From the school board: Update on Project 2021
By Susan G. Murphy
Board of education president
I wanted to follow up with the commnity on Project 2021, what we are doing, why we are doing it, what it is going to cost, and how we are going to pay for it.
I am sure that you have seen articles and pictures of our deteriorating school conditions which speak for themselves. While we have been doing small projects to address some of the more urgent needs, there is still much more to be done. So, on November 14, we will ask the community to vote on Project 2021. Planning for this project has been going on for about two years now. In addition to the state-required Building Conditions Survey which was completed by architects and engineers, we also met with our community advisory committees, faculty and staff, administrators, and students to get their input on what should be addressed in the project. We also held two community forums on the project. All groups were very helpful to us and the students offered some great insights as to how we can make our schools better!
At this week’s Board of Education meeting, the administration gave us another update on the work that will be recommended in the project. As we looked at each building and what needs to be done, I couldn’t help but look at it through the eyes of a homeowner. Anyone who owns a home can understand the constant maintenance that is involved. Each year, depending on budget, certain areas get updated/repaired. And as the years go on, there is a time where you just have to bite the bullet and put on that new roof that you’ve been putting off, install new windows, put in the new furnace, gut a room, or put on that much anticipated addition. Yes, I hear you saying…with low enrollment why are we spending taxpayer’s money on these buildings? We should start closing buildings and bank the money! I totally understand and I get it. With that said, there has been an upswing in enrollment – not earth shaking, but an upswing that wasn’t predicted. Last summer, for example, we enrolled an additional 46 students and already this summer we have enrolled an additional over 50 students with a few more expected!
Project 2021 is just that. If the community supports it, the project will begin in 2019 with our payments beginning in 2021. The reason for this is that the debt that we currently have on some of the buildings will be paid off and our debt will decrease. I know the question you are asking – will taxes go up? Ah, this is a question I had to ask, over and over again, until my mind finally got it. The honest answer is yes and no. Confused? You should be as I certainly was! I had to compare it to my household budget. For example, although my car payments stay the same every month (like the debt on our buildings), my electric bill fluctuates depending on my use, kind of like the program portion of the general fund budget for schools. So when my debt decreases because I paid my car off, I have a choice. I can either get another car with the same payment or I can just stay with the car I have knowing that there is risk that I will have to pay for unexpected repairs and maintenance. Similarly, with the debt being paid off on the buildings, the payments after the Project 2021 work is done will be the same because a new project simply replaces the old debt without an increase. Again, like my fluctuating electric bill, the program budget for schools with salaries, insurances, etc. may go up, but the debt on buildings will not.
How Much Will it Cost?
The amount of debt that we are paying off allows us to do up to $36.5million worth of work to all five buildings – the 4 schools and the transportation center. I understand the sticker shock of a $36million dollar project, but the good news is that, as I said earlier, this will not increase this area of the budget. Even better news is that we will get state aid on the project.
How Will We Pay for It?
There are three ways that we will pay for this – state aid, reserve funds, and taxpayer dollars. With state aid, for state aid for every dollar we spend we get almost $.63 back from the state over the 15 years that we carry the debt on the project. So for a $36.5 million project, about $23 million will be paid by the state. I know it’s not free money, but it is money that all of us have paid into the State and now we can get some of it back! Also, the district – with your approval – has set aside reserve funds of about $2.3 million which will be used to offset some of the costs. The remaining cost will be paid by all of us through our school taxes. Again, this will not mean that you are paying more because of this project.
If you would like more information on the project or on any of the information I have shared, please feel free to attend the Sept. 19 board meeting where we will be discussing the project; contact me or another board member or contact Mr. Slentz, or Mr. Butler in the district offices; check out the information on our website at skanschools.org, or attend one of the forums this fall that we will announce shortly.