Sunday, March 27, 2011

Anchorage School Board Candidates Declare Their Positions On The 2011 Anchorage School Bonds

I just discovered that KTUU Channel 2 has a portal page leading to profiles on all the Anchorage Assembly and School Board candidates in the April 5th 2011 Municipal Election. Further examination revealed that this is the only source where Assembly candidates reveal their positions on some of the municipal bonds and School Board candidates weigh in on all three school bonds.

To refresh your memory, here is the specific language for all three school bonds:

-- PROPOSITION 1 - SERVICE HIGH SCHOOL RENEWAL GENERAL OBLIGATION BONDS. Reference AO 2011-7. $37,132,000 of General Obligation Bonds to pay for a portion of the costs of additions to and renewals of Service High School and other educational capital improvements. The Project currently qualifies for a state grant of $21,000,000 based on $9,132,000 of the issuance and also 60% State debt reimbursement on $28,000,000 of the issuance (subject to annual legislative appropriation). Explanation of projects HERE. Annual property tax increase as follows:

---- With State Reimbursement: Annual increase in property taxes would be $5.19 per $100,000 assessed value to retire the bonds.
---- Without State reimbursement: Annual increase in taxes of approximately $9.47 per $100,000 assessed value to retire the bonds.

-- PROPOSITION 2 - EDUCATIONAL CAPITAL IMPROVEMENTS AND FACILITY BUILDING LIFE EXTENSION AND DESIGN PROJECT BONDS. Reference AO 2011-8(S). $16,865,000 of General Obligation Bonds to pay for educational facility building life extension and design projects and other educational capital improvements within Anchorage. This includes design projects for the future renovation of Girdwood K-8 and Airport Heights, Gladys Wood and Inlet View Elementary Schools, as well as the design of career, technical and vocational education improvements for the West/Romig campus. The Projects currently qualify for 70% State debt reimbursement on $11,765,000 of the issuance and 60% State debt reimbursement on $5,100,000 of the issuance (subject to annual legislative appropriation). Annual property tax increase as follows:

---- With State Reimbursement: Annual increase in property taxes would be $1.52 per $100,000 assessed value to retire the bonds.
---- Without State Reimbursement: Annual increase in property taxes of $4.30 per $100,000 assessed value to retire the bonds.

-- PROPOSITION 3 - CAREER, TECHNICAL AND VOCATIONAL FACILITY EDUCATION UPGRADES PROJECT BONDS. Reference AO 2011-9(S). $17,000,000 of General Obligation Bonds to pay costs of upgrades at career, technical and vocational facilities at seven high schools, five middle schools and the King Career Center. The Projects currently qualify for 60% State debt reimbursement (subject to annual legislative appropriation). Annual property tax increase as follows:

---- With State Reimbursement: Annual increase in property taxes would be $1.30 per $100,000 assessed value to retire the bonds.
---- Without State Reimbursement: Annual increase in property taxes of $4.34 per $100,000 assessed value to retire the bonds.

From the candidate responses, it appears that Proposition 3 should easily pass, Proposition 1 could be a cliffhanger, going either way depending upon how people feel about the theater, and Proposition 2 has a good chance of failing. Several candidates question the need to bond maintenance; this is a concern which has been echoed by others. If it wasn't for state debt reimbursement, we probably wouldn't be bonding maintenance. Now here are the candidates and their expressed positions on each bond (after the jump):

Patrick Higgins, Seat C incumbent: Supports all three bonds.

-- Proposition 1: "The first bond will complete the renovations to Service High School. This bond proposal was originally $68 million three years ago and is now $37 million, and sixty percent of the $37 million will be paid by the State. The bond cost reduction was accomplished by a state grant and redirecting funds from prior bonds. This bond will provide one theatre for south Anchorage schools and expand career technology education".

-- Proposition 2: "The second bond will fund building life extensions and design projects. While I do not believe bonding for building life extensions is appropriate, the State Legislature will not contribute their fair share unless it is bonded. The alternative to bonding is for local taxpayers pay the entire cost and that is unacceptable. This bond will also provide design work for Airport Heights Elementary, Girdwood K-8, Gladys Wood Elementary, and Inlet View. The Board bond also includes funding for the design for a Career Technology and Vocational Education center at West/Romig".

-- Proposition 3: "The third bond is the result of a board directive I proposed and was approved unanimously by the Board. It will significantly expand career technology and vocational education at middle and high schools. These vocational classes are important because they keep many students interested in school, hands-on applications help students learn classroom subjects, and it connects students with a career path when they graduate from high school".

