One of the cornerstones of my identity as a member of the Folsom City Council is to make sure that the citizens of Folsom can engage on issues important to them. A major issue I want to make sure the citizens of Folsom are aware of is not a matter before the City Council. The issue I am writing about today is a matter of debate actively occurring at the Folsom Cordova Unified Schools District (FCUSD) Board of Directors.
The Board at the school district is currently deciding where to build the next school South of Highway 50 and, for that reason, Folsom voices need to be heard on the matter.
Some background for those who may not be following the issue. In 2007, voters in FCUSD approved Measure M which allowed the school district to sell $750 million in new bonds to build new schools South of Highway 50 in both Folsom and Rancho Cordova. It has long been known that this area, known in the district as School Facility Improvement District (SFID) 3, was going to be a major area for new growth in both communities. We know that is the case and can see new housing projects popping up in our city at a consistent rate.
The problem is the only thing happening faster than houses being built in Folsom is the school district’s spending of Measure M funds. Originally projected to fund up to 30 schools in SFID 3, Measure M funds to date have funded two elementary schools and the School District has stated only enough remains to build up to two more schools.
It is not entirely the fault of the district that $750 million today is not what it was worth in 2007. The cost of everything has been increasing, especially everything needed to build schools. But when elementary schools are being built for around $80 million, and the most recent high school built in Roseville penciled out around $275 million in today’s dollars, why is the next high school being projected to cost approximately $400 million? Do we really need to build something that cost $125 million more, costing us another promised school?
So let’s be clear, it doesn’t seem that it’s just the economy that is causing depleting of funds too quickly. And that is certainly one question to inquire to your School Board members about. Because in the end, they are responsible for approving the allocation of your funds. I want to add that after some discussions with a board member it seems that their own pressure is causing the staff to make changes that will cut costs and projections to a more reasonable level. This is a huge win, but we must continue to demand accountability until it’s finished. We must stay aware and continued to be involved to make sure Folsom gets the high school it will desperately need.
But the truth remains, projections from the district indicate that there is only $545 million of Measure M funds left and one of the two schools must be a high school. Even with all the of the budgetng and cost saving mechanisms available to the district, which they seem to be starting to embrace, any high school will need most of those funds with only enough remaining to likely build one middle school and/or elementary school, which brings us to the debate at hand.
The FCUSD Board is now deciding if they want to build a high school in Folsom or Rancho Cordova. Currently, it seems like the board may be leaning toward Rancho Cordova. The reasoning, Rancho Cordova hasn’t received a new high school in decades and their facilities have aged and been neglected. The district however is already on track to putting a bond on the ballot next year to address the facilities needs of Rancho Cordova.
More importantly, this is going to be a high school for the developments South of Highway 50. In Rancho Cordova, that is 745 homes while in Folsom, that is 2,875 homes and is increasing rapidly. Building a high school in Rancho Cordova now would mean building a school where virtually none of the students in attendance would be from Rancho Cordova.
Instead, the district would be bussing students in from Folsom since that is not only where the majority of new homeowners already are but also where homes are projected to contnue being built at a faster pace than in Rancho Cordova.
In the same board meeting where plans for the next high school were being discussed, the board spent a good amount of time discussing the importance of having schools within the communities that students are in. This is a direct contradiction to what is being proposed for the next high school.
While Rancho Cordova had nearly a full city council present to declare the need for a school in their city, only my colleague, Councilmember Aquino, was able to attend and be the voice for Folsom. You can watch the full meeting and hear her remarks here. The FCUSD board is planning to continue this discussion at another meeting in either late December or early January, so the citizens of Folsom still have time to add their voices calling for a school to be built in our city where the students currently live.
At some point, the school district will have to build a high school in Rancho Cordova and many more schools throughout both cities, and when they come and ask for another bond measure, we will probably be willing to support them. However for now, the district needs to step up and build schools where there is the biggest need and demand for it, here in Folsom.
I encourage all Folsom residents, not just those in Folsom Ranch, to contact their school board representative, which you can indentify using this interactive map, and tell them you want to see the next high school built in Folsom, as was intended. After that, the cities, and the district, and all our constituents can work together to ensure that SFID 3 gets the full funding it needs for all the schools it needs to serve our families in either Rancho Cordova or Folsom.