NEWMAN - Local school trustees last week signaled their willingness to go all in with a March 2020 bond measure.
Citing broad facility needs, board members expressed support for asking voters to approve a measure that would generate $35 million for facility projects but boost property tax rates by $60 per $100,000 of assessed valuation.
Those funds, Superintendent Randy Fillpot said, are essential in allowing the district to pursue a variety of much-needed facility projects, ranging from new locker rooms and classrooms at Orestimba to construction of a new administration/multi-use room at Von Renner Elementary.
A community swimming pool located on the grounds of Orestimba High will most likely be part of the bond package, he told Mattos Newspapers.
Other scenarios presented to the board by financial consultant Dale Scott included simply extending an existing tax rate to produce $16 million in facility funding or asking for a $30 tax increase that would generate $24 million.
Given the needs of the district, Fillpot told the board, his recommendation is that the district ask for the $60 tax rate - which is the highest levy which can be approved with 55 percent voter support. Bonds with higher tax rates require two-thirds voter approval for passage.
“Just extending the tax rate would put a dent in (facility needs). The $30 increase gives us money to start some projects, but we would be coming back right away with a whole new proposal,” he said. “I would consider that we really consider (the highest amount). It gives us room to do the right things.”
Board member Janice Conforti concurred.
While even the highest amount will not totally meet the districts facility needs it will allow schools to make positive strides, she said.
“We want the best place for our students to learn,” she stated. “We want to have campuses that people are proud to go to.”
Board member Tim Bazar also supported asking voters to approve the larger bond.
“It seems to me that it is not just an investment in the school district, it is an investment in the community,” he stated.
Scott, the financial consultant, noted that the district is strongly supportive of its schools.
“Usually people like the projects but are not so keen about paying for them,” Scott told the board. “Here you have strong support. I didn’t see a lot of pushback on any of these alternatives in the survey, now it is a matter of how much you need.”
Newman-Crows Landing Unified School District property owners are currently assessed about $140 per $100,000 in assessed valuation each year to pay off previous bond debt. The planned bond would push that rate to $200. While assessed values vary widely from property to property, Scott said the average among the district’s 4,000 properties is $180,000. The owner of a property assessed at that value currently pays about $250 a year to retire school bonds. If voters approve the pending bond, that annual tax bill would increase by about $110.
The tax rate would begin to decline after about four years as prior debt is paid down.
However, the scenario outlined by Scott shows the district returning to voters in 2022 or 2024 asking for an extension of the $200 tax rate - which would generate another $30 million for school projects.
Given the nature of bond financing the proceeds - and the projects - would not be immediately seen.
If voters approved a $35 million bond next March, for example, the first series of bond sales would produce $8.4 million in 2021 but the second series ($6.7 million) would not be issued until 2024. Future series would be issued every three years before the final $7 million is sold in 2033.
District officials said the hope would be that state matching money is in place as well to maximize the local revenues, but cautioned that even qualifying districts must wait for matching fund payments.
“It took us four years to get (state matching) money for Barrington Elementary. There is a severe time lag,” noted Caralyn Mendoza, the district’s chief business official. “For us to do projects, we have to have money in hand.”
The school board will consider a resolution at its Oct. 14 meeting calling for the bond measure - at the $60 tax rate - to be put on the March 2020 ballot. That resolution will also include a project list.
Fillpot said he will ask the board at the same meeting to identify which projects will take top priority.
While that is not required, he noted, “I think it is important to tell the community what we plan to do first.”
Should the March 2020 measure fall short of the 55 percent voter approval required for passage, the district has indicated that it would try a second time in the November election.