EdSource examines the challenges that an urban, low-wealth school district in California faces modernizing its schools. Fresno Unified, the state’s 4th largest district, is struggling to repair aging buildings while student and community needs for air-conditioned lunch rooms, health centers and gymnasiums go unfunded. Fresno Unified ‘s assessed value per student is about a fifth of the statewide average. That puts it at a disadvantage with wealthier districts in floating larger construction bonds that are eligible for matching state funding. Finance and research experts suggest ways to reform the system.

Video written and produced by John Fensterwald, EdSource. Filmed by Elie Khadra and Chris Schodt, edited by Chris Schodt.

Captions in Spanish are available, please click the “CC” icon in the YouTube settings on the lower part of the video box.

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  1. Randall Ceniceros 2 months ago2 months ago

    Modernization and improvement bonds help can older school districts alleviate deferred maintenance projects. Money is spent from general fund that should be used for laptops, text books, band instruments, field trips and playground equipment.

  2. Fred Yeager 2 months ago2 months ago

    Were any of the local school board members interviewed? They make the funding decisions for the district. Not saying there is enough money to go around, but their perspective would be useful to understand how the district sets priorities.

  3. John Johnston 2 months ago2 months ago

    As a starter, move the trash cans away from the tables where you eat–gross. Could also add some color to the trash cans to liven it up a bit

  4. el 3 months ago3 months ago

    This is a good video overview of some of the issues seen from the point of view of Fresno Unified. Would love to have a transcript available and the article might benefit from highlighting some of the key points. Air conditioning is for some reason seen as a luxury in California schools. I'm not sure how kids are supposed to learn complex mathematics or deep critical thinking skills in a sweltering environment. It's ironic that we're … Read More

    This is a good video overview of some of the issues seen from the point of view of Fresno Unified. Would love to have a transcript available and the article might benefit from highlighting some of the key points.

    Air conditioning is for some reason seen as a luxury in California schools. I’m not sure how kids are supposed to learn complex mathematics or deep critical thinking skills in a sweltering environment. It’s ironic that we’re starting to finally add it so the computers we want the kids to use don’t die trying to run in 90F ambient room temperatures.

    The video touches on the issue of upgrading electrical, and I think that should be highlighted further. When our school wanted to add 1-1 computers to ordinary classrooms, the roadblock was not purchasing the devices but having the amps to be able to plug them in – even low power portable devices. Not only did the classrooms not have many plugs, but the raw amps were not available via the campus electrical system. Adding air conditioning was also blocked for many years because of the cost to upgrade the electrical system.

    This cascades because touching the building at all requires upgrades to meet the latest ADA codes, which is not funded by the state. 40+ year old buildings met previous accessibility standards, but today we require bigger bathrooms, different table setups, lesser slope for walkways, etc. This is terrific work…. but it can cost millions all on its own, and it’s ironic that the need to do this work blocks air conditioning that would be essential to any medically fragile student and should itself be considered part of accessibility, or that it would block electrical work.

    I’d like to see the state flat out fund all those grandfather requirements, and fund some level of updating for every school building as we create new obligations for school systems.

    The plumbing shown in the video is key as well – no one should expect that 40-50 year old plumbing is not going to have leaks. It’s in the interest of all Californians to do these upgrades to save precious water supplies. Even small schools could be losing enormous amounts of water.

    The match requirement absolutely benefits districts who have full time staff to write the grants and who have a large property tax base per student. It’s not just a matter of what you can raise, but also cash flow. When a school district raises money via a bond, that money must be spent as quickly as possible, within 3-5 years IIRC. The “matching” funds from the state are never guaranteed and they might not come for 5 years in the best case scenario. The project has to be planned and executed before you even know if the state will contribute money, let alone how much. You have to be able to raise enough to cover at least all the code compliance issues in a single project before you can get to other issues you might want to address, like leaky pipes, larger spaces, repaving blacktop, and the like. The matching funds are wonderful but getting them to districts sooner would make the money go much further.

    Replies

    • John Fensterwald 3 months ago3 months ago

      Thanks for your insights, el.
      I’ll work on getting a transcript.