote to accept the higher fees was 5-2, with Lebsack and Ledesma opposed.

State-recommended fees apply to OUSD