by Joanna Metheny
Voting day is just under two weeks away on Tuesday, November 6th. On the ballot this year is Measure I, which has quickly become a hot-button topic in town with heated debate on both sides of the board. Online conversation about the measure has included plenty of information and opinion, and here we will try to clarify the facts.
Measure I, placed on the ballot by the Ripon Unified School District Board of Directors, is a proposed Ripon school bond that would issue $38,500,000 to the Ripon Unified School District. The bond funds would be repaid with an increase on Ripon residents’ annual property taxes, over a period of roughly 40 years, for a total payback of $88,000,000. There are strict parameters as to what the bond funds may be used for, and Measure I funds would go towards:
- Replacing portable classrooms with permanent construction at both Ripon El and Ripona
- Renovating old bathrooms and replacing roofs at Ripon El
- Modernizing the HVAC system and replacing roofs at Ripona
- Building a new science lab at Ripon High School
- Acquiring new land
The tax levied on Ripon homeowners would be approximately $36 per $100,000 assessed (not market) value of the property, with an annual property tax increase of roughly $140 on a home assessed at $400,000. There would be no direct financial effect on non-owner residents. As of Prop 39’s passage in 2000, school bond measures require a 55% majority to pass, whereas prior to 2000, they required a 66% majority. According to sample ballot literature, passage of the bond would render it eligible for matching state funds, but clearly states there is no guarantee for such a match.
The argument for Measure I
Ripon public schools consistently rank higher than surrounding area schools in our county, as well as in the state. Many of our residents move here because of our great schools, and in 2016, Ripon High was ranked by US News and World Reports as in the top 10% of high schools in the entire nation. The current classroom situation for many students at both Ripon El and Ripona is far from ideal, where some are learning in rooms lacking proper air conditioning in the hotter months or heating in the winter. During our recent downpour earlier this month, portable classrooms still in use twice as long as their estimated life span, had roofs that could not withstand the rain. Some of the facilities, wiring, bathrooms, and playground surfaces at both elementary schools have not been updated since they were first built 50 years ago. Literature from proponents of the measure argue that our students not only deserve a better learning environment, but that having one would lead to more college readiness and better paying jobs post-graduation.
The argument against Measure I
We spoke with Mark Stotzer, a Ripon homeowner, and one of Measure I’s most vocal opponents. He brought to light a number of points in regards the proposition:
- Prop 13 capped the annual property tax increase to no more than 1% of a home’s assessed value. Prop 39 overrides prop 13, and allows school bond measures to be added onto property taxes, which can then climb much higher than the 1% limit with only a 55% voter approval.
- The bond repayment fees, levied exclusively on Ripon homeowners, will remove $50,000,000 from our community in interest alone. Stotzer argues this money would be far better spent in the local community, in our businesses, and on our children, rather than in the pockets of investors and big banks.
- Paying more than double what the district actually receives is not a fiscally wise method of funding the upgrades listed under Measure I
- He posits the current condition of school facilities has been due primarily to neglect over the years, and should have been largely preventable with proper planning.
In addition, many Riponites would not be receiving a direct benefit from the measure, but would still be responsible for financing it. These groups include residents of Bethany Home, other seniors, families who attend Ripon Christian, other surrounding area schools, and the large homeschooling population.
Upon further review of the Measure I rundown in the sample ballot, the fine print under the Bond Project List section clearly states:
The District may alter the scope and nature of any of the specific projects that are described below as required by conditions that arise over time. The itemization of projects [listed in the measure] does not guarantee all such projects will be undertaken. The ability of the District to undertake and complete the listed projects is subject to the adequacy and availability of sufficient funding sources”.
This begs the question, if the community passes Measure I, and decides Ripon homeowners should be responsible for paying $88,000,000 over the next 40 years, will the proposed line items actually be completed?
Due to comment disabling in the Yes on Measure I Facebook group, and lack of response to our questions of the proponents of the measure, several of questions about Measure I remain unanswered.
- Will Manteca homeowners who attend in the Ripon district share responsibility for repaying the bonds?
- What is the lifespan of the proposed improvements covered by Measure I, and are the improvements expected to outlast the 40 year repayment period?
- Will another school bond be proposed in upcoming years to cover additional required maintenance, or does the district have a plan to fund future necessary upgrades?
- If Measure I is the only way to fund these upgrades, how will future upgrades be addressed?
- Have all other funding options (Mello Roos, sales tax, lottery proceeds, fundraisers, etc.) been exhausted?
There is likely very little debate in town about whether or not these facility upgrades are necessary or important, and likely everyone agrees our kids should be able to learn in a safe and modernized environment. The question remains, is Measure I the best way to support our entire community? What do you think? Comment below.
(You can get yard signs and find other information on each side on their Facebook pages.
About the author: For nearly a decade, Joanna Metheny has been a freelance writer specialized in the coverage of local topics and community interest stories. A Central Valley transplant and Bay Area native, Joanna permanently relocated to Ripon and hasn’t looked back once. She loves the city’s proud agricultural history and small town feel. Joanna enjoys spending her time in the community, tending her garden, and discovering local secrets along Ripon’s backroads.