School board still exploring bond issue

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The Littleton Public Schools Board of Education appears poised to place an $80 million bond issue on the November ballot.

“You guys have definitely proven to me the need,” board member Sue Chandler told members of the financial advisory committee during last week’s school board study session.

The committee recommends moving forward rather than waiting until 2014.

“The facts themselves and the condition of the buildings are not going to change,” said Jim Woods, the district’s outreach coordinator.

Supertintendent Scott Murphy has said the time is right to take advantage of low interest rates for what amounts to refinancing a mortgage — not a tax increase, he stresses. If voters pass the proposed measure, it will keep the amount of property tax they pay at about a total of 57 mills. If not, it will drop to about 55.5 mills – a difference of about $1 a month for each $100,000 of the actual value of the property.

The last time LPS went to the voters was in 2010, when they passed a $12 million mill-levy override, or property-tax increase. That money has maintained the district’s current level of service, despite decreases in state and federal funding.

Scott Myers, LPS chief financial officer, said that at about 8.5 mills, Littleton is on the high end compared to districts around the state, but they’re all in about the same range.

Bond revenue can legally only be used for capital improvements like building maintenance and infrastructure. The district estimates the actual need at about $102 million, but, as board member Renee Howell noted, asking for more than $80 million would have raised rather than maintained taxes.

“It’s a pattern that has worked in the past,” she said. “It’s not like we’re trying to overburden someone.”

The district formed a citizens committee to prioritize the needs, and members say the $80 million will fund absolute needs, not wishes.

“We do have significant deficiencies that do require attention, and the Runyon roof, I think, is the poster child,” said Diane Doney LPS chief operating officer.

Murphy stresses that a proposed statewide $1.1 billion tax increase for education — planned to be on the ballot this fall — has absolutely nothing to do with this local question, and that it does nothing to address capital improvements. Board members have wondered whether that will confuse voters or lessen the chances that the LPS measure will pass.

“I would like to think that people in our district see our district totally differently than they see the state,” said board president Bob Colwell.

Vicki Mattox, managing director of Stifel Public Finance, said waiting until 2014 could cost the district $20 million if interest rates rise as projected, and construction costs could go up.

“People have shown their ability to pick and choose and to vote their values,” said. “If you spent another year working on them, I’m not sure they’d learn a whole lot more.”

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