NoHum School Board Gets Measure Q Update, Plans for Uncertain Future

The Northern Humboldt Union High School District’s Board of Trustees is still figuring out how to make improvements to Arcata and McKinleyville High schools using bond money and staying within budget.
Measure Q was approved by voters within the NoHum School District in 2010, and authorized the acquisition of $25.8 million through the issuance of general obligation bonds. The bonds will be paid off over a period of approximately 30 years by placing a $19 tax on each $100,000 of assessed property value on owners of residential, agricultural, commercial, and industrial properties within the District (assessed values, unlike market values, are determined by the County). A property worth $100,000 sees a $19 per-year tax, $38 for a $200,000 property, and so on.
Voters were promised upgrades to facilities at Arcata and McKinleyville High schools, including upgrades to emergency response systems, sports fields, libraries/media centers, and vocational classrooms. Also included in the plan was the refurbishing of the Arcata High performing arts center into a bigger and better Fine Arts Facility.
So far each school’s emergency preparedness infrastructure has been upgraded, including new clocks, bells, and phone and PA systems. By the time the 2013-2014 school year begins, gymnasium restrooms at each school will have been brought into ADA compliance, each school’s library/media centers will have been upgraded, and McKinleyville High will have new bleachers. In good news for the district, all projects completed so far have come in under-budget, and this summer’s projects are expected to do the same.
Decision time for the Board arrived when it came to the Fine Arts Facility, which was dicussd at a May 20 meeting. When the District went to sell their bonds, they were only able to get $13 million before bumping up against the $19/$100,000 tax limit promised under Measure Q. Of that initial $13 million, $6 million is left. The problem? The Fine Arts Facility is projected to cost $7.2 million, leaving a shortfall of $1.2 million.
At the study session, the board outlined their options: postpone the construction of the Fine Arts Facility indefinitely, scale back the project to $6 million, or move forward with the expectation that the District will be able to raise the additional $1.2 million when it’s needed.
Ultimately the board agreed to move forward step-by-step with the construction of the facility, with the option to scale back the project still on the table. It was also suggested that they could use money from other district funds, on a short-term basis, to complete the facility. “It is imperative we build it,” said Boardmember Dan Collen. “That’s what we said we would do, and that’s what we should do.”
“The voters approved the expense of these projects to ultimately enhance the experience and education of our students,” said Boardmember Colleen Tostee. “We as a board and District have an obligation to deliver.”
The district also has the option to exceed the $19/$100,000 property tax, up to $30/$100,000, but that’s something most Boardmembers expressed reluctance to do. “(The $19/$100,000) is what was promised to voters, and we’re trying to abide by that,” said Boardmember Mike Pigg.
According to former Superintendent Kenny Richards, who retired earlier this year, this is all following with the original plan. Once the initial projects are complete, property values will presumably have gone up enough to allow more bond sales without going over the $19/$100,000 limit.
Construction on the Fine Arts Facility is scheduled to start in early 2014 and be completed sometime in 2015. As currently designed, it will feature a much larger stage than the old building, with modernized features and lighting, a recording studio, dance performance floor, and an entrance space that can be utilized by the Arts Arcata Institute for gallery work and displays.
Projects on hold for the time being (and until the district can come up with more money) include vocational classroom upgrades, technology upgrades, and upgrades to both school’s PE facilities and sports fields. “I think we can only take it one step at a time,” said Boardmember Dana Silvernale. “I would like to look at our priorities after the completion of the fine arts center.”
Overall, Measure Q marks the first time NoHum has gone out and used bonds for upgrades. This is significant because, like any loan, once the money is received interest starts to accumulate.
Silvernale thinks part of the solution could be the formation of a state-run bank, where interest payments could be recycled back into the General Fund. Such interest payments, totaling over $6 billion annually according to Silvernale, are currently reaped by the state’s banking partner, Bank of America. She thinks making significant improvements to education is “a matter of political will and public pressure”.