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D21 approves bond measure language

Taking a key step toward the November school facilities bond election, the D21 school board unanimously approved the official language for the $235 million measure Aug. 6.

Board member Dean McAllister explained his support for the 50-year bond that would replace the high school and three grade schools and do other upgrades.

He said the community told the district a few years ago that economic development was suffering because the town had ugly schools and a bad graduation rate.

That graduation rate is now much improved — at 87.1 percent, it’s well above the state average — and what’s left are the schools.

The public has been involved from the beginning, McAllister said, from well-attended grassroots meetings to community groups that decided the high school should be replaced first, and then decided where it should go (at the site of the current Wahtonka Community School).

“I made this motion [to approve the bond wording resolution] because I feel the community has said, ‘This is what we want to do,’” he said.

Polling in June by the district showed the measure would pass if placed on the ballot.

Board member Ernie Blatz said voters rejected the 2008 bond to repair schools because there was “no plan — well, here’s a plan, and it’s huge.”

The measure would give the district authority to issue five bonds over 20 years, each with a 30-year repayment. The first four would replace schools, the fifth would refurbish the middle school and finish any other projects.

The schools are 60 years old on average, and Blatz noted the district recently had to scour eBay for an out-of-circulation replacement part for an aged heating system at Dry Hollow Elementary.

“What if eBay goes under? We won’t be able to find parts for them anymore,” he said.

Board member Bethani Studebaker said she’s heard people say that new schools won’t improve teaching staff or create academic rigor. She said the district already has strong educators, and building new schools would equip students with 21st Century security and technology.

Schools now are so outdated that they are expensive to heat and maintain, an earlier report concluded. They also lack security systems.

There are other limitations also. Now, for example, the electrical system at Chenowith Elementary only has the capacity to either run fans for cooling or computers for learning — not both, officials said earlier.

Board member John Nelson said he feels students deserve to be in 21st Century schools. “All of our schools are of the 20th and some of them are close to the 19th, so, it’s time.”

Board chair Kathy Ursprung, who grew up here, said other generations paid for students like her to go to decent schools, and now it was time to do the same for students today.

She said the district has come up with a good, thoughtful plan that balances the need to keep taxes reasonable with the need for new schools.

The board stresses that a citizen oversight committee would guide expenditures, providing accountability throughout the process.

The resolution the board passed includes the language of the ballot title, the 20-word question that will go on the ballot, and the 175-word summary of the measure.

The words had to be carefully chosen, because of strict word limits, and were approved by bond attorneys, said Randy Anderson, D21 chief financial officer.

He said while the board authorized seeking a bond in June, this puts in place the official legal language required by law.

Once the notice of the election is published in a newspaper of record, in this case the Chronicle, and a week-long period allowing anyone to object to the ballot title passes, the district can then get assigned a ballot number for its bond measure, he said. It has until Sept. 6 to do that, but will do it as soon as the objection period passes.

The bond title is “bonds to improve safety, modernize, repair, replace schools; update technology.”

The question put to voters will ask if the district should improve safety, repair and replace schools, update technology, and issue general obligation bonds totaling no more than $235 million.

The district has said the tax rate will not exceed $2.99 per $1,000 of assessed property valuation. That’s $600 a year on a $200,000 home.

Property owners in the former District 12 — who represent more than two-thirds of D21 — have been paying off bonds for nearly 20 years for the middle school. Since they are now paying $1.65 per $1,000 on that bond, they will see a net increase of $1.34 per $1,000 to reach the maximum tax level of $2.99 per $1,000.

On a $200,000 home, that net increase would be about a $268 a year above what they’re paying now.

Former District 9 taxpayers have not been paying for the middle school, so their tax rate would be $2.99 per $1,000.

However, for the first year only of the new bond, the tax rate districtwide would only be $1.34 per $1,000. That’s because the former D12 would still have one more year to pay off the middle school at the $1.65 rate. To keep total bond rates district wide at $2.99 or lower, the entire district can only be charged the $1.34 per $1,000.

Anderson said the bond is conservatively structured in all areas. It is predicated, first of all, on a conservative estimate in the rate of growth of the assessed property valuation of the district.

The bond structure assumes a minimum growth of 2.75 percent per year, which is quite low. Per-year growth has been as high as 5.6 percent. Even in the worst part of the recession, the growth rate only dipped to 2.8 percent, Anderson told the board.

It also assumes the Google properties that are now tax exempt will go on the tax rolls once their tax exempt periods expire.

It also makes conservative assumptions about interest rates and the future cost of construction, he said.


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