On November 8, Banning Unified School District voters will have the opportunity to decide whether we should continue work to improve our schools now or wait to make improvements later. Measure M, if approved, would reauthorize $25.5 million of Measure R bonds – approved in 2006 – enabling the District to continue much-needed improvements and construction at local schools.
In November 2006, voters passed Measure R, which authorized the District to issue $63 million in general obligation (G.O.) bonds. So far, $37.5 million of the bonds have been issued. Funds have been used on projects such as renovations of the Nicolet Middle School science building and Hoffer and Hemmerling Elementary schools, and the construction of a two-story classroom addition and athletic complex at Banning High School. While extensive progress has been made, there is still work to be done.
Measure M will not increase the District’s overall debt. A bond reauthorization is a request to sell bonds that were previously approved by voters but that are currently out of reach due to state-mandated restrictions related to the District’s total assessed valuation. In this case, the recent economic recession resulted in dramatic unexpected drops in local property values that have delayed the District’s ability to issue the remaining Measure R bonds. Approval of Measure M would free up these bonds, allowing the District to access funds to continue school improvement projects now. It would also make the District eligible to receive matching funds from the State and allow it to shorten the term of the bonds, which would save taxpayers an estimated $16.7 million thanks to lower borrowing costs.
The improvement projects at schools and in classrooms throughout the District that Measure M would allow to continue now include the following: (1) making safety enhancements at Banning High School to ensure a safe and secure place to learn, (2) constructing a performing arts building to accommodate student and community performances and providing career pathways for performing and production managerial arts, and (3) expanding career and technical education facilities at our high school to accommodate programs for architecture, engineering and construction.
If Measure M fails to receive 55 percent of voters’ support, improvement projects throughout Banning Unified School District will be placed on hold until Measure R funds can be accessed as local property values continue their gradual recovery. This postponement could last 10 years or more and result in higher costs for taxpayers due to increased construction expenses and potentially higher interest rates.
Taxpayers are responsible for repaying bonds. If Measure M is approved, the average tax rate is estimated to be $38.72 per $100,000 of assessed valuation per year or $3.23 per month. As new construction of businesses and dwelling units are built, the length of repayment will be reduced.
Banning Unified School District is committed to the responsible use of taxpayer funds. The District has sought to reduce the burden on taxpayers as much as possible while still providing the necessary improvements to our local schools. Since 2014, the District has saved our taxpayers more than $8.4 million through refinancing Measure R bonds. All Measure M expenditures will be reviewed and audited by an independent Citizens’ Oversight Committee to ensure they are used responsibly.
Voters of Banning Unified School District have already agreed to fund the improvements that our schools need, but on November 8, you will decide whether to move forward with these improvements now, without increasing debt, or delaying them.
Robert T. Guillen is Superintendent of the Banning Unified School District.