Watsonville high school

A bond measure on the Nov. 5 ballot would help improve Watsonville High School and other schools in Pajaro Valley Unified School District. (Stephen Baxter — Santa Cruz Local file)

APTOS >> In the Nov. 5 election, voters in Pajaro Valley Unified School District will decide whether to approve $315 million in bonds to help repair and upgrade the district’s 35 schools. 

The schools are in need of $1.25 billion in maintenance, district officials said, including replacement of some portable classrooms installed about 50 years ago. There are more than 400 portable classrooms at Pajaro Valley schools, and many could be replaced with new classrooms if voters approve the bond measure. 

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“Everyone is excited about the possibility of having some upgrades to our facilities,” said Heather Contreras, superintendent of Pajaro Valley Unified School District. Money also could help pay for a long-awaited performing arts center at Pajaro Valley High School.

“That one really rises to the top as something we’d like to do,” Contreras said of the arts center.

The school district serves more than 17,000 students and covers much of South Santa Cruz County and part of Monterey County. 

Who will vote on this measure? 

Voters who live in the boundaries of Pajaro Valley Unified School District will consider the measure on the Nov. 5 ballot. Ballots are expected to be mailed the first week of October. 

The measure needs more than 55% of the vote to be adopted, school district officials said.

Voters adopted a similar $58 million bond measure in Pajaro Valley Unified School District in 2002 and another $150 million bond measure in 2012.

Pajaro Valley Unified School District’s northern boundaries are near the Forest of Nisene Marks State Park and New Brighton State Beach. (Pajaro Valley Unified School District)

What is the Pajaro Valley Unified bond measure?

The measure would allow Pajaro Valley Unified School District to issue up to $315 million in bonds for maintenance and construction projects. Property owners in the school district would pay about $60 per $100,000 of assessed property value annually for roughly 30 years. The measure would raise about $18.3 million annually to pay off the bonds. 

The bond money could be used only on school facilities projects. It could not legally be used for teacher or administrative salaries. The money could be used for:

  • New and refurbished student centers, libraries, gyms, restrooms, playgrounds and classrooms.
  • Repairs and replacement of old windows, roofs, leaky pipes, heating and air conditioning systems and electrical wiring.
  • Upgrades to fences, lights, fire alarms and security systems.
  • Repaved and reconfigured parking lots, bike lanes and walkways. 
  • Landscaping and gardening.
  • Below-market-rate rental housing for teachers and staff.
  • Solar panels and electric-vehicle charging stations.
  • Removal of mold and other hazardous substances.
  • Accessibility upgrades for students with disabilities.
  • Expanded robotics and coding programs.
  • Science lab equipment, kitchenware, electronics, outdoor benches and classroom furniture.

Pajaro Valley Unified’s 35 schools include:

  • Aptos, Watsonville and Pajaro Valley high schools.  
  • Six middle schools.
  • Sixteen elementary schools.
  • Ten alternative education sites, including charter schools and an adult school.

What is the ballot language? 

“With funds that cannot be taken by the State and spent elsewhere, shall Pajaro Valley Unified School District’s measure to renovate classrooms; expand career/technical education programs including robotics and coding; and replace outdated plumbing, leaking pipes and aging electrical wiring be adopted, authorizing $315 million of bonds with levies less than $60 per $100,000 of assessed valuation (raising $18.3 million annually) while outstanding, legal rates, annual audits, independent oversight, eligibility for state matching funds and full public disclosure?” 

What would the Pajaro Valley Unified bond measure do?

If the measure is adopted:

  • The district would issue up to $315 million in bonds. The money would be spent on repairs to aging school infrastructure and on additional upgrades to school facilities. 
  • Property owners in Pajaro Valley School District would pay an annual tax of about $60 per $100,000 of assessed property value for roughly 30 years. Assessed property value usually changes when a property is sold, and it is typically lower than the market value.
  • As required by law, the school district would create a citizens’ oversight committee and complete annual audits of bond expenditures.

What does a “yes” vote mean?

A “yes” vote would authorize an annual property tax within Pajaro Valley Unified School District to fund $315 million in bonds.

What would a “no” vote mean?

A “no” vote would not authorize a new property tax or bond.

Things to consider about the Pajaro Valley Unified bond measure

Consultants hired by the school district found a $1.25 billion maintenance need for the Pajaro Valley schools. The $315 million bond measure would cover only some projects on the district’s wish list, says Heather Contreras, superintendent of the Pajaro Valley Unified School District.

Replacing some of the hundreds of trailer classrooms is a priority. “Many of them have exceeded their useful lives,” Contreras said. “This would modernize it and make it look nice.”

Contreras said it is important for students to have pride in their schools. She’s also hopeful that the measure would help the district secure some below-market-rate housing for teachers and staff.

“Any time we can have a strategy to recruit the best and the brightest of teachers is always going to benefit students,” Contreras said. 

Georgia Acosta, president of the Pajaro Valley Unified School Board, said the bond money is essential to improve school buildings. 

“We don’t receive sufficient funding from the state or otherwise for facilities or maintenance or for improvements,” Acosta said. “Really the only way for us as a school district to do that is to bring it forward in a bond.”

No formal opposition to the bond measure materialized as of late June. The deadline to file arguments for and against the bond measure is Aug. 13.

More information on the Pajaro Valley Unified bond measure

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Jesse Greenspan is a freelance journalist who writes about history, science and the environment. His work has appeared in The New York Times, Scientific American, Audubon and other publications.