SMUSD Wants Public’s Advice on Fixing Facilities, Paying the Tab

The San Marino Unified School District would like your input as it works toward making a decision on its facilities needs and how to satisfy them.
On top of a town hall meeting held on Monday evening and another this morning, district officials also plan to host two walk-throughs at Valentine Elementary School on Thursday, Nov. 2, beginning at 9 a.m. and 10 a.m., respectively. Additionally, residents are invited to offer their views at the district’s website, using a portal called Thoughtexchange.
At that portal, viewers are treated to an introductory video from Superintendent Jeff Wilson and are then asked to weigh in, using around 300 words on various questions. The first question tasks reviewers with sharing their thoughts on a potential bond to help fund facilities projects.
“The beauty of this is that it gives everyone the opportunity to put their thoughts out there and see how everybody else is thinking,” Wilson said Tuesday morning, noting that more than 100 answers have been submitted and have been interacted with more than 3,200 times.
At Monday evening’s town hall at San Marino High School, officials outlined what they hoped to achieve through the community outreach and acknowledged the importance of school quality when families determine where they live.
“Why do people come to the community?” Wilson asked on Monday. “There are lots of reasons, but one of the main reasons that people come to a community is the quality of schools. We’re considered the gold standard by neighboring districts. I can tell you that firsthand. I was in a neighboring district” —Arcadia Unified School District — “and we looked to the west.”
Attention was also drawn to the district-appointed Facilities Advisory Committee, which recently outlined a total project list that included estimated costs and prioritization. Deferred maintenance of existing infrastructure and utilities received generally high priority on that list. The combined cost of the possible projects is $210 million, though the district awaits residents’ opinions before calculating what total, if any, voters might support.
Jeanie Caldwell, chair of the committee, acknowledged that prior bond issues for the district in 1996 and 2000 were easier causes to advance because of the physical state of some of the campuses. SMUSD’s main facilities were constructed between 1917 and 1953, she pointed out on Monday.
“This was a much easier sell from a community standpoint,” she said. “This place very clearly needed some work. The good news is that the district has done a good job of maintaining the work done years ago, but that makes it harder for people to understand what’s in the walls, what’s inside and what might need to be done.”
Caldwell also acknowledged past issues with that bond, the most pronounced of which was that project delays meant that costs ultimately exceeded the projections, and therefore the bond amount. (The district continues to pay off those bonds.)
“Our $210 million number includes assumptions of time,” Caldwell said Monday.
Residents can view the Facilities Advisory Committee presentation on the district’s website at smusd.us, where they can also find links to Thoughtexchange and keep up with scheduled public events.

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