Bond Issue Q&A
Q. Why do so many projects at once? Why not break it up?
A. During 18 months the Board of Education spent working on the bond issue, they determined these seven projects were crucial. They were also told many times by the community to take care of the needs and not to come back in two years asking for another project if it is needed now. The original list of needs was more than $120 million. These are the seven projects the Board and community determined as highest priority and could not be left out.
Q: Why aren't you building a school on the west side of Highway 281? That's where the growth will be.
A: We are adding 12 new full-size K-5 classrooms, four preschool classrooms and a six additional program classrooms to address space issues at the two elementary schools west of Highway 281. That allows us room approximately for an additional 260 students, K-5, or the equivalent of a two-unit school's worth of capacity, without the additional overhead cost of having an entire new building. What we are doing with this bond issue is making sure we are positioned for potential future growth by bringing all of our current schools up to the needed standards to be safe, secure and efficient learning environments. When the time comes when we know where we need to build a new school based on enrollment growth, we won't have to worry about needs at our current schools.
Q: When will you be asking for the next bond issue?
A: Enrollment will decide that. We can't rely on general fund or state aid for building new buildings. This bond will get us positioned to be able to respond with the next bond issue to whatever growth happens in the community. If enrollment continues to increase, we will need to go to the community for another bond. If enrollment growth slows, we will wait until a new building is needed. We won't ask for something we don't know for sure if we're going to need or not and have it sit empty. Likewise we don't want to over anticipate growth in any area only to find out growth areas shift and we need buildings in other parts of town.
Q. What is the current enrollment at each school that is going to be renovated or rebuilt through this bond? Once the projects are complete, what is the estimated capacity at each individual building?
A. Here are the current enrollments and approximate capacities, based on 22 students per classroom, if the bond passes:
- Engleman Elementary: 476 current, 520 with bond (currently above standard 'capacity' for building size)
- Shoemaker Elementary: 358 current, 520 with bond
- Jefferson Elementary: 272 current, 396 with bond
- Starr Elementary: 251 current, 520 with bond
- Stolley Park Elementary: 246 current, 396 with bond
This will give the district the opportunity to continue to grow in enrollment. Districtwide, this increases capacity by about 750 students. Elementary enrollment has grown by about 900 students in the last 15 years. As we continue to grow, the excess space will allow us opportunities for early childhood classrooms.
Q. What about the other schools in the Grand Island school district? How many of them need upgrades or repairs and were passed over?
A. The projects included are those that could not be done without a bond election to pay for them. Other scheduled maintenance projects or issues at the other schools did not rise to the same need level as the seven projects included.
Q. What is Plan B if this fails?
A. The problems won't go away if the bond fails. GIPS will continue to place more kids into classes, closets and hallways and deal with unnecessary barriers to student safety. The cost of these problems will continue to rise.
Q: Why not combine Starr and Stolley Park?
A: This was considered by the Board of Education, but was ultimately ruled out after researching the project. The size of a combined school would be more than 500 students - which is already close to the high end of the ideal and most efficient size of a four unit school. It would also lock us into one school for that area - an already full school at that - leaving us little room for growth in the southeast and south central parts of Grand Island. By building new schools as planned in this bond issue, the district has growth opportunities. We will have the capacity for as many as 7 units (current need is for 4.5) as growth warrants. It also allows us to build in space for preschool without creating an 800-student mega school, which our community research told us would not be accepted in Grand Island.
Q. Why not consolidate both Stolley and Starr and then build a new elementary school south of Highway 34 near Rainbow Lake or Ponderosa Lake areas to promote growth south?
A. Again, the community was loud and clear in saying to the district they don't want the large schools. As far as building south, there may come a time when that is needed, but the growth hasn't happened and without the growth in a certain area already started, it is too big of risk to ask taxpayers to build a school. The needs addressed in this bond issue are immediate, with an eye on the future. These solutions solve our current problems, while also adding capacity for more than 700 more elementary students across the district.
Q. Why would the new three-unit Stolley Park School cost almost $2 million MORE than the new FOUR-unit Starr School?
A. The amounts you are referring to are based on best estimates, based on many factors. Differences between the two project include the fact Stolley Park will be two stories rather than the one-story Starr. Also, the timing of the project affects cost. Since it won't start for two years, prices of materials will be likely be more expensive.
