The third and final sale of Measure N bonds by Turlock Unified School District last month resulted in a big win for local taxpayers, saving voters a total of $21 million from original estimates four years ago.
In November 2016, Turlock voters approved Bond Measures N and O with nearly 70 percent in favor of both. While Measure O provided $48 million in general obligation bonds for projects at the city’s three public high schools, Measure N issued $40.8 million for elementary school improvements. Since then, projects prioritized by voters have taken shape throughout the years, including safety and security updates, STEM/CTE facilities and modernization and renovations.
Originally scheduled for the spring of 2021, Aug. 18’s final sale of the last $14.7 million from Measure N came earlier than anticipated thanks to favorable economic conditions. TUSD’s conservative budgeting over the years and strong reserves earned the District a strong credit rating and this, coupled with a competitive sale process, resulted in nearly $3 million less debt service for taxpayers than previously estimated for the final sale.
“When we went out and told the community about how much these bonds would cost over a certain time period, now through diligent sales and conservative estimates we’re actually on track to save $21 million less than we expected to spend for Measure N,” TUSD Assistant Superintendent of Business Services Barney Gordon said. “So that’s $21 million less that the community will be contributing to pay back those bonds.”
According to Matt Kolker of Government Financial Strategies, who presented the bond sale to the Board of Trustees on Tuesday, banks from across the United States bid on the bond sale, from New York and New Jersey to Chicago and Los Angeles. Also of GFS and presenting along with Kolker was Lori Raineri, who explained the bond sale in simple terms: the length of the bonds was shortened, the tax rates were lowered and there is now even more money to invest in additional projects.
Raineri also applauded TUSD for their hands-on approach when it came to the bond sale.
“I have to say if you just visit your schools, you might say Turlock is a fun and warm place. But I will say on the business side, Turlock schools are a serious place. Every document is read, good questions are asked,” she said. “It’s the people in Turlock that pay taxes here and we want to make sure we’re doing our job for the taxpayers. The staff here really pays attention and fully participates in this process and that’s why we get this great result.”
Through Measure N, countless security enhancements have been made across all of Turlock’s elementary school sites: accessibility upgrades, security cameras, perimeter fencing and single point of entry modifications. A majority of campuses have received or are in the process of receiving parking lot improvements, too, as well as new office buildings, improved air conditioning systems, classroom renovations and more.
Improvements like this are vital to student safety, Gordon said, especially at campuses like Turlock Junior High School were pedestrian-involved accidents have become more common in recent years.
“These are projects that maybe won’t go recognized by the public, but for me it’s very important,” Gordon said.
TUSD was hoping to add more state-matched funding through the passage of Proposition 13 in March, but California voters decided against it. Gordon said there was confusion among voters due to the proposition’s numbering, which caused many to associate it with property tax changes. Statewide bonds are crucial for smaller communities like Turlock in providing for improvement projects within schools.
“The reality is, the school bonds that we hope will pass statewide in the future don’t allocate any new, additional taxes. They leverage the existing tax base just like local bonds to finance large projects throughout the state,” Gordon said. “If state bonds were to pass, that’s millions more in matching funds to match our own local bonds. We have two more years’ worth of projects we can do through Measure N and Measure O and are hoping we see a statewide school construction bond pass so we can then get matching funds, or tens of millions of dollars more to do additional improvements.”
Current projects underway through Measure N include a new office and realignment/replacement of some classrooms at Julien; a new parking lot, new preschool/Head Start complex and entire campus renovations at Osborn; parking lot renovations, HVAC replacement and classroom renovations at TJHS; and parking lot upgrades and additional small group instruction spaces at Wakefield. Improvements at Brown and Dutcher have already been completed and included new parking and building renovations.
Measure O has already provided new athletic and culinary facilities at Pitman High School, as well as a new HVAC system, and will soon bring a new pool deck, new cafeteria serving line and a new six-classroom wing to the secondary school. At Turlock High School, a new HVAC system has already been installed and current construction on the new science building and classroom renovations are underway.
“Turlock has a good history of being able to pass bonds. It’s a result of good leadership in the District and conservative finances in the District,” Gordon said. “…There’s a comprehensive list of projects that we hope to be able to go back and tend to once we get state matching dollars.”