On summer and fall days, when smoke from California wildfires leads to poor air quality, Ravenswood City school district officials have no choice but to expel elementary school students at their home. Unlike neighboring neighborhoods, schools lack ventilation systems capable of filtering and cleaning the air.
It’s one of the reasons the district is seeking to pass a $110 million bond in the June 7 ballot to bring classrooms into the 21st century.
Funds would also be used to replace aging laptops, improve classroom technology, improve school safety and accessibility for students with disabilities, provide sports fields and recreational spaces for after-school programs, create preschool classrooms and replacing aging water pipes and drinking fountains.
“We’ve seen districts around us catch up to the 21st century,” said administrator Jenny Varghese Bloom. “We want our buildings to live up to our upbringing. … As an owner, of course I will invest in that; it’s an investment in our future.”
The 2015 District Facilities Master Plan identified $300 million in facility needs.
The district began construction earlier this year on a $50 million project to bring its middle school facilities at Cesar Chavez Ravenswood Middle School up to modern standards, with air conditioning and flexible workspaces for students. This project, funded with past bond money, is expected to be completed by the end of 2023.
The district’s $26 million Measure H bond measure, passed in 2016, aims to “keep schools warm, safe, and dry” and essentially ensure that roofs don’t collapse. It has also improved school safety; improved technology, computer and science laboratories; increased energy efficiency; and renovated school facilities, primarily at the district college.
Elementary schools in the district still have uneven sidewalks and classrooms that haven’t been renovated since the 1950s, with some 20 to 30 years of useful life, said Will Eger, business manager. Last year, for example, the district had to remove a building that had been condemned by the county health department, he said.
There are other structural issues on elementary school campuses in the district, according to a January district facilities update. At Los Robles-Ronald McNair Academy, the gymnasium is too small to accommodate a basketball game and/or school assembly, Superintendent Gina Sudaria said. Termites have destroyed door frames. Clay pipes at Belle Haven Elementary School had to be replaced on campus. Some classroom walls are so flimsy they can’t support a whiteboard.
Voters passed the $70 million Measure S in 2018 to continue the work of Measure H.
Asked if there might be voter fatigue following the recent passage of two other bond measures, Eger explained that they were small measures and that the district would not had not opted for a bond measure for decades before the H measure in 2016.
The district’s financial outlook has also improved. In April, its credit rating went from stable to positive, according to the rating agency Fitch Ratings.
The school board has yet to determine which elementary school it would begin modernizing if the measure is passed.
Some 71% of respondents to a recent district survey said they would support bail in the amount of $110 million, Eger said.
The argument against the ballot measure said the district doesn’t need more tax funding to build classrooms with declining enrollment. Eger noted that even though enrollment is dwindling at its schools, it welcomes charter schools to its campuses. Spaces, such as multi-purpose rooms, are also used by the community as a whole, for after-school events and programs.
The authors of the opposition pleading for Measure I could not be reached for an interview.
The district is also working with philanthropists and seeking public funding for other projects at its schools, such as outdoor play spaces, Sudaria said. I would focus on interior spaces.
The district hopes to contribute tens of millions of dollars to improve its outdoor spaces, Eger said.
The school district is also partnering with Palo Alto’s Magical Bridge Foundation to build multi-purpose courts, a track, and a walking path on the college site. The association creates and develops outdoor spaces for people of all abilities.
The district will share updates on other partnerships as they are finalized.
For more information on district facilities, go to ravenswoodschools.org.
For more information on the ballot measure, visit smcacre.org.
Mail-in ballots will be mailed out starting Monday, May 9. Read our story for more information on voting in the primary election.