My Turn: High school bonds: Good for education and for taxpayers

Posted: Friday, May 30, 2003

Next Tuesday's special election will feature two bonding propositions for our high schools. Voters will determine whether to finish the renovation project at Juneau-Douglas High School and to construct a Valley high school at a similar size to what voters approved in 1999.

In 1999, Juneau voters approved a $62 million bond issue to build a high school in the Valley ($49 million) and to renovate JDHS ($13 million). Many people are now questioning why we need more money. It's apparent this community has been caught off guard estimating construction costs. In addition to the two high school projects, recent bid submittals for the NOAA facility and the hospital building came in grossly over estimates. With JDHS, many surprises have surfaced with renovating a 45-year-old structure. Construction of the new high school has been on hold for almost four years, waiting for state matching funds while costs of construction materials have continued to escalate.

Fortunately, recent events provide Juneau with an unprecedented opportunity. Last fall, voters approved Education Proposition C on the statewide ballot that not only provided the long awaited matching funds for the Valley school but also gave Juneau the opportunity to take advantage of the increased state debt reimbursement rate from 50 percent to 60 percent and 70 percent on our projects. Additionally, the lowest interest rates we've seen in decades have reduced the bond repayment debt responsibility which ultimately means property owners will pay less taxes than previously estimated.

Proposition 1 will authorize the CBJ to sell $12.6 million in bonds to add classroom space at the Valley high school to be on par with JDHS. These funds also will be used to construct a second gym and a kitchen capable of providing hot nutritious food for all Valley schools. Taxpayer cost for this bond issue is anticipated to be $18 on a $100,000 home for 15 years, or $1.50 per month on one's mortgage payment.

It is interesting to note the $62 million education bond issue was anticipated to cost taxpayers $121 per $100,000 in 1999 but with today's changing times, the combined $62 million and $12.6 million bonds are expected to cost taxpayers only $89 on a $100,000 home, or $7.50 a month.

Proposition 2, which authorizes the CBJ to sell $12.5 million in bonds to complete the renovation at JDHS, is an even better scenario. Passage will enable the CBJ to leverage previously collected sales tax money designated for the JDHS renovation project and take advantage of the 70 percent matching funds from the state. These funds would be used to construct the long-awaited athletic field, improve traffic circulation and parking, replace outdated equipment and fixtures, complete the exterior facelift, etc. No additional taxes are required!

Because Juneau will have two smaller high schools, the current state education funding formula will grant Juneau an additional $800,000 annually to offset the expected increase in maintenance and operations. The current teaching staff will be divided in half for each school.

We can quibble over future enrollment projections but no one doubts there will be growth over time. Today, we have 1,650 students crammed into a building for 1200, not including programs pushed off campus for lack of space, kids who give up and drop out, and families who have chosen other schooling options due to overcrowding. When we finally have adequate space and a more positive learning and teaching environment, we will likely find students and families being attracted back to high school in Juneau, further increasing enrollment and bringing additional state revenue.

The new high school will become the focal point in the Valley. It must be built to last for decades and have a pleasing appearance of which we can be proud. Juneau doesn't need any more plywood palace and box store designs.

In summary, Juneau has a rare opportunity to take advantage of more favorable financing than was available in 1999: higher state debt reimbursement rates and the lowest repayment interest rates in 40 years. It's an opportunity to cost-effectively add important features that will make both schools better while achieving our long-standing goal of parity. Keeping the two schools roughly equivalent in space, enrollment, programs and resources has been important to this community throughout the seven-year planning process.

We urge you to vote "Yes" on Proposition 1 and 2 on June 3 and "Finish the Job."

• Jamie Parsons and Sally Rue of Juneau co-chair "Finish the Job: Yes for High Schools."

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