Failing infrastructure, outdated classrooms, and a teacher shortage are only some of the problems Santa Cruz City Schools (SCCS) are hoping to address with two new bond measures this November: Measure K and Measure L. 

While Measure K would raise funds for the local middle and high school district, Measure L would raise funds for the elementary school district. The district’s first priority for their new funding would be updating facilities. 

“The only way for us to fix aging roofs, failing infrastructure, electrical, plumbing […] is through bond measures,” said SCCS Superintendent Kris Munro.

Measures K and L would authorize $249 million and $122 million in bond money, which would be financed by a temporary increase in property tax estimated to end in 2056 for K and 2054 for L. SCCS could then use these funds to complete basic repairs, upgrade facilities and infrastructure, and make solar energy improvements to their campuses.. 

While modernizing school facilities, including the removal of hazardous materials at some sites, would be the biggest priority, the measure would also finance technological upgrades and sustainability projects.

“At Santa Cruz High, our electrical system was over 50 years old and couldn’t really power even the buildings that we had, let alone future buildings,” said Chief of Communication & Community Engagement for SCCS Sam Rolens.

Mobile classrooms behind a fence at Branciforte Small School. Photo by Lucy Wald.

The district recently published an update of the August 2016 Facilities Master Plan to the public, which lists all completed, in-progress, and future projects to improve SCCS facilities. Measures K and L would be the next step towards finishing the much-needed upgrades that are under-funded to begin with. 

The original Facilities Master Plan was followed by the passing of Measures A and B in November 2016, which issued bonds for $140 million to middle and high schools, and $68 million to elementary schools. With the funding from A and B, SCCS completed nearly half their initial plan, but it was not enough to address all the issues that schools continue to face. 

According to Thien Hua, principal of DeLaveaga Elementary School, some of the most pressing issues currently facing his school are an aging roof, an inadequate multi-purpose room, and long-outdated classrooms, as well as a lack of air conditioning in one wing of the school. Measures K and L would fund solutions to these issues.

Facilities would be not just repaired, but upgraded. Classrooms previously lined wall-to-wall with chalkboards or stained whiteboards are now being replaced by SMART boards and laptops that students can take home. As modernization continues, students are slowly being integrated into a new era of schooling vastly different from those of other recent alumni.

Maribel Ocaranza, a former student of Harbor High School and now a preschool teacher in the area, reflects on how the district’s resources have changed since her time in SCCS.

“We had the bare minimum. I used to feel lucky, because at least we all had textbooks,” said Ocaranza. “Or, when I was in track, we had to run our laps with flashlights so we wouldn’t run into big mud puddles, since there were no lights in the budget for the field.”

Another issue that Measures K and L seek to tackle? Housing.

In addition to facilities upgrades, the measure would also help fund a new affordable housing development for teachers – something that’s never been attempted before in Santa Cruz. 

According to Munro, the measures would allocate about 5 percent of raised funds, or $19 million, to support the teacher housing crisis. Behind the former site of Natural Bridges Elementary School, 80 work-force apartment units would be constructed for teachers and staff who would live at subsidized rent. The land is already owned by the school, and the project would take up to 5 years to complete. 

According to Superintendent Munro, the housing project would encourage retention for teachers who can’t afford to live in Santa Cruz otherwise, and would potentially open up new units elsewhere for those looking for housing. 

Santa Cruz High School (SCHS) Principal Michelle Poirier emphasized the importance of building new housing.

“Workforce housing is crucial for addressing the economic disparity between the cost of living in Santa Cruz and the relatively low salary of entry-level teachers,” Poirier wrote in an email to City on a Hill Press. “Students deserve a comfortable and attractive learning environment, and SCHS especially can benefit from modernization.” 

Once built, Superintendent Munro said the units would be rented out for “below market [rates]” in partnership with Landed, a company that helps essential professionals buy homes. 

Opponents of Measures K and L worry that funding these repairs by approving a new bond measure would burden taxpayers in the name of uncertain results. Some question if it even makes logical sense to pass a measure that increases funding for public schools at a time when student enrollment is continuing to decline. 

“In my history, sometimes the money doesn’t go to what they say it’s going to,” said Kris Kirby, a business owner in Aptos, who opposed the two measures. 

If both measures were passed, they would cost the average Santa Cruz homeowner an extra $58.37 per $100,000 of their home’s assessed value every year. 

“They need to live within their means,” said Kirby, referring to the district. “They can’t just keep pinning the residents up for more money.” 

A landlord herself, Kirby predicts that landlords will raise rents in response to higher property taxes, therefore affecting not just homeowners, but renters as well.

John Laird, the California state senator representing Santa Cruz County, is one of the many elected officials who has publicly endorsed Measure L. He feels that the return on investment for the measure is much greater than the actual tax increase, making taxpayers’ sacrifice worth it in the long run.

“The state of the facilities really helps with the state of education,” Laird said. “If you can’t access it, or you have really outdated wiring for digital connections, or it’s just not enough to handle the number of students, it’s not a quality education. What’s really at stake here is our investment in the future.”