RSF School considers 2018 bond effort, facilities plan update

The Rancho Santa Fe School board has given direction for the district to explore the feasibility of pursuing a potential general obligation bond in 2018. Additionally, the board approved issuing a request for qualifications and proposals for an architectural firm to review and update the district’s facilities master plan.

RSF School District Superintendent David Jaffe said the facilities master plan was last updated in 2015 and since then, a new superintendent has taken over the district, two (soon to be three) new board members have joined the board and the demographics have changed. The process represents an opportunity to engage the community in what the school district’s needs are, Jaffe said.

Board member Sarah Neal voted against both pushing forward on a bond effort as well as starting the revamp of the facilities master plan.

“I think we need to understand our program needs before we analyze our facilities needs,” Neal said. “What I see other school districts doing is starting with a strategic planning process, working to develop the program needs and then the program needs inform the facility needs. And I don’t see that we’ve really undergone that process with our stakeholders.”

Neal said she would like to follow an alternate timeline of first completing program evaluations and strategic planning, then get an architect on board to help with facility needs based on program needs and only then consider a bond if they are unable to find other sources of revenue.

“I think we really need to tie our goals, our facilities needs, within the context of all the priorities of our school,” Neal said. “We have a great facility overall, I think the taxpayers have been very generous and I think we owe it to the community to really delve into program needs before we start to talk about a bond.”

RSF School Board Vice President Tyler Seltzer said he was comfortable with moving the process along to explore the bond potential — he said the questions Neal has fit right into a facilities needs assessment and master plan update.

“I think that it’s reasonable. Reviewing or updating the facilities master plan that we did a couple years ago I think seems responsible,” Seltzer said.

As Jaffe echoed, what the process does is bring the board more information to help make decisions moving forward.

The existing facilities master plan approved in December 2015 details what the district would like to do if it is able to acquire adjacent properties and expand the school site as well as options for a modernized or new gym building. It also includes safety and security upgrades and future program needs such as expanded robotics labs and space for programs like dance and wrestling.

The current plan details the district’s desires to acquire properties along El Fuego to potentially expand parking, add kindergarten through fourth grade fields and hard court play areas, and purchase the remainder of El Fuego and extend it to Mimosa.

Regarding the gym, in January 2016 the board heard a report that without any repairs, the useful life of the existing building is five to 10 years. The building can continue to operate under the code under which it was constructed in 1973, but any revisions to the structure would trigger an accessibility upgrade for it to be in compliance with the Americans with Disability Act (ADA).

Brad Johnson, the district’s chief business officer, said a potential bond could go on the June or November 2018 ballot.

The Rancho Santa Fe School District’s assessed value is approximately $6.3 billion and the 14-year average assessed growth rate is 4.04 percent. Johnson said with a 3.25 percent growth rate, based on a tax rate of $5 per $100,000 in assessed value to $30 per $100,000, the district’s bonding capacity could be anywhere from $6.7 to $44 million based on current assumptions.

The next steps in a bond process would include community outreach like a voter opinion poll and finalizing the scope and priority of projects. For June, the board would have a tight timeline to call for the election by March 2018 and for the November election the board would have to call in August 2018.

“When we look at all of this we really need a lot of community and stakeholder input. That’s going to help us drive looking at our programs, looking at our facilities and having everyone’s collective feedback on how we plan to move forward,” Johnson said. “I will stress that over and over again, that (community input) is probably one of the most important pieces of all of this as we look toward how we could eventually finance some of these upgrades.”

In 2014, the district conducted a survey weighing residents’ opinions on the district going out for a bond on two new gym options. A $19.2 million two-court facility received 29.7 percent support and a $23.5 million three-court facility received 16.9 percent support.

Johnson said the last survey was very specific and if they moved forward in this new effort, another survey would be constructed differently and would be much more comprehensive.

Board member Scott Kahn said he is comfortable with moving forward in gathering more information because he feels that overall there is a lack of information to help guide decisions about future needs like the gym.

With her vote, Neal said she was opposed to just gathering information.

“I believe we need to work together to put a strategic plan together as a district to help establish priorities,” Neal said. “It seems like gathering information doesn’t cost money but it’s costing time and we need to spend that time working together more strategically and collaboratively to set priorities for the overall district, which includes facilities.”

“In my mind, this doesn’t preclude that as well,” Frank said.