Being the superintendent of Ukiah Unified School District (UUSD) means I get the honor of welcoming high school students onto the graduation stage when, sometimes against all odds, these young men and women have been able to achieve incredible academic success. The less glamorous side of being superintendent involves things like figuring out how to pay for leaky roofs so students can concentrate on their studies.
In 2017, I began working with UUSD employees, local community members, and facilities experts to start a Facilities Master Planning process to identify and prioritize school repair needs and costs. Since five of our six elementary schools were built the 1940s and 50s with some renovations made more than a decade ago, we knew several schools would need quite a bit of work. And, not only do we want to maintain our facilities; ideally, we want to upgrade them.
While we continue to maintain our academic excellence, our students are being educated in school buildings with leaky roofs, deteriorating plumbing and sewer systems and inadequate electrical and ventilation systems. Also, on nearly every campus, several of our portable classrooms have outlived their 20-year lifespan and are still being used on a daily basis to teach students.
We also want to enhance our campuses to make them safer and allow them to enrich more students. School safety improvements could include fencing and updated communications systems, and we’ve had numerous requests from students and parents to provide an all-weather field at Ukiah High School. Based on our research, more than 1,200 students would use the new field daily, taking advantage of year-round, healthy outdoor activities.
In 2017, our facilities assessment discovered more than $70 million in immediate code and maintenance upgrade needs and more than $150 million to enhance our schools with projects like updated science classrooms, artificial turf at Ukiah High School, and a health and wellness center at Yokayo Elementary. (Now, two years later, the estimated cost escalation is nearly 10 percent.) We continually address small problems as they arise and make small campus improvements with our current budget, but we do not have adequate resources to do all the upgrades we’d like to do to encourage 21st-century learning.
The UUSD Board of Trustees is considering placing a school facilities improvement bond measure on the March 3, 2020, ballot. The proposed measure would extend the current tax rate to no more than $60 per $100,000 in assessed home value (not market value) and would generate up to $88 million in locally controlled funding to improve our schools. With this funding, UUSD could be eligible for about $20 million in matching funds from the State.
If passed by voters, strict financial accountability measures would be in place to provide oversight of the funds. All funding would stay local to support Ukiah schools and could never be taken away by the State. Additionally, it could only be used for facilities-related projects (no funds would be used for salaries or pensions, for example). And of course, we’d have a citizens’ oversight committee and independent audits to ensure all funds are spent as required by law and as voters intended.
Ukiah Unified School District is a dynamic and innovative learning community for more than 6,000 students. We are focused on their interests, and we want to have the facilities that cultivate each student’s unique skills and talents. We want our students to have what they need to head off to college and careers and become successful, contributing citizens.