Economic damages from the novel coronavirus crisis might claim one more victim: Durango School District 9-R’s plan to ask voters for approval of between $90 million to $120 million in bonds.
The school district hoped the bonds could pay for deferred maintenance on school buildings, new construction of wish-list additions like a new Career Education Technical Center, and upgrades to school safety and security measures.
Deputy Superintendent Andy Burns noted the district spends about $1 million annually in its budget on building maintenance, but based on recommendations from the state, that figure should be closer to $5 million because of the building stock in 9-R’s inventory.
The school board has until July before going ahead with a request to put a measure on the November ballot, and the board is expected make its vote whether to seek a bond issue and for what dollar amount in late June.
On Tuesday, at the school board’s meeting, held virtually, board members got an update from Burns and Superintendent Dan Snowberger about planning for moving ahead with a bond question in the November General Election.
“We have buildings that have not been kept up because of money taken from capital outlays. There are some things in the bond that need to be done sooner rather than later,” Snowberger told board members.
With older bonds retiring, a new tax to pay for up to $90 million in bonds would not exceed the rate of the current mill levy on homeowners or business owners.
On Tuesday, Burns and Snowberger described a scaled-down bond issuance that might even allow for a decline in the mill levy but would provide enough money to fund the local match required to receive two state Building Excellent Schools Today grants, which are better known as BEST grants.
The district is seeking $12 million in BEST grants to fund safety and security upgrades at all schools, and Burns said this application is the most likely proposal to gain favor for funding from the state.
The district is also seeking $40 million to relocate Florida Mesa Elementary School to Three Springs. But, Burns said, given the revenue shortfalls the state projects because of lost tax revenue from the COVID-19 pandemic, this proposal is not likely to be awarded by the state.
Snowberger said $25 million in state funding originally allocated for BEST grants has already been moved out to fund general K-12 educational expenses, and if tax revenue projections worsen, which is seen as likely, the entire funding for BEST grants in the next budget cycle might have to be raided to fund K-12 operations.
If BEST grants are awarded this year, winning grant proposals will be announced in late May. District 9-R would be required to match 24% of state BEST grant funds.
School board member Andrea Parmenter summed up the bleak assessment for seeking a bond question in the November General Election: “It’s a hard sell to ask voters for more money when they’re out of jobs.”