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$15B state bond creates Catch-22 for local schools

Manteca Unified voters will face a Catch-22 when it comes to school bonds on the March 3 ballot.

The California Legislature has placed a $15 billion statewide bond measure on the ballot for school construction funding that comes with a number of strings attached. One of them is no district — except for those in extremely poor areas — will qualify for any of the bond money designed for health, safety and modernization projects unless they provide local matching funds.

That means without passage of the $260 million MUSD bond, should the board go ahead when they meet tonight to place it on the March 3 ballot, Manteca Unified will not qualify for state funds. That, however, is not the real Catch-22.

Rarely have statewide school bonds not passed. That means Manteca Unified taxpayers voting against the local bond will more than likely be stuck helping repay a bond that they will see not benefit from. That might be frustrating, but that still isn’t the Catch-22.

Passage of the $15 billion state bond also includes authorizing 12 significant courses of action including watering down school districts’ ability to charge per square footage fees on new housing to help pay for school facilities needed due to growth.

Under Assembly Bill 48 that created the state bond measure, passage by the voters eliminates all developer fees on multi-family housing projects located within a half mile of a major transit stop — a rail or bus service with service 15  minutes or less during peak morning and afternoon commute periods. It also lowers by 20 percent the fee that can be charged on all multiple family housing units at the time a building permit is issued in a bid to boost affordable housing at the expense of school facility funding. The fee reduction would remain in effect until Jan. 1, 2026.

Passage would curb a district’s ability to charge higher growth fees if developers opt not to establish Mello-Roos districts to help pay for school facilities. It also would make it impossible to charge the highest possible fee to accommodate growth until at Jan. 1, 2028 even if a district has absolutely no money to build classroom space to handle more students generated from new housing.

The ballot language effectively dilutes an agreement reached in 1997 that ended years of California going without a statewide bond for schools and allowed a bond vote in 1998. Senate Bill 50 essentially eliminated a local school district’s ability to go on record officially against a proposed housing project based on inadequate funding for facilities to accommodate growth. That ability went away with the three tiers of growth fees now in place.

Years before that lawmakers took away the ability of districts such as Manteca Unified not to issue what were called “will serve letters”. That meant if such a letter was not issued by a local board developers had to make it clear to potential homebuyers that if they purchase a new home they were selling that the odds were strong there would not be adequate space in local schools for their children. The absence of a “will serve” letter essentially could kill off new housing projects. To avoid that from happening developers were forced to find ways to help house students their proposed projects would generate.

Among the other provisions approval of the state bond measure would put in place is to use new construction and modernization  grants from the $15 billion bond for the purchase of portable electronic devices with a useful life of more than three years.

The Manteca Unified board meets at 7 o’clock tonight at the district office, 2271 West Louise Avenue.

The $260 million MUSD bond measure is designed to address a variety of long-term maintenance issues from aging roofs and electrical systems to heating/air systems to modernizing classrooms for 21st century academic endeavors 

The local bond requires 55 percent of votes cast to be in the affirmative to be approved. It will impose a tax of $60 per $100,000 of assessed value. That means if your home has an assessed value under Proposition 13 of $300,000, you would pay an additional $180 a year in taxes.

The new bond  — if passed —  will tackle just over two-fifths of the $625 million in remaining  safety needs and instructional space for existing students the district that the first two bonds weren’t able to cover. None of the money would go toward building new classroom space to accommodate growth.

 Of the $625 million needed in today’s dollars, $199 million is needed for safety-related work.

Almost all of that is rollover needs based on the Masters Facilities Plan used as the basis for the successful $159 million Measure M bond that voters approved in 2014. That plan identified $298.1 million in pressing health and safety issues on district campuses. The bond measure was wedded with other funds to provide $170.1 million for the work needed. 

To contact Dennis Wyatt, email