A recent letter to the editor by Mr. Stephen Petzold (Aug. 23) made several assertions about Saugus Union School District facilities bonds that were misleading. Our community deserves accuracy and transparency when discussing how educational leaders are prudently managing tax dollars. I feel compelled to set the record straight for Saugus.
Tax money, provided for school facilities, from state and local sources is allocated for specific purposes according to specific criteria. The district’s general fund is used for basic operations. It is impossible to save enough dollars in our operating budget to support the high cost of school facilities construction, improvements, or renovations. State and local school bonds are the only means for school districts to build or improve classrooms and infrastructure.
SUSD facilities bonds can only be used for designated projects.
The 15 schools in our district are well-maintained through strong fiscal management. Most recently Measure E (2002) and Measure EE (2014) allowed the district to improve its aging buildings to make them leaders in air quality, lighting, indoor classroom space use, outdoor space use and safety.
Mr. Petzold asserts that the district is “used to having a lot of bond money available.” Yes, SUSD is blessed to have community support for its facilities bonds. However, those funds must be expended on the projects listed in the bond language approved by the voters. That language is not open to reinterpretation by the board of education or district staff and funds cannot be used at the whim of the district, as was implied (www.saugususd.org/accnt_533114/site_533115/Documents/Full-Text-of-Ballot-Measure-EE.pdf).
Since 2019, SUSD has been required to provide Universal TK classrooms with restrooms for pre-k students, increase safety features, and seismic improvements so our 50-year-old block/concrete buildings meet current building codes to withstand a large magnitude earthquake. Language in Measure E and Measure EE did not foresee these new demands. Responsible fiscal management means the district should not divert funds from existing bonds for these new needs. New funding sources will be needed to continue this work.
Maintaining quality education was the key criterion used by the Citizens Oversight Committee to restore Bouquet Canyon while upgrading Rosedell Elementary
Mr. Petzold claims that bond funds were used for “vanity projects” rather than to meet the requirements of the listed Measure EE projects. Specifically, he argues that the district inappropriately used bond funds on capital projects for Bouquet Canyon Elementary School (i.e., modernization, repair, etc.). That is not the case.
Measure EE earmarked funds to remove aging portables and replace them with permanent classroom structures. In 2020, SUSD adopted a set of guiding principles for temporary housing. How SUSD handled Rosedell Elementary School renovation (a new building with eight classrooms and a science lab) was a good example of these guiding principles at work.
Most school districts maintain classrooms during construction by using temporary portables. They also cut playground space and add fencing for student safety during construction. This creates generally poor learning conditions while buildings are being built. Once the building is done, the temporary buildings are removed and damage to the school grounds is repaired. The funds expended for this temporary process do not provide lasting improvements for the school facility. In SUSD we chose a different method. SUSD decided to rehabilitate an existing campus, providing a better school experience and lasting improvements.
A Citizen’s Oversight Committee of community leaders monitors the district’s efforts to spend bond funds wisely. They meet regularly to review progress reports to ensure that SUSD meets specific criteria outlined by law and the requirements of the bond language. Their advisory role is to make sure we spend money responsibly and efficiently despite escalating costs, so the bond dollars are maximized over the shortest period of time (www.saugususd.org/Measure-EE).
The oversight committee is where members of our community have a strong voice in the implementation and management of a bond. SUSD regularly seeks members for this volunteer committee and regularly requests Mr. Petzold to become a member because of his passion for effective community bond implementation and management. Unfortunately, he declines each time, but we will continue to ask.
The committee asked the district to consider using other funds for the rehabilitation of Bouquet School as temporary housing for Rosedell so there was no confusion over spending bond dollars on this site. Only a small amount of Measure EE was used ($112,817), while roughly $1.3 million came from other district resources (Fund 40) for projects completed since 2020 to open Rosedell North last year.
This is an excellent example of how strong community oversight works and why the committee is such an important part of any bond project
The letter also implies that “serious” decisions were not being made by the district regarding whether Santa Clarita Elementary School should be demolished before undergoing upgrades to meet new seismic safety standards. This is completely inaccurate. The SUSD governing board and district leadership are responsibly examining seismic needs at Santa Clarita as well as five other schools (Skyblue Mesa, CedarCreek, Rosedell, Rio Vista and Emblem Academy).
Seismic safety is a crucial priority.
On March 3, the governing board held a study session to discuss the specific needs of Santa Clarita Elementary. We are working with architects and structural engineers on the specific needs of the other five school sites. All of these school structures are safe for use now. Bringing them to current seismic codes will only make these buildings better for the community. Measure EE funds were not approved to specifically address the level of seismic upgrades needed for these six schools. It would be fiscally irresponsible to redirect funds now.
SUSD is maximizing the impact of bond funds.
Finally, Mr. Petzold’s letter asserts, “Let us hope that they spend remaining bond funds to benefit the students and the stakeholders in the district.” To imply SUSD is not being fiscally responsible is false.
SUSD has spent all of the funds in Measure E and Measure EE to benefit students. Since 2018-19 SUSD has committed approximately $110 million of the Measure EE funds to improve all of its campuses. The myriad projects can be seen on our Measure EE website. The district has also leveraged community facilities district and general maintenance funding to ensure that Measure EE dollars are stretched to get the most impact for each taxpayer dollar approved.
For example, Plum Canyon Elementary received a new eight-classroom building and science lab along with safety renovations, painting, and new play structures, lighting, AC and ventilation units, and flooring to make the school a vibrant learning space for the next 30 years.
The remaining bond funds are planned to provide new classroom buildings at Helmers and Foster elementary schools, a new science lab at Cedar Creek, a new science lab and interior classroom walls at Highlands, remodeled science lab/classrooms at the remainder of the schools, refined single point of entry for all school office buildings, and improved outdoor areas including walking tracks, environmental learning spaces, shade structures, etc.
Keeping faith with the Saugus community
The governing board, Citizen’s Oversight Committee, superintendent and leadership team appreciate that our community trusts us to spend funds prudently and in compliance with community priorities.
As part of the Superintendent’s Goals for 2022-25, we will continue to examine facilities needs and fully include the community in discussing solutions and funding options to meet those needs.
We all share a mutual interest in keeping Saugus a dynamic community. Together, we must continue to address the emerging needs of our community as partners in progress.
Superintendent, Saugus Union School District