Over the past 20 years, the population in the city of Beaumont has nearly quadrupled. That prompted KVCR listener Mario Gonzalez to ask us: with all of the people moving to Beaumont, what are the plans to build more schools and infrastructure to keep up? In Part 1 of a series, we're looking at Beaumont's plans to build more schools, and the challenges they've been facing. KVCR's Danielle Fox has the story.
Over the past decade, the Inland Empire has experienced massive population growth. Take Riverside County, which has grown about 25 percent in the past two decades. It’s the second-fastest growing county in the state. In the city of Beaumont alone, the population has nearly quadrupled — from 11,000 people in 2000 to 48,000 in 2018.
Beaumont resident Mario Gonzalez moved to Beaumont from Whittier, California almost three years ago. He’s a warehouse manager for Razer USA.
“I decided to move closer to work, so I looked around and I kind of found this little town on the map, Beaumont. And I ended up settling there based on just a few things you know the prices of the homes are really, really affordable,” Gonzalez said.
Another big draw: the schools. Gonzalez has four little kids, with two in elementary school. He and his wife moved to the West Side of Beaumont to be near Tournament Hills Elementary School, which is rated an 8 out of 10 according to California School Ratings. But recently, some families moving in have had to send their kids to a different elementary school because Tournament Hills was at capacity.
“That kind of indicated to me that the population was growing faster than the infrastructure,” Gonzalez said.
In the past two years, nearly 5,000 permits have been issued according to the city’s annual permit records. Gonzalez says as he drives around the city, there’s new developments going up everywhere.
“There’s KB Homes, Pardee Homes, all these huge developers are starting to just buy land and build homes like crazy,” he said. “And what’s going to happen with this huge influx of people?”
That’s what he was wondering when he put his question to The Inland, KVCR Empire News’ community reporting project, where we answer questions about the Inland Empire that have been submitted and voted on by our audience. Gonzalez wanted to know, with all the people moving into the city, and all the development going up, what are the plans to build more schools and infrastructure to keep up?
In part one of this series, we’re looking at Beaumont’s plans to build more schools, and the challenges they’ve been facing.
Plans to build more schools in Beaumont
Beaumont Unified is one of the few school districts in Riverside County that’s seeing rapid growth. Since 2013, the district has grown over 1,600 students, pushing some elementary schools, like Tournament Hills, to capacity. Last school year, the district redrew boundary lines to control some of the overflow. And this year, the district built Starlight Elementary School, the first new school in ten years. But Beaumont Unified Superintendent Terrence Davis said there’s still a lot of work to do with all the projected growth, and said he understands why parents, like Gonzalez, are concerned.
“They’re like what [is the district] doing? I see all these homes coming up all over the place, and if you drive on the 10 or coming from the Redlands Area or you’re coming from the desert area, you see all these homes, like what is happening” he said. “But there is a formula, there is a method, and we definitely are in the works of building additional schools and looking at how we can best use our existing facilities as a resource now.”
Right now, there are only two elementary schools on the west side of the city. Recently, the board of trustees approved a spot on the west side of the 10 freeway to build a kindergarten through eighth grade campus with a capacity of around 900 students. The school is estimated to open in the fall of 2021. There are also plans to build a new high school down the line. Currently 2,800 students attend Beaumont High School. By the 2022-23 school year, that number is projected to hike to 3,500. But building a new high school is going to cost around $200 million, and Davis says the district is about 10 to 15 years out from being able to afford that.
“So this whole notion of building is not let’s just build it. It’s yeah, we know we need it, but how are we going to be able to fund it to be able to do it,” he said.
When it comes to paying to build new schools, Davis says the breakdown of funding varies from district to district. For Beaumont, it tends to be split three ways: fees from the school district general fund, developer fees, and funding from the state. The state provides funding for building new schools through Prop. 51, a California ballot proposition that passed in 2016, which designates $7 billion for K-12 projects.
“The complexity in California for the past several years is the school district has not been receiving the funding from the state,” said Davis. “So that’s what’s kind of stifled school districts in terms of growth.”
Riverside County schools wait for state bond money
Beaumont Unified is still waiting on roughly $13 million reimbursement from the state for the construction of Starlight Elementary School, which cost $36 million. In addition to $13 million in development fees, a local bond has covered the anticipated funding until the state reimbursement is received. So far, the state has allocated about 20 percent of the bond. According to the state Legislative Analyst’s Office, given current staffing at the Office of Public School Construction and other departments that have to process applications, that’s all they’ve been able to allocate. As a result, the backlog of pending facility applications grew to $3.6 billion in April 2018. And that could jump to $5.2 billion by this July as districts add to the list of applications for funding. Many education officials are concerned, like Dr. Judy White, Superintendent of Schools in Riverside County.
“[Districts] were anticipating that the monies would be released earlier and then as they weighed it, and it did not occur, even the money that they had on reserve for the matching funds was not going to be adequate anymore. The cost of just the labor market for building increased over the last few years, so even the money that was set aside was not going to even be adequate for matching,” she said.
At the current pace of allocating state funds, Prop. 51 will be fully exhausted in ten years. The San Francisco Chronicle reports that the last school facilities bond passed in 2006, with the money allocated by 2012.
In a statement, H.D. Palmer, spokesman for Gov. Jerry Brown’s finance department, wrote, “The general approach to processing projects has remained relatively consistent over time and has historically reflected the Office of Public School Construction’s (OPSC) ability and staffing availability to process projects.”
In Riverside County, there are 26 schools in line for money from the state bond.
Superintendent White said, “I’d ask what are their expectations for school districts that find themselves in a growth mode and that may be tapped out of the development fees, and they still don’t have adequate funding to complete projects?”
Responding to concerned education officials, Palmer wrote, “OPSC has also held workshops this year to assist smaller districts that have had challenges in the past in being able to access bond funds. Beaumont may fall into this kind of category.”
Controlling overflow in the meantime
Because of the delay, Superintendent Davis said Beaumont Unified has to be a little creative when it comes to breaking new ground on schools. Since building a new high school is several years down the line, the school board is brainstorming how to utilize existing facilities to temper the student overflow. For example, they’re considering restructuring school grades. So maybe an elementary school also gets sixth grade. And a middle school expands to include ninth grade.
“So it would drop our high school numbers let's just say roughly about 800 to 900 students and then there would be space,” said Davis.
For right now, it’s just on the drawing board. It’s not a long-term solution, but something they’re considering until they can afford a new high school.
“So in terms of the facilities keeping up with the growth, I think what our team has done in terms of looking at options even outside of our district...I’m very optimistic we will find a way,” said Davis.
This is part 1 of a series looking at Beaumont’s plans to build more schools and infrastructure as more people move to the city. In an upcoming segment, we’ll look at how infrastructure is keeping up in the aftermath of a public corruption scandal.
This series was inspired by KVCR listener Mario Gonzalez, who asked our community reporting project, The Inland, a question.
If you have a question about the Inland Empire, ask The Inland. You ask, we put your questions up for a vote, the public decides which topic we should investigate, and then we go out and report back with answers.