The Press–About Measure T

"Use of Measure T funds in Hemet Unified schools detailed"

By Michael Perrault
The Press Enterprise

HEMET - Much of $100 million in Measure T bonds issued so far by the Hemet Unified School District has gone toward building Tahquitz High, improving 40-year-old Hemet High and completing Rancho Viejo Middle School.

That's according to an annual report outlined Thursday by the district's citizens oversight committee, which oversees how Measure T bond revenue is spent.

The committee toured Hemet High, where the first phase of construction will be completed in August. A larger swimming pool will allow for competitions and water polo, and a new weight room, improved locker rooms, a soccer field, roofing and other improvements are under way.

Measure T funding has enabled the progress, but the dismal economy will have an effect on the district's building program, district officials said.

Improvements to Acacia Middle School and construction of two new elementary schools -- Currie Ranch and Page Ranch -- will have to wait, said Richard Beck, assistant superintendent of business services.

"We still have another $49 million in Measure T bonds to be issued, but we can't access it," Beck said.

He explained that the assessed value of property in the district has declined 1.5 percent, and could fall further this year.

Limit on Tax

Voters approved Measure T in 2006 with a limit that property owners would be taxed no more than $60 per $100,000 of assessed value to pay off the bonds.

So, as home values fall, Hemet Unified must refrain from selling the remaining Measure T bonds because doing so would likely push the tax rate over that limit, Beck said.

Hemet Unified is not likely to issue bonds this year or next, and it could be even longer depending on how quickly the economy recovers, district officials said.

The district's school board may have to decide next year whether to borrow tens of millions of dollars to move forward with the Acacia Middle School project and additional Hemet High construction, Beck said.

State budget woes have slowed the Division of State Architecture's ability to approve school construction plans, so Acacia won't be ready for construction until at least next year.

Cost Savings

The slumping economy has helped the district in some ways.

Guy Excell, committee chairman, said the district has implemented cost-saving measures to get as much as it can out of bond money. The measures include negotiating fee reductions for architectural design and construction management services, reusing plans and incorporating water and energy conservation measures.

Hemet Unified saved $14 million from original estimates for the second and third phases of Tahquitz High and for Rancho Viejo Middle School, Excell said.

Because enrollment has slowed down, construction of Currie Ranch and Page Ranch elementary schools can be put on hold and money shuffled to projects with higher priorities, said Tina Koonce, facilities director.

Much of the recent focus has been on improving high schools and tending to safety issues at other schools, Koonce said.

The second and third phases of Tahquitz High, completed with the Measure T money, include a stadium, swimming pool, additional classrooms and nutritional and technology facilities.

"It has plenty of room for the big growth we're anticipating out in the Winchester area and all the way down to French Valley," Beck said.

The nearly $36 million Rancho Viejo Middle School accommodates about 1,500 students and incorporates the latest energy-conservation features, Beck said.

Hemet Unified issued $40 million in Measure T bonds last March and $60 million a year earlier, according to the annual report.

Reach Michael Perrault at 951-763-3464 or mperrault@PE.com