GOING UP: A construction work scales the structure of a future science and technology building on the Santa Monica High School campus on Wednesday. The project is funded by money raised through Measure BB, a school bond that was approved by voters in 2006. (Photo by Daniel Archuleta)

SMMUSD HDQRTRS — As school district money from one bond measure wanes and another waxes, Ed Board members discussed how best to get some envisioned projects rolling.

Measure ES, passed by voters in the 2012 election, permitted the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District to issue $385 million in bonds. Two years later, some members of the Board of Education want to move faster toward completion of the bond’s goals.

Much of the money is expected to go to safety upgrades and renovation of the century-old Santa Monica High School campus. Money would be set aside for Malibu schools. Some of the money would go toward district-wide technology upgrades, which the board has discussed in recent months.

District consultants recommended a planning process, with the most important piece being the hiring of a bond director, whose primary job would be the oversight of the bond money. The hiring process, they said, could take six months.

“The problem is, sixth months, we lose the rest of the school year, again,” said outgoing Board of Education member Ralph Mechur. “People want to get started talking about the project.”

Some board members expressed a desire to expedite the hiring process, if possible, and begin preliminary work on planning for the bond projects without the director.

“While I understand and I agree that we need all of this, what a scares me is that I don’t feel like there’s any structure for any of it, any timeline, any sense of how we we’ll ever get these things,” Boardmember Laurie Lieberman said. “And I say that partly because you guys (district officials) already have a full plate so I don’t know whether the plan has to be of necessity. We need to wait until there’s a bond director and that person is going to magically be able to conduct all of these things, which will take another six months or another year. I feel anxious about all of this because we passed this bond measure two years ago.”

“We could start some of these processes and have a bond director brought on board who has some different ideas,” Superintendent Sandra Lyon warned in response. “I don’t know if it might be a matter of going slow to fast.”

Lyon also explained that the plans for the bond money were, by necessity, somewhat vague.

“We understand everybody’s sense of urgency around this, but when we did pass the bond, one of the things we did pass it knowingly was in the absence of a real plan and a project list that we were ready to go out and build, which wasn’t ideal,” she said. “We knew it was a good time to pass the bond and we had the technology needs that we knew were out front and those are the things we’ve been addressing first.”

Lieberman was concerned that the plans for implementing the bond money were too esoteric, given that, in her opinion, the district already has semi-formed ideas as to what they’d like to do with the money.

“I look at them and I go: ‘vision,’ what does that mean at this point in the plan?” she said. “We knew certain things when we passed the plan. It wasn’t like, ‘oh let’s throw up a number.’ “We knew there were certain things that we wanted to do.”

The district’s Chief Financial Officer Jan Maez rattled off a series of questions that still need to be answered.

“You put underground parking at Samohi,” she posited. “How much parking do you want on Samohi? How do you want the traffic to interact with the facility? Those are questions that when you go to an architect and tell them ‘this is what we want,’ those are the kinds of things you should know to tell them, and then they design the facility.”

“With all due respect,” Lieberman responded, “I think that’s something they tell us because I don’t think we know how to tell them how traffic should flow.”

“Do we have a process for answering those questions?” Boardmember Jose Escarce asked.

District officials said that this would be one of the jobs of the bond director.

“There is an urgency because we’ve taken too long to get here,” Lieberman said. “We need to find some way of putting timelines to things and get moving. We have to make our schedules. The first thing I would is put together some huge notebook that has all the pieces that exist here and be able to evaluate them.”

Measure BB, a $268 million bond issued to repair and renovate school facilities, was passed in 2006 but work did not start until late 2010.


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