Q. Regarding Stolley Park: Why would the new 3-unit Stolley Park School cost almost $3 million more than the proposed new 3-unit Jefferson School? Would it not be both possible and cheaper (than $16.9 million) to gut, or renovate, the existing building and add on to it?
A. The prices of the two schools were originally set differently because they have different settings. Stolley Park will have more contained driving and parking paths than Jefferson will. Also, the buildings will be designed differently. Stolley Park will be designed with a few more classrooms because it has a little more space to be built on than Jefferson. Another factor in the cost is the timing. While the schedule has not been set officially, the building costs will be higher for each building based on the number of projects that are being done concurrently.
As far as being cheaper to renovate, gut or in some way use the current buildings vs. the cost of razing them and completely starting new: No. The costs are similar at Jefferson for building new vs. renovating, and the renovated version would still have deficiencies a new building would not. At Stolley Park, this simply isn't an option. So many of the issues at Stolley Park can not be fixed without starting over. The building has lasted a long time, but it is simply tired and needs to be replaced.
Q. Where will the entrances and exits be on the new Starr school you are proposing? Adams Street or Stolley Park Road?
A. While nothing has been finalized, the school would likely be designed with access points on both Adams Street and Stolley Park Road, as well as Church Road. Church Road would possibly be connected from Adams Street to the west side of the lot.
Q. West of 281 that you're adding space for an additional 260 students. Would that not take us back to putting Stolley Park and Starr together?
A. We are adding space to both schools west of Highway 281, making them both four-unit schools. If we combined Starr and Stolley Park it would already be at or near capacity for a four-unit school, leaving us no room for future growth in the south central and southeast parts of Grand Island. In order to allow for any growth at all, the school would have to be more than four-units, which the community has told the district it does not support.
Q: What then will be the overall net impact to the taxpayer for the $69.9 million dollar bond issue?
A: The net impact of a successful bond referendum for $69.9 million on 09-09-2014 will be approximately a net levy increase of $0.0800 per $100 of assessed valuation. Therefore, the financial impact on a homeowner of the following valuation property will be:
Valuation - Annual - Monthly
$100,000 - $85 - $7.08
$200,000 - $170 - $14.17
$300,000 - $255 - $21.25
Q. Can this be done without a bond?
A. No. State laws and the structure of school financing require GIPS to go to a bond for new buildings. Renovations the magnitude of the projects included are outside the scope of a normal GIPS budget.
Q: Are there ways to deal with building issues within existing budget process?
A: Budgeting isn't the issue as much as state statute and revenue. Nebraska Public schools are not allowed to use General fund money to build new facilities. Since we are looking at needs at the sixty-nine million dollars one can easily see how we must use a combination of levy shifting, levy reduction, and other short-term sacrifice to manage the new debt load created by a sixty-nine million dollar debt issue.
Q. How many school bond issues have there been in the last 15 years?
A. GIPS has passed one bond issue in the last 15 years, a $19.95 million referendum in 2005 to build Westridge Middle School. A bond issue failed in 2004.
Q. What bonds are we still paying for?
A. There are currently three active GIPS bonds. The 1993 bond (multiple buildings, $26.6 million) expires in 2016; the 1996 bond (Lincoln Elementary, $3.4 million) expires in 2019 and the 2005 bond (Westridge, $19.95 million) will expire in 2025. The new bond, if passed, would be 25 years.
Q: What are other schools doing?
A: During the last 18 months (the time the GIPS Board has taken to engage the community) the following communities have PASSED the following bond issues:
- School District, Bond Issue Amount
- Lincoln ($153,000,000)
- Millard ($80,000,000)
- Kearney ($75,000,000)
- Papillion-La Vista ($59,600,000)
- Columbus ($49,900,000)
- Crete ($33,000,000)
- Hastings ($21,500,000)
- Ogallala ($15,000,000)
- Holdrege ($13,900,000)
- Fort Calhoun ($12,900,000)
- Niobrara ($10,000,000)
- Bridgeport ($8,900,000)
- North Bend ($7,365,000)
- Centennial ($6,850,000)
- Shelton ($3,400,000)
- North Loup ($3,130,000)
- Humphrey ($2,000,000)
- Total: $555,445,000
Q. What will the district do with the money saved by having more efficient buildings?
A. Past experience is after the new buildings are properly balanced and running the energy costs are less per square foot but the same or slightly more in total cost. This allows us to expand capacity and have more space for educating students at nearly the same expense we have on smaller, outdated buildings now.
Q: What is the current debt load of GIPS and how is it funded?
