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Santa Maria Sun / News

The following article was posted on February 6th, 2013, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 13, Issue 48 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [santamariasun.com] - Volume 13, Issue 48

Santa Maria's got a new school coming

The Santa Maria-Bonita School District moves forward with a COP to fund construction costs

BY CAMILLIA LANHAM

Time constraints and projected enrollment increases pushed the Santa Maria-Bonita school board to begin securing funds for construction of a new school—Aquistapace Elementary—at a special meeting on Jan. 30.

The board voted 4-1, with board member Will Smith dissenting, to adopt a certificate of participation loan for the $25 million construction project. The certificate would accrue more than $13 million in interest for a 20-year loan and $18 million for a 25-year loan. 

Aquistapace needs to be under construction by May or else it loses its Division of School Architecture approval. The certificate process takes about three months and would allow construction to begin by the end of April.

Without division approval, the district could potentially lose the $9.5 million in matching state funding granted to the project.

The time crunch was something Smith pointed out as an issue during the meeting.

“I’m really concerned that this is a rush job to put on the board,” Smith said. “Don’t be forced into something we’re going to regret later.”

Santa Maria Elementary Education Association President Nancy Iarossi and Battles Elementary School Principal Jim Bissin voiced support from Santa Maria-Bonita teachers and administrators for moving forward with the certificate.

Bissin also spoke out in opposition of going back to year-round education. Smith brought up the option at the district’s regular meeting on Jan. 15 as a way of battling enrollment increases faced by the district.

From the late 1980s to 2004, many of the district’s schools were in year-round education programs because of high enrollment numbers. When the district finished building four new schools in 2004, it was able to revert back to a regular school year.

Bissin told board members the year-round education style isn’t effective for students, teachers, or parents.

“We are rapidly reaching a tipping point of too many students,” Bissin said. “We need new school facilities.”

Santa Maria-Bonita Assistant Superintendent Matt Beecher said that even if the Aquistapace project manages to maintain DSA approval, the district still needs to come up with a local match to state funding.

New regulations waiting to be adopted by the State Allocation Board will restrict the length of time a school district has to come up with a local match. For Santa Maria-Bonita, that drop-dead date could be in January 2014. Beecher said the district wouldn’t be able to put a general obligation bond to pay for the school on the election ballot until June 2014, which would be too late.

“That’s why it’s urgent now to move fast,” he said.

The 20-acre space slotted for Aquistapace Elementary School was acquired in 2008, and the DSA approved plans for the project in 2009. Beecher said the project was a concept in 2005, after the district saw a jump in birth rates from an average of 1,800 per year to 2,500 per year.

He said the district saw the effect of that birthrate increase as a jump in kindergarten enrollment in 2009, from 1,500 students to 1,800 or more.

“That push is creeping through one grade level per year,” Beecher said. “It’s currently in fourth grade.”

That increase is projected to continue at the rate of 400 students per year for at least the next four years. Beecher said the average class size among the district’s 15 elementary schools and four junior high schools is 27 students, but the average is 35 students per class in fourth grade and lower.

A big plus from the continued enrollment increases is the extra funding allocated to the school district, said the district’s public information officer, Maggie White. That’s also a reason White said the district isn’t concerned that it’s taking out a certificate of participation.

“The [certificate] would be paid for by the increase in students,” she said.

The new school will have a 650- to 700-student capacity, and it allots space to build an extra classroom unit, which would give Aquistapace room to house another 125 students.

By 2016, the enrollment increase will start hitting the junior high schools. And while June 2014 may be too far out to pass a bond for the Aquistapace project, White said one option is for the district to use that election to try to pass a bond for building a junior high.

“Honestly, as soon as [Aquistapace is] done, it’s like you turn around and look for the next option,” she said.

Contact Staff Writer Camillia Lanham at clanham@santamariasun.com.