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Santa Maria Sun / News

The following article was posted on November 23rd, 2022, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 23, Issue 39 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [santamariasun.com] - Volume 23, Issue 39

Guadalupe passed two tax measures to finance the construction of a new school in the community

By TAYLOR O'CONNOR

For a city with 37 percent of its population younger than 18, Guadalupe only has two schools to serve one of its largest demographics

Between the elementary and junior high schools, Guadalupe Union School District Superintendent Emilio Handall said there are a lot of portable classrooms to meet the needs of its students.

“There’s a real crunch with crowding at our schools,” Guadalupe Union School District Superintendent Emilio Handall said. “We have expanding transitional kindergarten requirements from the state. We will be adding a new grade, but we don’t have the classrooms or parking space to have the staff needed to help our students.” 


ALLEVIATIONS
Guadalupe residents passed two property tax measures to help build a new junior high school and make any necessary renovations to the school district’s two schools, one of which is Kermit McKenzie junior high.
PHOTO BY CALEB WISEBLOOD

With 800 students attending Mary Buren Elementary and the city’s new Pasadera housing development steadily growing, Handall said he wouldn’t know where to place new students as the population increases. 

“The need for space to place students at a different site has just become overwhelming, not only overcrowding but the impact on the facilities themselves,” he said. “[They’re] not near disrepair, but certainly updates … need to be done quite soon in order to avoid any large and significant maintenance issues impacting the education of our students.”

The district conducted an interest survey, which found that roughly 80 percent of its registered voters would support new bond measures, pushing the board to place Measures V and W on the Nov. 8 ballot. The additional property taxes will help fund the construction of a new junior high school after initial state allocations fell short and to help with general updates to existing classrooms, he said. 

“Measure V is entirely dedicated to the brand new junior high school; Measure W is also dedicated to the new junior high, but also has flexibility for various modernization projects for anything to update other aspects of our campuses,” Handall said. 

According to Santa Barbara County election data, 70 percent of voters approved Measure V and 68 percent voted for Measure W, passing both measures by meeting the required 55 percent or higher threshold. This will allow the school district to meet the needs of its students, and it signals a positive shift in a city that’s been striving for growth after years of economic downturn, Handall said. 

“As we improve the quality of facilities and quality of education, we will draw more people in and keep not only their children in the city, but also bring in new ideas, new families that will bring a new element of energy to the community,” Handall said. 

This is not the school district’s first attempt to build a new school. About 10 to 15 years ago, before Handall became the superintendent, the school district received around $17 million in state funding to build a new junior high school due to its enrollment levels. However, the district had to tap into that funding to purchase the 18-acre property for the future campus, pay consultants to address state requirements, and keep up with any needed revisions, leaving the district with $14.3 million—not nearly enough to construct a new school during high inflation rates and increased costs for services and materials, he said.

“If we are unable to build, we’d have to return the money to the state. Instead, we had a discussion and decided that we would appeal to the local community to see if they’d be willing to foot the build via two bond measures not only to cover the shortfall, but to generate additional eligibility for [building] modernization dollars,” Handall said. 

Each measure requires residents to pay $30 ($60 total) for every $100,000 of assessed value on their home, he said, and the district can earn up to $17 million total. 

With voter approval of the measures, the school district can get back on track with its plans and begin construction. 

“We’ve already remediated the soil where the new junior high school is going to be built, and now we’re looking at the foundational piece and making sure we have a contractor to do all of those things, and sketch out the timeline on when the structure will be completed,” Handall said. 

This is the third time Guadalupe residents agreed to tax themselves to benefit the community—voters passed a trio of city measures in 2014, and in 2020, another sales tax measure helped the city climb out of an economic deficit that started during the 2008 recession, Guadalupe Mayor Ariston Julian said. 

“Now the people are saying we need to support our public safety and the public school system, [and] that says a lot about our community,” Julian said. 

Adding another school will take the stress off existing schools, and it signals potential for a positive economic shift for the city, he said. 

“It’ll bring in more jobs with three schools. You’ll have educational [staff] and additional staffing in terms of janitors [and] bus drivers. It brings in a whole slew of resource needs,” Julian said. “Bringing in the school, you’ll need to bring in the businesses that support schools; it’s a triggering event that will really help the whole community.” 

The new school will also include a new full-size gym, which can be used for school and community-based recreation and sports programs, he added. 

“We don’t have a full community gym. When you have basketball programs, volleyball programs, or graduations, it’s always in a different place,” he said. “With the new space, we can have additional programs like ESL [English as a Second Language], or a citizenship program. It just increases the resources available to the community.” 

Guadalupe Business Association President Garret Matsuura said a new junior high will also increase property value and community collaboration opportunities as well. 

“[Economic development] isn’t just a stand-alone thing; I stress that idea of ecosystem,” Matsuura said. “The business economy has a lot to do with so many different aspects of the city.”

In the future, the association hopes to form partnerships between the school and the Guadalupe Royal Theater and its visual performing arts center, the Dunes Center, and the Santa Maria Railroad along with other businesses to create after-school arts, apprenticeship, and career learning programs, which could be valuable for junior high schoolers, he said. 

Once students hit high school, they leave Guadalupe, and Matsuura said he hopes these opportunities will plant seeds in the young minds that there are opportunities to grow in Guadalupe and it’s a city to live in and help flourish. 

“Guadalupe is small but it’s mighty. It went through some issues historically, but it’s been around since the 1800s. There’s been ups and there’s been downs, [but] it’s been wonderful to see the community come together and say, ‘You know what, it’s going to cost us a little bit but we’re investing in our future,’’’ he said. “It’s nice to be a little part of that growth and synergy of the community.”

Staff Writer Taylor O’Connor can be reached at toconnor@santamariasun.com.










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