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School Board ponders bond

 

September 27, 2016



Oregon school districts have the opportunity to double their money if they pass bond measures in November and May.

That kind of opportunity, a chance to turn $4 million into $8 million, was something that Supt. Tom Yahraes had to take to the Sweet Home School Board.

Monday evening, district administrators explained the opportunity and presented ideas for a bond to the School Board during a work session.

“What got us here in this conversation is it’s a two-for,” Yahraes said. “That’s one of the biggest reasons to go for it.”

The district won’t be able to pursue a bond in November, but it could pursue a bond levy in May.

The grants are divided among two groups of districts, said Business Manager Kevin Strong. The first is on a priority basis. Sweet Home is ranked 39th on the state’s priority list based on property values and poverty data. For those schools, $16.7 million is available to match bond dollars one-to-one. The grant is capped at $4 million for most districts, although some may be eligible for up to $8 million in matching funds.

Districts ranked higher on the priority list would receive the funding before Sweet Home if their voters approve bond measures, Strong said. Of the 38 schools ranked higher priority compared to Sweet Home, four passed bonds last May to qualify for the grant. Another four are seeking bonds in November.

Two are seriously pursuing bonds right now, Strong said. One is Ontario, which is eligible for up to $4 million in grant funds, and the other is David Douglas, which is eligible for up to $8 million.

Districts will likely know in January whether they qualify for the grant, Strong said, and they could choose not to pursue the bond any further. If the district does pursue a bond, it must file with Linn County by March 16 for the May 16 election.

“We’re in a unique situation,” Strong said. “We still have another 10 years of debt service on our bond.”

Normally, a district wouldn’t pursue a bond while paying for another bond, Strong said, but after refinancing for lower interest rates in 2005 and 2015, the district has reduced the property tax rate and eliminated more than two years from the life of the current $18.7 million bond approved by voters in 2001. The final payment, a half payment, is set for the 2026-27 school year.

A $4 million bond could be structured to maintain stable tax rates, Strong said. The payments could be handled in a couple of different ways, but the net effect would be that Sweet Home property owners would continue paying for a bond levy through the 2028-29 school year, which was the originally anticipated end to the current bond levy.

Maintenance Supt. Josh Darwood outlined several possible scenarios for using bond revenue. The money could be spread out on projects among all the schools, but that comes with high planning costs, including architectural and engineering expenses. The district could focus on one large project with some smaller projects at other facilities, or it could focus everything into a single facility, which would cut the planning costs and give the biggest bang for the buck.

The Sweet Home Junior High School is where he would recommend such a project, he told the board. That’s a facility that members of the public say looks like a “detention center” on Facebook, and it needs some renovations.

It also benefits students from across the district, Darwood said. Most of them eventually attend school there.

The building has security issues, he said. The entrance leads straight to the hallways without going near the office.

The southwestern satellite buildings are deteriorating structurally, Darwood said. In the art room, the floor is buckling. The buildings contain materials with asbestos. The infrastructure is covered by concrete and inaccessible. The school needs new plumbing and electrical services.

Classrooms have little or no natural light, Darwood said.

In power outages, they’re dark, said Principal Colleen Henry. The school has had to send students home during extended outages.

The project could include renovations to the appearance of the main building as well, Darwood said.

“I love free money,” said Jenny Daniels, board member, but a bond might ruffle some feathers.

Jason Van Eck, board member, said he liked the idea that the district could choose not to move forward with the bond if it doesn’t win the grant.

If the match weren’t there, Daniels asked, would the board seek a bond?

“I don’t think so,” Van Eck said.

Jason Redick, board member, asked Darwood if the district would need to seek another bond in five or six years to deal with issues at the elementary schools.

Darwood told him the district has a long-term maintenance fund that helps keep those schools up.

Plumbing at Hawthorne needs to be fixed, for example, but the district has the money to do that, he said.

“I think the Junior High needs some structure addressed,” Redick said. “I think you’re dead on with the Junior High.”

Chanz Keeney, board member, said he would like to see some different scenarios, but he thought staff time would be better spent getting test scores up.

A project at the Junior High could go hand in hand with that, Darwood said.

Yahraes told the board that the improvements Terrabone Community School made in test scores included a variety of factors, and he believed that renovations to the building were part of that.

Chairman Mike Reynolds said what he finds most palatable is that it wouldn’t be an additional tax and would essentially extend the existing levy.

The board and superintendent discussed possible ways to seek public input in coming months while continuing the discussion with the School Board.

Strong said the board will need to decide whether to apply for the grant by its December meeting.

Present at the meeting were Van Eck, Keeney, Reynolds, Daniels, Nick Augsburger, Redick, Angela Clegg. Absent were Carol Babcock and Debra Brown.

 
 
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