‘E’ is everything for Three Rivers School
Measure E would generate $4 mil for K-8 school to do first facility upgrades since the 1990s
By Reggie Ellis
THREE RIVERS – There isn’t much Susan Sherwood won’t do for her school. For the last seven years she has served as superintendent, principal, and eighth grade teacher at Three Rivers Union School District (TRUS). She takes students on field trips into Sequoia National Park, works tirelessly to maintain quality education and still finds time to try and balance an impossible budget.
But before she steps down as superintendent next spring, Sherwood is hoping to do one more thing – leave the school better than she found it by passing a bond measure.
On Nov. 6, Three Rivers voters will consider Measure E, a $4 million bond measure to renovate and repair the school’s aging facilities that house about 130 students as well as 20 teachers and staff. Property owners will be assessed $30 per $100,000 of assessed value per year, generating about $239,000 annually. None of the money can be used for salaries and the measure will also create a citizens oversight committee to ensure that the money is being spent on facilities.
Sherwood said most of the work will be concentrated in the middle school wing of the kindergarten through eighth grade school. The hexagon shaped building will have new flooring, dual pane windows and ceiling to repair cracks and leaks and provide better insulation. All of the wings, including the office, will get wheelchair accessible bathrooms and newer, more energy efficient heating and air conditioning. In addition to classroom and restroom space, the bond will provide funding to drill a new water well and to upgrade aging sewer and water pipes.
“The bond would put us in a pretty good situation,” Sherwood said. “And then we can work to keep it that way. But right now, these buildings really need to be remodeled.”
The bond will also be used as matching funds to quality for state modernization funds. School buildings more than 25 years old qualify for state funding for improvements and repairs. She said all of the plans for the project have previously been approved, but will have to be resubmitted because they expired before the district had enough matching funds to break ground on the projects.
“We were on the approved but unfunded list for several years,” Sherwood said. “Two of these buildings are more than 50 years old and have terrible leaks.”
The board began discussing the bond measure last school year around the time that Sherwood announced she would be stepping down in May. She said the Tulare County Office of Education guided TRUS through the process of a nationwide search for a new superintendent. But the board did not find any suitable candidates to replace Sherwood, who has served as superintendent and principal of the single school district for the last 23 years.
“I’m going to do this for another year and the board will try again in March,” Sherwood said.
If Sherwood passes the bond it may be one of the greatest legacies she can leave the school to which she has dedicated her career. That doesn’t mean it will be an easy sell. Three Rivers voters have denied the two previous school district tax measures. In 2012, the school district attempted to pass Measure I, a $60 increase in property tax per year. The money would have been used to attract and retain qualified teachers, protect academic programs, expand the library and technology resources and maintain facilities. It fell just short, 62%, of the two-thirds vote needed to pass.
In November 2010, 56% voted in favor of Measure V, a $56 property tax increase per year for five years, but fell short of the needed two-thirds vote. The money raised from the parcel tax would have helped the district maintain single grade classrooms at every grade level, continue to provide the arts, music, and sports programs, and provide educational fieldtrips.
Unlike the previous two measures, Sherwood said the district will be seeking a Proposition 39 measure, which only requires 55% of the vote to pass. Californians approved Prop. 39 in November 2000 to lower the threshold for school bond measures from two-thirds to 55%. TRUS hasn’t passed a tax measure since 1985, when 69% of voters approved Measure C, the special tax to build the school’s gymnasium. Now, even the gymnasium is falling into disrepair as the school had to replace the roof three years ago.
“I hope people will support this measure so we can provide the educational environment we want our students to have,” Sherwood said. “It’s been 20 or more years since any classroom improvements have been made.”
The last tax Three Rivers did pass was in June 2005. Measure C was a $26 property tax increase per year that was approved with 71% of the vote. It was nearly identical to a measure which failed just seven months earlier. In November 2004, 61% of voters supported Measure Z but fell just short of the two-thirds vote needed to pass. The estimated $50,000 per year in revenue would have been used to support operations, repairs and renovation of the Three Rivers Memorial District. Measure C is the only measure to pass in Three Rivers voters in the last 20 years.
For Sherwood, Measure E represents a chance to leave the school she loves better than she found it. Sherwood plans to continue teaching eighth grade for a few years before officially retiring.