Bond unites Lake parents, school district

One common goal may be mending wounds between Lake Tahoe parents and the Douglas County School District: convincing voters to pass a $40 million bond in November to fund the district's capital improvement projects.

"Regardless of people's opinions on the performance of the school board and current administration, the schools need funding for capital projects," said Lake parent Lawrence Howell.

Howell, a Douglas County Planning Commissioner, removed his two sons from Zephyr Cove Elementary School in May because of radon concerns. He and Greg Felton, another vocal critic of the district's handling of radon, have not only remained active on the board-founded Keep Improving Douglas Schools bond committee, but have taken the lead on the issue.

"The public needs to know that this is not some wild idea concocted by the school board or the district, but this is how it's done in Nevada," Howell told school board members on June 10 at Douglas High School. "The State of Nevada does not provide any money to school districts for capital improvement projects. School bonds are the primary way Nevada schools fund their projects."

Capital improvement projects include expenditures over $100,000. Since its inception in September, the KIDS committee has made a list of top priority projects, including replacing outside lights at Douglas High School, re-keying all schools so that teachers can lock classroom doors from the inside, replacing original underground gas lines at Gardnerville Elementary School, renovating fire alarm systems and panels and replacing an asbestos-containing roof at Carson Valley Middle School.

Howell said without funding, the district's buildings, which average about 40 years in age, will deteriorate.

"Residents without kids will ask why they should care about schools," he said, "But people need to understand that this will affect everyone in the community. Run-down schools will lower property values in certain neighborhoods."

Felton, who is running against incumbent Cindy Trigg for school board area 3, said voters need to understand that approving a bond will not raise their taxes.

"This a continuation bond, not a tax rate increase," he said. "We really need to get the message out that we are not asking to raise taxes."

The district currently levies 85 cents per $100 of assessed value in property tax. Ten cents of that is a special debt service tax, guaranteed by having outstanding bond payments, that goes toward capital improvement projects. When the district's existing bonds retire in 2011, they will lose that 10 cent rate unless a new bond is passed.

The district's financial advisor, Marty Johnson of JNA Consulting, has said passing a bond will only preserve the current tax rate. The question is whether denying a bond would lower property tax owners' tax bills by 10 cent per $100 of assessed value, or if that tax rate would be used by other county entities.

In a previous interview, Douglas County Manager Michael Brown said Nevada law allows county entities to grab tax rates lost by other entities.

"If the school district loses that rate, the proceeds from the debt service tax will be shared proportionately by county entities who receive revenue from property tax," he said.

Howell and Felton were also worried voters would confuse the proposed school bond with a state-wide teacher initiative to raise taxes on casinos. The latter measure has inspired a furor of "No Tax Grab" advertisements. Voters need to understand the two are unrelated, Howell said.

"It's going to be a long ballot in November," he said.


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