Behind the bond


For the past 15 years, the MVHS campus has seemed to be constantly under construction: new fields, a new cafeteria, new classrooms and, more recently, a new gym. Modernizing the school costs millions of dollars, but as MVHS approaches its 50-year anniversary in the 2019-20 school year, students and teachers alike find these changes necessary. This year, the school board approved of a $275 million bond for the November ballot that will go towards renovating all five high schools. On Nov. 6, 2018, Cupertino residents will be able to vote on whether or not to pass the bond, known as Measure CC.

According to Jason Heskett, president of the Fremont Education Association (FEA), Measure CC would be the third bond to be passed in the past decade — the first one being passed in 2008 and the second in 2014. Each time, FUHSD is faced with the same dilemma: whether to propose a parcel tax, which would allow for the district to use the money as needed and increase teachers’ salaries, or a bond, which can only fund improving or adding physical structures.

On Sept. 24, every teacher at all five FUHSD schools was greeted by a piece of neon green paper in their mailboxes. Printed on it was a list of one pro and several cons of the bond. This letter was generated by a small group of teachers from Lynbrook HS in response to Measure CC being proposed instead of a parcel tax.

MVHS site president Bonnie Belshe explains that the current parcel tax for FUHSD is $98, which is significantly less than surrounding areas, such as Mountain View, Los Altos or Palo Alto Unified School Districts. She points out that these districts are unified school districts, so they include elementary, middle and high schools in the area. However this doesn’t change the fact that Cupertino’s parcel tax is still considered relatively low.

“Families in our area have the 98 dollars for us and then there’s a different one that’s for the Cupertino district {CUSD},” Belshe said. “But even with those combined, [it is] still much smaller than the other surrounding districts are.”

In an area like Cupertino, where the cost of living towers over the average of the country, some teachers struggle to continue living here with their current salary. The median home cost in Cupertino is $2,370,400, compared to a median home cost of $216,200 in the U.S. Many live far from school in more affordable communities and have to then deal with commuting in a high traffic area. The last parcel tax, which was passed in 2004, not only raised teachers’ salaries, but also helped preserve programs such as band, music and journalism. Heskett explains that funding teachers allows schools to keep these elective programs, as the programs need teacher advisers to run. This parcel tax will expire in 2022 — a prospect that Belshe says would be devastating.

“We need to, in this area, look to what we can to do for helping with staff salaries for teacher retention because it’s so expensive to live here,” Belshe said. “You have probably seen in your four years in MVHS — you’re seeing your favorite teachers leave [at] end of every year and it’s not because they don’t want to be here. It’s [a] very hard decision for teachers, but with difficulty of buying houses, long commutes, we need to have the salary compensation that fits with that.”

To help with the decision, FUHSD hired a surveying company to poll the city in order to measure the likelihood of either a parcel tax or a bond passing. According to Heskett, they received around 60 percent approval for both the bond and parcel tax. However, while passing a bond would require only 55 percent of the vote, passing a parcel tax would require 67 percent because of a California state law.

“The board decided that they weren’t going to go for it because they can’t move the polls three percent, even with a really strong campaign,” Heskett said. “So they said, ‘well we’re not going to be able to get the 67 percent, so why should we spend $150,000 on a campaign?’”

On top of the campaigning costs, the district also pays $130,000 to get a measure on the ballot, according to Heskett. After deliberating and surveying from November 2017 through March 2018, the district decided that attempting to pass a parcel tax would be a waste of money and proposed Measure CC instead.

To promote the bond, MVHS and other FUHSD schools held a precinct walk on Oct. 6. Teachers, administrators and community members walked throughout the district, hanging door hangers at the homes of prospective voters.

Belshe believes a parcel tax would be beneficial for the teachers, but the district just doesn’t have the approval it needs to pass one, and she says Measure CC will ultimately be able to provide benefits for both teachers and students.

“Quite frankly, I’m sitting in this brand new classroom that was built with money from the last bond measure and this is an amazing classroom,” Belshe said. “The new furniture that we have, it’s just … the support that’s built into the classroom, [is] so great and don’t we want other classrooms to look like this and other teachers to have this? And then the opportunities that the kids can get from that [as well].”

Facilities like the heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems, which usually arereplaced every 17 to 20 years according to Belshe, have been in place at MVHS for 20 years, and need replacing. Heskett and Belshe both believe that these changes can improve the learning environment for both students and teachers.

“We want to look into getting another parcel tax, but unrelated to that, we’re in support of the bond measure,” Belshe said.

LHS senior and FUHSD student board representative Indali Bora believes Measure CC and the previous bonds are important in improving campuses. She discusses the ongoing construction at many of the FUHSD schools, including LHS and MVHS, and how it can benefit future students.

“While it is inconvenient for students to a certain extent, I think that considering how old a lot of these schools are, that construction is necessary,” Bora said.

Heskett also notes that the bond can also indirectly help increase teachers’ salaries. The less money the district has to spend on the physical upkeep and maintenance of the campus, the more money will be available for teachers. Acknowledging the few teachers who have concerns about the FEA and FUHSD endorsing Measure CC over a parcel tax, Heskett says that with around 550 teachers in the union, expecting everyone to be happy is unreasonable.

“We’re always going to have some people that don’t agree with going in a certain direction,” Heskett said. “It was a way that group of people could get their voice out and they did.”

Bora believes that, while students may not know what Measure CC is, they will be able to see and experience the effects of it.

“We’re seniors, so we might not be able to benefit from the changes, but it’s for the kids coming in, the future classes,” Bora said. “They’re going to have these updated facilities to learn in … experience high school in.”