-- Additional justification: "In the past three years since the public has approved school bonds, approximately $150 million in bond equity has been paid off. The total cost of all three bonds is approximately $70 million and will cost the taxpayer $8.01 per year for $100,000 of assessed property value. I believe all three bonds are focused on what goes on in the schools and less with the appearance".

Bob Griffin, Seat C challenger: Enthusiastically supports Prop 3, weakly supports Prop 1 (doesn't like the theater), not supportive of Prop 2

-- Proposition 1: "I'm supporting the Service High project, but not enthusiastically. The renovations of Service have lingered too long and need to be completed. However, the cost of the theater expansion at Service is troublesome. There is no demonstrated need for additional theater space in the Anchorage school system, and the last 200-seat, intimate theater venue in the district will be destroyed in the process. The cost of the theater alone—including capital costs, interest, maintenance, heating and electricity over a 30-year period—is equivalent to the cost of putting a computer on every student’s desk in the district and replacing them every five years over the same 30-year period. Also troublesome is how this bond is "packaged" as a $37 million renovation. It actually uses $68 million in public funds, though much of that is and left over unsold bonds or "free money" from the state, as if it could not be used for any other more urgent purpose".

-- Proposition 2: "The "building life extension" bond is my least favorite. This is borrowing money for anticipatable maintenance needs that should have been budgeted. Leaving critical maintenance of our facilities up to the whims of the voters is a very bad practice that is reinforced by reimbursement conventions from Juneau".

-- Proposition 3: "I'm a big advocate of the Career, Technical and Vocational Education bond. It's long overdue that we give appropriate educational paths to the many students who will not attend college—and the many who will attend college but could use some practical experience in a hands-on trade prior to college. I've long felt that this is one of the biggest causes of our dismal graduation rates. Finland has the most successful education system in the world and half of Finnish students choose a trade school track at age 15. With the nature of our local economy, we need more welders than English professors".

Dustin Darden, Seat C challenger provided no response.

Gretchen Guess, Seat D challenger: Supports all three bonds. She writes "I think they are responsible given the needs of the community, and the fact we are bonding for less than the debt we are retiring. The maintenance bond often comes into question. Generally, I do not agree with bonding for maintenance; however, the state reimburses for maintenance bonds so it advantages the Anchorage taxpayer to bond for maintenance".

Treg Taylor, Seat D challenger: Supports Prop 3, conditionally supports Prop 1, does not support Prop 2.

-- Proposition 1: "I support the renovation of Service High School, but with caveats. We do not need and can ill afford another Taj Majal school. I also do not support the replacement of a perfectly sound 200 seat auditorium with a brand new auditorium that will seat 700 people; one thing we are not short on in Anchorage is auditoriums and the cost of the new auditorium is not justified by the limited number of performances each year (about 7) that that would require a larger auditorium. It is much more cost efficient to simply use the auditorium at one of the other high schools".

-- Proposition 2: "I do not support the building life extension bond. Building life extension is a fancy way of saying maintenance and bonding for maintenance is problematic on a couple of different levels: 1) these cost can be anticipated and should be a part of a responsible budget; 2) leaving required maintenance up to the voters to decide is a dangerous practice. What happens if the voters reject the bond, do we just let these building s fall into complete and irreversible disrepair?"

-- Proposition 3: "I fully support the expansion of our vocational education".

David Nees, Seat D challenger:

-- Proposition 1: "YES on Proposition I. This proposition is for the final installment for renovating Service High School. My wife and both my children went to Service, same theater. It is almost 40 years old and is the only theater in Anchorage high schools that has not be redone".

-- Proposition 2: "No, on Proposition 2. I would not support this until the district brings maintenance labor costs inline. The district should be sharing services with the City and establishing a reserve fund. Why do roof repairs need to be bonded, because you deferred maintenance, everyone knows roofs wear out".

-- Proposition 3: "Undecided on Proposition 3, although it is step towards reinstating Voc Ed. it is not a policy change just a request for more money".

Roman Romanovski, Seat D challenger: Supportive of all three bonds, although leery of the Service theater. He writes, "If we are partially reimbursed by the state for these bonds it seems like a good deal. However I wish the Service High School bond was separated into two parts. I don't think now is a good time to build an auditorium but we should finish the remodeling of Service".

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