When Stockton voters read their ballots in November, they will find a Stockton Unified School bond, Measure E.
No need to double take. It's not the same Measure E the district passed in 2012. This Measure E will be a new $114 million bond the district said will pay for "Excellent Electronic Education."
Trustees are floating the bond measure in an effort to upgrade all of the technology in the district. That could mean new computers beyond the 10,000 Google Chromebooks they purchased last month. It could also mean increasing the overall bandwidth - or as Superintendent Steve Lowder analogizes, increasing the diameter of the pipes so that the information superhighway cannot become clogged.
It could mean shifting the district from physical servers to storing all of its data into the cloud.
"We'll be going away from text books and using more e-books," Lowder said, noting that new "Tech books" could be a huge advantage to students. Tech books could allow an eighth-grade student who isn't reading at middle school level to read a science lesson at a fourth-grade level. An English learner could click a button to read the text in Spanish, Lowder said.
"We need technology to help us be smarter and interact with kids," he said.
The question is, will voters support the district borrowing $114 million when the district already services $25 million a year in bond debt? Property owners are currently already taxed $200 per $100,000 assessed value of their homes annually to support Stockton Unified bonds.
Measure E would tack on another $27 per $100,000.
San Joaquin County Taxpayers Association president David Renison said the organization is still forming an opinion as information about the tech bond continues to surface and all questions on the need for such a bond are answered.
What property owners and taxpayers should know, however, is how much they are currently paying toward Stockton Unified bonds and how much debt the district is paying toward bonds voters have already approved.
"I think one question is to find out if some of this technology can be paid for out of the bond authority they already have," Renison said.
Renison offered the property tax bill for a 1,400 square foot, three bedroom, two bath rental home he owns on Patricia Avenue in Stockton, which is valued slightly above $100,000. For this house, Renison paid $1,235.20 in property taxes in 2013. A total of $224.17 on that bill went to pay for voter-approved bonds for Stockton Unified's Measure C, Measure Q, and Measure E.
Measures C (2005) and Q (2008) are a combined $585 million in bonds that have been spent to build new schools and bring massive upgrades to campuses that were old and outdated. With Measure E, Stockton Unified sought voter consent in 2012 to take on $150 million in new bonds and cancel out $150 million of Measure Q bonds that had lost value during the recession.
Lowder said the technology bonds are a different type of investment for tax payers for a couple of reasons. He said the district cannot buy technology upgrades with Measures C, Q or E.
Past construction bonds have been sold and paid off over a 25 to 30 year period, meaning big interest payments over that span. The law does not allow school districts to spend that kind of bond money on technology upgrades because it is bad business to pay interest for 30 years on computers that would be obsolete after five.
With technology bonds, Stockton Unified would sell bonds on a much shorter term loan - like an amortized mortgage - and pay it all back over three to five years.
"This way, we pay much less in interest. We would be able to spend 95 cents on the dollar," Lowder said.
Chief Business Officer Michele Huntoon said Stockton Unified would have no problem servicing the new debt.
Renison said taxpayers should carefully consider the options.
"I believe many district voters will be hesitant to burden themselves with even higher taxes, especially on the heels of the city's Measure A sales tax increase," Renison said.
Lowder said that Stockton students could fall further behind if a technology bond isn't approved. Too many Stockton Unified families have low incomes and don't have - or know how to use - computers.
"We need to level the playing field," Lowder said. "Take an area like San Ramon. They are tech rich there because their parents understand (technology) and have disposable income to purchase it for their homes. Our families don't have that."
District officials also worry that schools will have a hard time taking new Common Core Standards tests that require computers and internet access.
The 2014 Measure E will need a 55 percent majority vote to pass in November.
©2014 The Record (Stockton, Calif.)