BY LOUISE R. SHAW
Clipper Staff Writer
FARMINGTON – Voters may be asked as early as next year, to support a Davis School District bond of approximately $250 million, a large chunk of which would finance a new high school in Farmington.
Administration officials addressed the Davis School Board on Tuesday, Oct. 22, outlining the cost of improvements made necessary by continuing population growth.
The district already owns land in Farmington for a new high school and without it, dozens of portables would have to be added to existing high schools by 2018, according to officials.
Growth trends indicate the need for a new junior high, another elementary school, and rebuilds at a number of existing elementary schools.
The bond, estimated to be between $242 and $265 million, could be on the November ballot in 2014 or 2015, pending a decision of the school board.
The last bond passed by county voters was in 2009, also for $250 million.
Centennial Junior High, Wasatch Elementary, Vista Education Center and additions at Bountiful High and other improvements have been paid for through that bond.
Several projects authorized in the bond had to be delayed when the recession hit, such as the construction of three new elementary schools, and additions and improvements at Millcreek Junior High and Woods Cross High.
One of those elementary schools is currently under construction in Woods Cross.
Because district leaders promised voters a fixed tax rate for the bond repayment and stuck to that promise, insufficient funds came in when property values dropped.
In fact, money from the district’s capital improvement fund balance, which goes to repair boilers and install air conditioners and other general needs, had to be re-directed to make the bond payments.
What was expected to take five years to complete, is now more likely to take nine years, according to Chase Rogers, director of planning for the district.
District staff now recommend that future bonds not be handicapped by another commitment to freeze the rate, but float to reach the required amount based on assessments.
“I don’t know of another school district that has a fixed tax rate,” said Tim Leffel, finance and accounting administrator. “The risk comes the way we are set up now.”
If the school board decides to support the request for a bond in 2014 or 2015, it would likely include $80-90 million for the high school in Farmington, $30-35 million for a junior high, $17-20 million for an elementary school and that much again for rebuilding existing elementary schools.
It could also include an expansion of Mountain High School, at a cost of $10 to 12 million, and further additions at Mueller Park for $8 million and Woods Cross for $5 million.
Another $15 million would allow the district to purchase land for future schools in anticipation of growth.
Site improvements and energy upgrades, air conditioning and asphalt repair, would come out of the district’s capital fund budget, rather than rely on funding from a voter-approved bond.
District leaders said it was better business not to tie projects that keep a school open to a bond that may not pass.
The capital fund comes through the regular tax base and is an on-going revenue stream.
“Costs go up 10 percent a year,” said Leffel, “Right now interest rates are so low, it makes a lot of sense to use bond funds.”
Questions and comments from several board members indicated initial support for the proposed bond.
“It’s not spending more, it’s just continuing” to meet district needs, said Peter Cannon, a board member. “It’s like buying a new car every five years, you just keep the car payment.”
The district currently has a bond rating of AA2, which is not as good as the ratings of Alpine, Nebo, Weber, Jordan and Canyon school districts due to a smaller fund balance level.
The rating affects the interest costs of a loan.
“We’re considerably better than 12 years ago,” said Craig Carter, business administrator for the district. “Twelve years ago we didn’t have a fund balance. It’s the only place we fall short.”
The district’s fund balance currently stands at $22 million. Alpine, with 73,000 students, has a balance of $57 million and an AA1 rating. Jordan and Canyons have AAA ratings, with $122 million and $72 million fund balances respectively.
District voters have a history of supporting school needs, said Bryan Bowles, superintencent of the district, “if the need is genuine and if we’ve done a good job planning and laying it out.
“These are real needs we know we have and not what would be fun to have,” said Bowles. “We need classrooms for kids.”