A: Grand Island Public Schools currently has debt in three of the eleven funds used to manage the district's finances.
1. Lunch Fund – This debt is fully collateralized against equipment installed in the Child Nutrition Center (CNC) and operates much like enterprise fund as the revenue used to pay the debt does not come from taxes against valuation but the operational revenue of the fund. Essentially, this debt is not relevant to a bond referendum.
2. Bond Fund – This is where the district services the principal and interest paymentsdue on previously successful bond referendums, which is paid via a levy against current valuation. Generally, over time the levy goes down as the bond payments are set when the debt is issued and valuation increases. The bond fund levy will increase in direct relation to a successful bond referendum.
3. Qualified Fund – This is Board of Education approved (no vote of the people is necessary) debt can be used for indoor air quality issues, asbestos abatement, hazardous materials abatement, and other health and life safety issues like ADA barrier removal. This debt is also serviced via a levy against valuation up to a maximum of $0.0520 cents per $100 assessed valuation. Currently, the QCPUF for GIPS has a levy of $0.0520 cents per $100 assessed valuation.
Additionally, the Special Building Fund can issue and service debt but is limited by state statute and linked to the General Fund levy limitation of $1.05 per $100 assessed valuation. Currently GIPS levies $0.0100 cents of the maximum levy which produces around $265,000.00 in revenue per year. This revenue is used to take care of one-time expenses such as land purchases or other long-term building project, albeit limited in scope due to the limited levy. Currently, GIPS doesn't have any debt in this fund.
Q: What levy exactly will be shifted, reduced, or other short-term sacrifices will be needed to manage the new debt load created by a sixty-nine million dollar debt issue?
A: Grand Island public School has three funds that will be affected by a successful bond referendum.
1. Bond Fund – The bond fund the debt for the 1993 bond issue will start to come off the tax rolls within the next few years. However, due to refinancing (saving the taxpayer over two (2) million dollars) and the 2005 bond issue there are now only 'pockets' of debt that are available for new bond issue debt until after the 2025-2026 school year (the year GIPS will be debt free based upon current voter approved bond referendums). Specifically, in the 18-19 school year up to one (1) million dollars of debt can be added. While this seems like a long time form now the current economic conditions makes these funds available now at historically low interest rates. The cost of waiting to issue additional debt will only increase over time as rates will not stay this low forever. This limited amount of bond fund debt that remains available will still help reduce the levy impact on a new debt issue by up to $0.0100 cents per $100 dollars of assessed valuation.
2. Qualified Fund – Within this fund the 2012 debt issued as authorized by the Board of Education for the Howard Elementary School HVAC (heating, ventilation, and air conditioning) project will be paid in full. Therefore, the levy currently assessed to service this debt will come off after the 2013 – 2014 school year. The currently levy to service this debt amounts to $0.0303 per $100 assessed valuation.
3. Special Building Fund – Depending upon all the factors outside the Districts control we can for a limited period of time, most likely two to three years reduce the current special building fund levy to less than $0.0100 cents per assessed valuation. This is the short-term (in the context of a 25 year bond issue) sacrifice that might be needed in order to limit the impact of the bond referendum.
The next effect of these three funds levy changing in response to a successful bond referendum will be to offset the total impact of new debt by a minimum of $0.0400 cents per $100 assessed valuation.
Q. Why hold a special mail-in ballot? Why not wait until 2014 general elections in November? Three months will hardly gain any traction on timeline if bond issue passes. Was special ballot held so elderly would forget to mail in ballots?
A. Actually, statistics given to the district show a much higher percentage of voters place votes in a mail-in election vs. a special election at polling places. The three months do, in fact, make a difference. Action will begin immediately if the bond passes. Three months to get bids in place and other prep work started so projects can start by the time school gets out in some cases will make a difference. Another reason not to have the bond issue on the general election is the Board felt our issues may get overshadowed in the bigger election, while with a special election the focus is on the facts and the issues of our school needs.
Q. What is the purpose of signing the envelope? What happens to those ballots that aren't signed? Typically voting is anonymous.
A. This is a not a rule required by the district, this is an election office rule. Unsigned envelopes will not be counted. Ballots are not signed; voting is still anonymous.
Q. How late can I still register to vote?
A. August 29 is the deadline to register. You can register in person at the election office and fill out a provisional ballot. The election office is located at 121 South Pine St. in Grand Island. They are open 8:30 a.m. to noon and 1 to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday.