For the first time in 24 years, the Goleta Union School District is requesting money through a ballot measure that would, if passed, allocate $80 million for environmentally friendly infrastructure, internet access for students and new learning tools for the 10 elementary schools in its district, including Isla Vista Elementary School.
If the bond, known as Measure M, passes with the support of 55% of voters, voters will pay back the borrowed money through raised taxes, The Fresno Bee reported.
According to the information sheet about Measure M on the Goleta Union School District (GUSD) website, Measure M’s average annual tax rate will be around “$19.31 per $100,000 of assessed valuation,” meaning that properties that Santa Barbara County has valued at and above $100,000 will pay $19.31 per $100,000 of their property value.
Susan Epstein, vice president of the GUSD, said that the ballot is aimed at providing equitable opportunities for students to pursue education in various fields with a focus on science, technology, engineering, art and math (S.T.E.A.M.).
“A major focus of our school district and our school board in recent years has been equity — making sure that all students in our district have equitable access to a high quality education and to an education that focuses on the whole child,” Epstein said.
“We want to make sure that all students are accessing education that includes not just traditional subjects like language arts and math, but also social studies, hands-on science, art, music and physical activity,” she continued. “A big focus of our facility’s master plan that we worked on over the past year has been [on] S.T.E.A.M. instruction.”
Isla Vista Elementary School fifth grade teacher and UC Santa Barbara alumnus Mark Warren said he’s noticed a greater “digital divide” between students during the pandemic — an inequity the district hopes to address through the bond measure.
“I want my students to have these really rich human connections and interactions that they get from school, but I’ve got my students that go home and they’re dialing into their Zoom classes, each day on a telephone, while they’re in the back of a car going somewhere or they’re sharing an iPad with someone,” Warren said.
“By providing everything that we possibly can in the classroom and just making sure that everyone has the same thing in the classroom, that’s part of that democratization,” he continued.
Warren also said new technology and infrastructure is necessary to keep up with a shift in the needs of students over the past couple decades.
“Classroom culture has continued to develop over the last 25 years since I’ve been teaching, from teacher-driven instruction, [which is] kind of one directional, to real student centered and small group centered where the teacher is really more of a facilitator. And so, to facilitate that, we need investments in infrastructure,” Warren said.
Vicki Ben-Yaacov, an I.V. Elementary parent, GUSD board candidate and UCSB alumna, has been an active participant in education outreach programs and, in 2019, created a nonprofit called the Youth Innovation Club to engage children in S.T.E.A.M. education.
“That’s one of the things that S.T.E.A.M. education is –– one way you engage children in this hands-on experiential education program and this project-based approach, so you try to intrigue them, try to get them curious about a subject,” Ben-Yaacov said.
“If you look at your curriculum [and] see how we can integrate [S.T.E.A.M.] and then add that in our S.T.E.A.M. classrooms, then I think that will be the most powerful education that we’re going to give our children.”
Ben-Yaacov has also been an advocate for environmentally conscious practices at GUSD and said the bond will make room for new sustainability initiatives.
“We want to incorporate solar panels, we want to make our school a carbon-neutral place,” Ben-Yaacov said.
One sustainability initiative planned under Measure M is a dishwashing system to replace single-use products when schools are back in person.
In addition, the bond would help the district bring campuses in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act, according to Dana Costello, former Ellwood School PTA president and current member of the Measure M committee.
“It’s not true that every school site has a bathroom or facility point that can be accessible and we want to make that possible. And so that’s another great thing about Measure M — helping to provide the funds to do that,” Costello said.
Currently, there is no organized opposition to the bond on the ballot. However, according to Goleta City Councilmember James Kyriaco, there is worry that voters might pass over the bond.
“I think the biggest obstacle is getting the word out, because there are many important issues on the ballot and I hope [Measure M] doesn’t get lost. The more people learn about the Measure M, the more likely they are to support it,” Kyriaco wrote in an email.
For voters in the school district without elementary-aged children, Warren hopes they realize that the money is an “investment into their community.”
“Everybody benefits from a well-informed citizenry, and that begins with well-informed students, critical-thinking students. That investment is huge and can’t be highlighted enough,” Warren said.