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Galt Herald

High School District Ends Bond Effort

Mar 28, 2024 10:43AM ● By Matthew Malone
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GALT, CA (MPG) - The Galt Joint Union High School District Board of  Trustees decided not to go to the ballot box for funding this year, after seeing the results of a public opinion survey on education bonds. Galt Joint Union Elementary School District and Arcohe Union School District continue to explore the idea with plans for community outreach.
The three districts collaborated to fund the survey as each considered asking voters to approve bond measures. The poll indicated strong support for the high school and elementary bonds. While a majority of respondents appeared in favor of Arcohe bonds, support fell short of the threshold for passage and the results had a high degree of uncertainty. All three bond measures under consideration would need 55% support to pass.
Consulting firm FM3 conducted the survey and representatives commented on the “unique” cooperation between the three districts. The firm collected responses from a random sample of 500 likely voters in the high school district, including 400 in the elementary district and 56 in Arcohe. Respondents were presented with the measures based on which districts they live in, which the consultants said simulated how voters might react to multiple measures on the November 2024 ballot.
High School Trustees Reject Bonds
According to the survey, 51% of likely voters in the high school district would “probably” or “definitely” vote for a bond measure. An additional 7% were undecided but “leaned yes.”
The margin of error was plus or minus 4.9 percentage points. With the total support of 58%, that left the possibility of falling below the threshold for passage.
When respondents heard a number of statements about how the funding could benefit the district, probable and definite support rose to 59%, plus 6% leaning yes. The greatest increase was among those who would definitely vote yes.
Presenting the results at the high school board of trustees’ March 21 meeting, FM3 Senior Vice-President Lucia Del Del Puppo said, “Overall, it does seem like there’s a path to success for the proposed high school measure, but given that that initial support is within the margin for error for passage, we do recommend a need for community outreach and communications because we do that there is quite a notable impact on voters’ opinions based on that.”
If the board decided to continue exploring a bond measure, Superintendent Lisa Pettis said, staff would propose hiring a company to gather more community input through public outreach. The firm, TeamCivX, had proposed a deal to conduct outreach for all three districts. The final decision to put the bond before voters would have come in June.
The trustees expressed concerns about the likelihood of getting the needed level of support.
“As I look over these survey results, what is clearly obvious … is how much our community cares for our schools, and supports our schools and services that we provide,” Trustee Melissa Neuburger said. “What I also see evident in the survey is that, due to economic uncertainty and everything else we’re hearing about the budget, that our community feels reluctant to incur additional debts and additional expenditures through a bond.”
Trustee Patrick Maple said a bond measure would not pass. He also doubted how beneficial the extra funding would be.
“I’m not going to go out and tell people, ‘Oh, it’ll really improve your value for your property and all that,’ because it won’t,” Maple said.
Ultimately, the board reached consensus to stop considering a bond measure.
If put on the ballot and approved by voters, the initiative would have issued $42 million in bonds to raise $2.9 million annually for the district.
Elementary, Arcohe Still Eyeing Bonds
At the March 20 meeting of the Galt Joint Union Elementary School District board of education, trustees agreed to consider a contract with TeamCivX, the public outreach firm. That contract will be presented at the board’s April meeting. They are not expected to make a final decision on the bonds until June.
Likely voters in the elementary school district showed a higher level of support for bonds, with 58% probably or definitely voting yes, and 5% undecided but leaning yes. The margin of error was plus or minus 4.9 percentage points.
Hearing possible benefits of the funding slightly raised probable and definite support, up to 60% plus 7% leaning yes.
“The results suggest that a ballot initiative could be successful but it has to be accompanied by public outreach,” said Richard Bernard, a partner at FM3.
Trustee Traci Skinner voiced some concerns about what would happen if one or both of the other districts declined the offer, meaning the elementary district would have to bear a larger share of the cost.
“Every district probably goes, ‘Yes, we need the money. We know we do.’ It scares me a little bit to invest and put out that much money without knowing if it’s going to be a big turnout,” Skinner said.
Superintendent Lois Yount said staff could present the contract cost for different numbers of participating districts at the April meeting.
“My hope is that, whatever messaging that we have surrounding this before during and after, that there is a great deal of integrity in that messaging and in the sourcing of information and things like that,” Trustee Annette Kunze said.
If the proposal goes before voters and passes, it would let the district issue $27 million in bonds, raiding $1.9 million per year.
Bernard commented on the districts’ collaboration on the survey.
“I’ve been doing this for 21 years, and it’s been an exceptional and unusual experience for me,” he said, commending the “collegiality and respect” among the districts.
For Arcohe, the survey results were much less certain. The sample size of 56 was quite small and it resulted in a margin of error of plus or minus 13 percentage points. Presented to the board of trustees on March 19, the survey showed 51% support before messaging and 53% support afterward, in both cases below the 55% needed to pass.
Arcohe Superintendent Troy Miller told the Herald that the district has plans to get more feedback, “just to get a sense of where attitudes are with the bond measure.” These include speaking to the district’s parent group on April 2, district staff on April 3, and members of the Herald Store Porch Club over the next few weeks. Input will also be taken at the district’s open house on April 10. Deliberations will continue at the April board meeting.
“The board does not have to make a decision until the end of June to get on the November ballot but it is the intention of the board to gather all the information they can to have a successful campaign, if they decide to move forward,” Miller said.
If the initiative is eventually approved, it will create $5.8 million in bonds, generating $451,000 per year.
FM3 said the survey for all the proposed measures was conducted in January. Respondents could participate over the phone or online in English or Spanish.
The bond survey is not FM3’s first in Galt. In recent years, it conducted opinion polls for the city of Galt to gauge the public’s views on a sales tax for parks and recreation, and on legal cannabis sales. On the sales tax, which ultimately came before voters as Measure Q, FM3 simulated positive and negative messaging, and found about 56% support. The measure passed with close to 53% of the vote.