Administrators, teachers and most likely students, too, in the Santa Maria-Bonita School District are probably hoping Measure T doesn't get lost or confused with all of the hoopla surrounding Measure P on Election Day.

While proponents and opponents of Measure P -- the voter-driven initiative to ban enhanced oil extraction in Santa Barbara County -- have been going at it for months, Measure T has been discussed in community meetings.

Advocates of the measure have been busy manning phone banks and talking it up trying to build community support. If it is approved, it would be the first time the district has passed a general obligation bond.

Measure T -- proponents emphasize "T" for "Teachers" -- is a $45 million general obligation bond that will modernize all 19 of the district's schools and provide enough to build another campus. While the measure features something for every school -- the project list ranges from improving technology to installing running tracks -- it is aimed at reducing class sizes and handling the steady influx of students the district has experienced over the past decade.

According to the district, its 19 schools are built to handle 11,625 students. This year, enrollment surpassed 16,000, growing by approximately 2,300 students in the past five years.

"It's really all about the kids," said Mike Cordero, chairman of the Yes on Measure T committee. "The overcrowding is just overwhelming for some of the teachers."

The measure would tax property owners $25.21 per $100,000 of assessed value per year. The average assessed value -- not market value -- of a home in Santa Maria is $190,000, meaning the measure would add $48 per year to its property taxes.

Of the $45 million, the district plans to use $25 million to $30 million to buy property and build a new elementary school. The rest -- $15 million to $20 million -- will be used for infrastructure, technological and systems upgrades throughout the district.

The project list has something for every school, said Santa Maria-Bonita spokeswoman Maggie White. 

"It had to be a laundry list, but it is a prioritized laundry list," she said. "We need to make it clear that just because something is on the list doesn't mean it's going to happen. We're taking a wish list and making it realistic. Will each school get something that they need? Absolutely."

The district is building an elementary school on the west side of town using Certificates of Participation and state funding. That campus, unofficially named Aquistapace school, will hold approximately 780 students, and, according to the district, will be at maximum capacity the day it opens.

Not everybody supports the bond measure. Santa Maria-Bonita School District board member Will Smith voted against putting it on the Nov. 4 ballot and said there are other ways to solve the district's overcrowding problem.

"We could alleviate this whole problem by going to track housing," he said.

According to the California Department of Education, year-round track scheduling has the ability to expand student seating capacity by up to one-third, which in the case of the Santa Maria-Bonita district is about 5,000 students. The system also reduces time away from the classroom, which for some students improves learning retention.

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The district phased in year-round track scheduling from 1987 through 2002. All but one of the district's schools were on a year-round schedule until 2004, when construction of Tommie Kunst Junior High, Liberty Elementary and Sanchez Elementary was completed. Taylor Elementary was opened in 2002.

Once the district opened the four new schools, it returned to a traditional schedule.

However, the CDE also said the track system creates logistical problems for teachers, students and parents. It also has the potential to add as many costs as it reduces.

From 1998 to 2004, when the district was on a four-track schedule, the district's daily attendance was 95 percent. Last year, the district's attendance average was 97 percent. Superintendent Phil Alvarado said a 2-percent drop would cost the district approximately $2.5 million annually.

The track system also increases operational costs because schools are open more days. The district also claims extra costs for office and custodial staff, transportation, food service and administration could run as high as $3.5 million.

And not all the costs are financial. Scheduling differences between districts create child care and vacationing difficulties for families with students in high school or other districts.

Cordero said year-round or double sessions wouldn't solve the district's basic problem of a lack of space.

"The way I see it is that’s kicking the can down the road, because eventually that will top out also," he said. "You’re postponing the inevitable."


I cover Santa Barbara County.