Potential DUSD bond measure sees survey support

Recent survey of local voters gives Dinuba Unified a look into the level of support for a possible $35 million bond measure next year

Dinuba Unified School District Board of Trustees member Bev Keel-Worrell asks a question during a bond measure presentation at the board meeting Sept. 28, 2023. (Serena Bettis)
Dinuba Unified School District Board of Trustees member Bev Keel-Worrell asks a question during a bond measure presentation at the board meeting Sept. 28, 2023. (Serena Bettis)
Serena Bettis
Published October 3, 2023  • 
2:00 pm

DINUBA – Outside temperatures may be cooling down, but public opinions are warming up to the idea of a bond measure to improve school district facilities. 

A majority of Dinuba residents would likely support a $35 million bond measure if it is brought to the 2024 elections by Dinuba Unified School District (DUSD), according to a survey conducted by opinion research company Fairbank, Maslin, Maullin, Metz & Associates (FM3). The DUSD Board of Trustees heard the results of the survey at its Sept. 28 meeting, but has yet to take official action to place a bond measure on the ballot. 

“We’re seeing that a $35 million bond measure for Dinuba USD is viable for further planning,” FM3 senior vice president Adam Sonenshein said. “I want to be clear about that — we’re saying there’s more work to be done, but you can keep progressing, and you have broad, strong initial support.”

The district is considering a bond measure that could help fund facility repairs, updates or new construction, support vocational and career education programs and improve general school safety elements. The hypothetical measure tested through the bond survey listed a $35 million bond because that is the district’s maximum bond capacity, as determined by a state formula. 

The bond proposed in the survey would levy $2.5 million annually, at a rate of 6 cents per $100 in assessed property value. Based on a variety of questions, the survey found that the bond measure could pass the required 55% voter approval threshold with a margin of error plus or minus 5%, Sonenshein said. 

When presented with a hypothetical ballot question on the bond, 66% of survey respondents said they would vote to approve it, 26% said they would vote against it and 8% were undecided. Approval also remained above the threshold in simulated situations, where information for and against the measure was given to respondents before they were presented with the ballot question a second time.

FM3 surveyed 361 likely voters, 126 of whom were DUSD parents. Sonenshein said the research firm conducted surveys over the phone and online and polled Dinuba residents whose voting history or recent registration acted as an indicator that they will vote in the November 2024 elections.

Alongside positive results from a hypothetical ballot question, Sonenshein said general attitudes in the community about the district’s needs and priorities point to support for a bond measure of this type. 

“We find in any survey or any community, whether this is for a school district or a city … there has to be a sense that that agency needs additional funding, and your voters are telling us that they do perceive that for your district,” Sonenshein said.

He said 77% of respondents agreed that DUSD has great or some need for additional funding, with 16% saying there is little or no need and 7% saying they were unsure. 

In particular, respondents identified classroom quality and student safety as a top priority. Sixty-seven percent of respondents agreed with a statement that said many local school classrooms are rundown and in need of repair and 69% agreed that many classrooms are overcrowded.

Sonenshein said these survey results showed that “voters are recognizing — before we even address the issue of a bond measure — there could be some need here and some benefit to (a measure).” 

Funding priorities

Sonenshein said that part of the purpose behind the survey was to understand what voter’s priorities are as it relates to funding generated by the measure. To gauge that, the survey also asked respondents for their views on what issues they felt were most important for the district to address.

“What do they want to see in the structure of the measure?” Sonenshein said. “Knowing that you as a board and staff and other stakeholders also have a vision for what this measure would be used for, but what’s most important to voters for this measure?”

More than 90% of respondents said that providing clean and safe classrooms and drinking water was extremely or very important, as was ensuring that all bond measure funds are spent locally. A strong majority of respondents also said that having opportunities for music and arts education, updating vocational and career classrooms and labs and increasing special education classrooms was of great importance. 

“Basically everything that we’re suggesting (as) part of this measure … have (been) seen as extremely, very or somewhat important by voters in your district (unanimously),” Sonenshein said. “You’re putting forward — if you do — a measure that’s really addressing high priorities.”

After simulating a situation in which voters received more information about the measure, including the district’s need for funding and what those funds would be used for, 72% of survey respondents said they would support the measure, with 19% against it and 8% still undecided. 

FM3 also simulated what opponents might say about the measure to give the district “a fair and balanced look at what could happen if both of those circumstances come to take place,” Sonenshein said. After hearing opposition information, 61% of respondents said they would still support the bond measure and 24% said they would be against it, with the number of undecided respondents rising to 14%.

With a 5% margin of error, 61% of respondents said they would still support the bond measure after hearing opposition, which keeps the approval rate just above the threshold. Sonenshein said that knowing this can help guide the district with its messaging as the board considers moving forward on the bond measure.

“There’s a number of themes and priorities (identified) and you almost have too many to choose from,” Sonenshein said to the board. “One of the challenges is going to be narrowing that focus a little bit so you’re not coming off as over-promising.”

Board president Ron Froese commented on that aspect of the presentation and said it will be important for the district to talk about the work it has done in building the new Dinuba High School without asking voters for more funding.

“I think one thing that is important that you also underscored is the importance of messaging,” Froese said. “(The message is about) what we’ve done here in the district, (which is) that we’re building a new high school that did not require a bond; but now we have to fill up the other gaps.”

The presentation from FM3 was solely an informational item and the DUSD board took no action on the topic at the meeting; however, the board did approve the district taking out a loan it intends to pay back with funds from a hypothetical future bond.

Serena Bettis
General Assignment Reporter