Juneau voters to decide on school bonds

Bonds would increase the size of Valley high school, pay for JDHS renovation

Posted: Friday, May 30, 2003

In a special election that concludes Tuesday, voters have an opportunity to approve or reject two bond propositions to fund the renovation of Juneau-Douglas High School and the construction of a new high school in the Mendenhall Valley. So far, absentee turnout has been a trickle.

"I'm hoping people will remember to vote, but I'm anticipating the turnout is going to be light," said City Clerk Laurie Sica.

On Thursday, Sica reported 173 absentee ballots cast. In last fall's municipal election, 977 people voted absentee, and 8,492 people voted on election day, a 35 percent turnout, which is about average, she said.

Proposition 1 proposes $12.6 million in bonds to increase the size of the planned high school at Dimond Park in the Valley. Proposition 2 would authorize $12.5 million to help pay for continuing the renovation of JDHS and possibly other schools.

Jamie Parsons, cochairman of the bond proposition advocacy group, "Finish the Job: Yes on High Schools," said his group will be placing ads to help get out the vote.

"In my recollection, I can only recall one special election we've had in 20 years," he said. "People aren't sensitized to having a special election... They are thinking about the last day of school and summer, boating and gardening."

City Architect Catherine Fritz said another reason for the low turnout could be people don't understand the complicated bond propositions.

"I have an awful lot of people, informed, voting people, asking me very fundamental questions, like, 'Does this mean we are not going to get a high school if this fails?' I tell them, 'No, go read your voter information pamphlet,' " Fritz said. "There is $48.6 million in the bank right now that can build a second high school."

In general, both measures will allow the city to take greater advantage of reimbursement from the state and will allocate more money in total to the school construction projects. Last fall, state voters passed a general obligation bond proposition that triggered fund reimbursement for urban school construction projects of up to 70 percent. In 1999, voters passed $62 million in school construction bonds to renovate JDHS and to build a commensurate school in the Valley. At the time, voters agreed to pay for a maximum of 50 percent of the projects, with the state paying the rest. With the new state funding, the renovation and the new high school could be funded at 70 and 60 percent, respectively. While the reimbursement level has increased, the total cost of the projects has increased also.

With the new high school in the Valley, the Juneau School District made some design changes to accommodate future growth. Labor costs increased, increasing the total price tag from about $48 million to about $60 million. Originally, voters agreed to pay up to half of the cost of the project, or about $24 million. With the increase in state funding from 50 to 60 percent, the city can cover the project's increased cost while leaving the $24 million tax burden unchanged. Because the total cost of the project has increased, however, voters must approve the new bonding.

With the passage of Proposition 1, the city would build a school that holds 1,100 students and is about the same size as JDHS, but could be eventually expanded to accommodate 1,500 students. The school would have two gyms and a commercial kitchen that could provide hot lunches to other schools. Without the passage of the proposition, the school still would have an expansion capacity of 1,500 students, but it would have fewer classrooms, one gym and no larger kitchen.

"We think that the schools should be as similar as possible. (The Valley school) needs to have classroom space and a second gymnasium. Also, the school district would like to be able to offer a nutritious lunch program for more schools there," Parsons said.

In terms of impact on the average taxpayer, the difference between the smaller and the larger schools is about $18 per $100,000 of property value, Parsons said.

With the renovation, bids came in higher than expected and it became clear to city officials the original bond amount of $13 million was not sufficient to meet the renovation needs at JDHS, said Deputy City Manager Donna Pierce.

"Over $19 million of renovation projects were identified before the 1999 bond, but not all could be funded in that bond issue. A lot of the renovation is basic repair and replacement: mechanical and electrical systems, the roof, flooring, doors, windows and furniture," she said.

Over time, the total budget for the renovation has increased from $13 million to $21 million. To cover additional costs, voters agreed to a sales tax increase, and city officials in addition reallocated leftover funding from completed school improvement projects to cover the bid award, which came in nearly $3 million over estimates. The sales tax and other funds do not qualify for state reimbursement, but Proposition 2 would replace them with bonds that can be reimbursed by the state. This would allow the city to leverage additional funds to use for more improvements to JDHS, such as an outdoor playing field and additional parking.

"By turning the sales tax into reimbursable bond you are generating $5.4 million of new money and that $5.4 million would be used to pay for renovation items that have been identified and we were unable to afford," Pierce said.

Special election for school bonds

Proposition 1 proposes $12.6 million in bonds to increase the size of the planned high school at Dimond Park in the Valley.

Proposition 2 would authorize $12.5 million to help pay for continuing the renovation of JDHS and possibly other schools.

Absentee balloting:

In-person

City Hall, 2nd Floor, Room 224

8 a.m.-4:30 p.m. today and Monday

10 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday

Mendenhall Mall

10 a.m.-2 p.m. and 3 p.m.-7 p.m.

Today, Saturday and Monday

By fax

To receive an application for a faxed ballot, call 586-5278, or send an e-mail to:

laurie_sica@ci.juneau.ak.us

The signed application for a fax ballot must be received in the City Clerk's Office by 5 p.m. Monday. When a completed application for a faxed ballot has been received, a ballot will be faxed, along with instructions for marking and submitting the voted faxed ballot.

Election Day voting

Tuesday, June 3

7 a.m.-8 p.m. at 16 polling places throughout Juneau.

Call 586-5278 for locations.



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