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Does TUHSD need $289 million or $440 million?

Corbett Elsen, a finance officer for the Tamalpais Union High School District (TUHSD) proposed a revised School Bond of $289 million. This is down from the $517 million bond that failed to pass in May and the recently revised proposed $440 million bond that did not poll well.

The $289 million represents a - 44% reduction vs the $517 million amount. This is a substantially greater reduction than the - 15% reduction associated with the $444 million proposal.

Corbett Elsen's proposal is a serious attempt to answer voters' concern that the $517 million was way too much spent on a bunch of vanity projects. And, that the proposed $444 million represents an immaterial reduction that would not abate voters' concerns (the lackluster polling results confirmed that).

The situation seems explicit enough. Nevertheless, the TUHSD's Board appears to double down pushing for the $440 million amount.

A quick review of Measure A starting point

In 2022, the District disclosed the need for upgrades costing $393.6 million allocated as shown in the first table below (title highlighted in blue). By May of 2024, because of inflation, the District put Measure A School Bond on the ballot at $517.1 million. I have not seen an updated allocation at the higher amount, so I prorated those upward so they would add up to $517.1 million (second table with title highlighted in green).

For further explanations on the project cost allocation by school site, refer to my earlier article.

Revised project cost allocation by school site

As shown in the tables below, when reducing the overall project costs from $517 million down to $290 million, Redwood's $dollar allocation is reduced by - 46.9%, Tam by - 16.3%, and Archie Williams is increased by + 10.3%.

As shown in the table above, Archie Williams's allocation rose from 9.6% of total project costs ($517 million level) to 20.8% of such costs ($290 million level).

So what should be the revised Measure A level? $290 million or $440 million?

There are a few considerations such as:

  1. As polled the voters are not inclined to pass the $440 million level.
  2. As the Media mentioned there are a lot of other parcel taxes and bond measures crowding out the upcoming November ballot.
  3. The District's Board is inclined to promote the $440 million by educating the voters on how necessary this level is. It states that doing otherwise would s defer necessary upgrades for the next generation.

Putting fiscal ideological debates aside, what do you think would be the probability of a $440 million bond passing vs a $290 million one?

For the District it may be best to put a $290 million bond on the ballot than push through a $440 million one that could fail for a second time.

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The elephant in the room: declining enrollment

The District never addresses this critical issue. And, that is that the District's own projections anticipate a rapid decline in enrollment. I covered this topic in detail in my earlier article.

Just to recall the basics, between the school year 2021 - 2023 and 2029 - 2030 the District's enrollment is expected to decline by - 22.7%. However, Archie Williams is expected to decrease by - 37% vs. - 23% for Redwood and - 16% for Tam.

The rapid contraction in enrollment from 5,070 to 3,920 is projected out only to 2030. In my earlier article I extended such projections out to 2054 by the time the School bond would mature.

To extend the forecast I used very conservative demographic assumptions (detailed in my earlier article). My assumption is associated with a level of enrollment contraction over the 2030 - 2054 period that is less than half as fast as the District's out to 2030 ( - 1.4% per year vs - 3.2% per year, respectively, as shown in the table below).

Concluding this section by the time this School bond would mature in 2054 enrollment may have declined from 5,070 in 2022 to 2,800 by 2054 or by - 48%. And, as mentioned my demographic assumption is conservative. The District's enrollment could decline faster.

The second elephant in the room: declining education standard

The District's graduates college readiness has rapidly declined since the 2018 - 2019 school year. Based on the most recent data from Education Data Partnership over 25% of Redwood and Tam graduates and over 30% of Archie Williams are not college-ready. All these figures were much closer to 15% back in 2018 - 2019 school year.

The ongoing decline in graduates' college readiness has been going on for too long to be explained out by the pandemic alone.

A few suggestions for the THUSD Board



Tam Union High School District