SUHS board moves forward with Bond Measure Q

Tony D'Souza
Siskiyou Union High School District Superintendent Mike Matheson discusses $12,500,000 Bond Measure Q with the board last Wednesday. Matheson takes over as superintendent at a time when the district is looking to place a bond measure before voters for the first time in 40 years.

New superintendent Mike Matheson addressed the Siskiyou Union High School District during its regular meeting last Wednesday afternoon at McCloud High.

Matheson was installed as superintendent on Aug. 1 after serving for four years as principal of Weed High School. He replaces interim superintendent Dick Holmes, who served following the resignation of Doug Squellati earlier this year. 

In an affable, lengthy session, Matheson and the board dealt with a number of issues facing the district, most notably among them $12,500,000 Bond Measure Q, a money raising ballot measure approved on Aug. 8 by Siskiyou County that will be placed on the Nov. 4 election ballot.

District voters will be asked on the November ballot to decide whether or not to support the measure. Should it receive the necessary 55% of the vote to pass, the bond will cost property owners $21.45 per $100,000 of assessed value, which according to board’s Aug. 4 unapproved minutes, “...[will] have the least impact on homeowners”  among the tax rates the bond’s authors had to choose from.  

The language to appear on the ballot will read, “To renovate, repair, replace, acquire, construct and make improvements to school buildings and facilities, and meet fire, health, and safety standards to improve health, safety and education for students, shall the Siskiyou Union High School District issue a maximum of $12,500,000 in bonds, with interest rates within legal limits, with a citizen’s oversight committee, annual audits, and no money for salaries or other routine school operating expenses with all money raised benefiting local students?”

According to documents presented by Matheson to the board, the bond measure is needed to pay for repairs and upgrades to current school’s infrastructure including mold removal, replacement of expensive and antiquated heating systems, and to “Provide technology and telecommunications… to bring our schools into the 21st Century,” among other improvements. The measure will also,”…qualify the District for millions of dollars in state matching funds.”

In describing the figures that went into the writing of Bond Measure Q, George Winkelman, board president, said, “We had a schedule of repairs and an estimate. It went as high as 21 million dollars. We cut a lot out of it to bring it from $21 million to $12.5 million.” Matheson added. “We are spending excessive money on things like heating fuel… We have to fix what is wrong with our buildings.”

As discussed by Matheson and the board, the district’s antiquated heating systems are becoming ever more expensive to operate because of the rising cost of diesel fuel.

Board member John Q. Hines, himself a former district superintendent, described to the assembly what happened the last time the district attempted to get a bond measure passed. “In June of 1968 they promoted a five year bond to buy school buses. It failed. All our barley growers voted against it. All our mill owners voted against it. They couldn’t see what was in it for them. …$12,500,000 in Siskiyou County is a lot of money… We have to be completely honest with our voters about this. All of the money will go toward the improvements...”

To help prepare for the promotion of the bond measure, the district has contracted Jennifer West, a consultant who has helped other districts pass similar bond measures.

When questioned by members of the audience as to the fees the district is paying to West, Matheson explained her necessity. “The state looks to see that you had those consultants,” he said, and Hines added, “The state wants to make sure the [bond measure campaign] was run properly… 80% of recent bond issues have passed. That’s surprising with the state of our economy. It shows that people still want the best for their children.”

In the district’s next steps to support the bond measure, Matheson told the board that a committee of 5-10 members will be established and meet with a bond consultant on Aug. 25 to develop a three-month plan, as well as apply for registration with the state’s Fair Political Practices Commission.

In other business, the board discussed the progression of the district’s modernization project, as well as approved teacher out-of-credential assignments, requests for student transfers, various employee contract renewals, and the creation of assorted new full-time and half-time positions.

One of those positions included full-time program specialists at the Mount Shasta and Weed High Schools to counsel, as Matheson described, “…extremely at risk youth. Students who aren’t meeting the standard… Now they get this sort of monitoring every four to six weeks. These specialists will do intensive work to try and pull those students back in.”

Matheson and the board also discussed money available to the district through Medi-Cal Administrative Activities. Through simple accounting measures enacted by each school’s staff, the district can receive tens of thousands of dollars in state reimbursements that it currently isn’t receiving.  

In a letter submitted to the board dated Aug. 7 concerning his recent appointment, Matheson wrote, “I would like to thank you for your kind words, encouragement, and support as I assume the Siskiyou Union High School District Superintendent position. I am humbled, excited, as well as a bit overwhelmed. I will miss the day to day interaction with the students, parents, and staff of Weed High School, but I look forward to continuing to support your outstanding work from this new and different perspective.”

In added comments to the board, Matheson said with a smile, “As a principal you have boundaries… Now if a flower dies outside the Weed High School, it’s my responsibility… I want to thank you for your patience. There’s going to be a learning curve… I’ve always pursued [service] in small schools, small communities. I recognize those aspects and traditions specific to small communities and I cherish them. The district cannot ever overshadow the traditions. That’s our strength.”

Mount Shasta High School’s expected enrollment this year is 430-460 students, while McCloud High School’s is 5-7. McCloud High School hosted a five day football camp that saw five schools bring 220 players to the facility from the central valley this summer. It also served as a base of operations for 100 firefighters over 16 days toward the end of July working to contain fires around Pondosa and other areas.