School officials holding out hope for bond

In the last days of the election, Douglas County Superintendent Carol Lark is hopeful that voters will pass the school continuation bond.

"I am very hopeful," she said. "What people have told me is very encouraging. I have not heard much opposition, and I hope that is far-reaching. This community truly values their schools. My belief is that the bond will pass."

Lark said she understands that the bond is a complicated issue.

"Funding for public education is complex," she said.

She said people have a difficult time separating capital improvements and the bond from the district's operating budget.

"We all have to carry the burden of the financial crisis, including education," she said. "We have been meeting on a regular basis to make cuts, but the bond is a separate issue."

If the continuation bond passes, the district will hold onto a 10-cent property tax rate that is guaranteed by having outstanding bond payments. When their current bonds expire in 2011, they will lose that debt service rate unless another bond is approved. They will also lose revenue from the governmental services tax, which accompanies the debt service rate. The district uses the governmental services revenue to fund capital improvement projects, large-scale construction projects exceeding $100,000.

District officials have assured voters that approving the bond will not raise taxes, but will only keep an existing rate in place. They've said denying the bond will not lower taxes, since state law allows governmental entities to gobble up tax rates lost by others.

The district's other source of revenue for capital improvements, a residential construction tax, has been reduced by 80 percent since the housing slowdown, according to Chief Financial Officer Holly Luna.

Gardnerville resident Jack Van Dien, who has been a vocal critic of the continuation bond, recently had a meeting with Luna and Lark.

"I'm still 50-50," he said.

Van Dien said he discovered in the meeting that unlike a business that can set a long-term capital improvement plan, the school district must limit its expenditures to projected revenues.

"I feel sympathy for the situation they are in," he said. "They've never had a long-range capital improvement plan."

But Van Dien still objects to the continuation idea, that money would be issued in increments based on fluctuating priorities and revenues, rather than fixed sums for individual projects.

"I told the ladies that personally I still think voters deserve individual projects," he said.

Van Dien said the district should form an advisory committee of engineers and technicians to analyze and chart the district's long-term needs.

"Right now, it seems they don't know when a given roof will expire," he said. "But this was the hand they (Lark and Luna) were dealt when they came here. I'm trying to stay fair and open-minded. Let voters make up their own minds."


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