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'Indoor' props ask voters to finish school

Measures would cover increased costs that have pushed up school's price tag

Posted: Thursday, June 07, 2007

Juneau voters decide Tuesday on three funding propositions for completing the new Thunder Mountain High School.

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Proposition 1 would raise nearly $1.2 million to finish the school auditorium; Prop. 2, worth $5 million, would pay for a track and field; Prop. 3 requests $920,000 for school furnishings.

Thunder Mountain High is scheduled to open in 2008.

The "indoor" questions, Propositions 1 and 3, cover increased construction and equipment costs that have pushed the price tag up 25 percent over an original $54 million.

Proponents say taxpayers eventually must fund the auditorium and equip the school whether or not the measures pass. However, approval would help the Juneau School District avoid delays and make it eligible for state funding of 70 percent on each ballot measure.

Some opponents question whether the school was necessary in the first place.

Much of the cost increase is blamed on price increases of construction materials since bids were accepted, but new money is sought to finish the planned auditorium.

The deadline for state funding reimbursement on TMHS is October 2008.

Proposition numbers

Prop. 1: Complete auditorium at Thunder Mountain High School, $11.18 million.

Prop. 2: Fund a track and field for THMS, $5 million.

Prop. 3: Additional funding to furnish TMHS, $920,000.

Total estimated property tax cost for an owner ofa $300,000 house:

Prop. 1, $45

Prop. 2, $141

Prop. 3, $0

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Prop. 3, the only one of the three questions that wouldn't increase property taxes, would fund items such as books, desks, science equipment and computers. It would cover items from kitchen utensils to wrestling mats.

Clay Good, a retired JDHS teacher and opponent of Juneau's second high school, said the equipment funding request was a bit of a shell game.

"They've now asked for it twice," Good said.

Bill Peters, a school board member on the TMHS project team, said money was never budgeted for a finished auditorium, which is the subject of Prop. 1.

"It was planned as a big empty box," he said.

According to Peters, Prop. 1 allows for funding the complete construction of the auditorium as well as replacing money promised by the city to get the project moving last fall.

Last fall the city guaranteed $7.5 million in "rainy day funds" to leverage about $47 million during the bidding process. The bond on Prop. 1 would keep the money, not yet released, in the city's coffers.

If Prop. 1 passes, members of the project team say, the state will reimburse $7.9 million of the $11.18 million sought.

After the city applies a promised $2.9 million in sales tax revenue to the balance of the Prop. 1 bond issue, the cost, when spread over 15 years, will be roughly $45 for the owner of a home worth $300,000.

If the auditorium isn't funded now, it may remain unfinished for several years, Peters said.

Cowan said nearly $2 million is already set aside for equipment as requested in Prop. 3, but inflation since the process began requires the additional money.

"It's just not enough," she said.

By team estimates Prop. 3 would cost homeowners nothing after the state reimbursement and a city promise of $276,000 to be paid on the balance.

If the proposition fails, Cowan said, the district would spend the $2 million on fewer computers and inferior furnishings that would later have to be replaced from the district's general fund.

According to Good, the whole second-school issue is off kilter.

The project is more about community facilities for the Medenhall Valley than alleviating school overcrowding, he said.

"A big shiny building ... I want more for the kids," Good said. "It's called education, but what they really want is facilities."

Good said the bonds are a good business decision, but that the second-school plan fails in imagination and creativity.

"We already have a big school that graduates only 75 percent of the students," he said.

"It is a funding strategy," Cowan said. "Do you want this to come out of local tax dollars or get 70 percent from the state?"



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