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School board celebrates bond victory

by Scott Neuffer
Staff Writer

Veteran school board member Keith Roman told an ecstatic audience gathered at Douglas High School on Thursday night that he could not recall a school bond ever being passed in one attempt, something that happened on Tuesday when about 62 percent of Douglas County voters approved the school continuation bond.

“In my 42 years living here, this is the first time I can remember a bond being passed on the first try,” Roman said.

What started as a regular school board meeting quickly became a cider-sipping celebration as school board members, district officials and members of the Keep Improving Douglas Schools committee celebrated the passage of the bond.

Board members applauded KIDS members for their hard work.

“You pulled off a tremendous accomplishment,” said board member Tom Moore.

But KIDS Chairwoman Cheryl Blomstrom said the victory belonged to Superintendent Carol Lark and Chief Financial Officer Holly Luna.

“You had the right message,” she said. “You had accountability when the public needed to see it.”

Thanks to voters, the school district will retain a 10-cent property tax rate that will go towards the payment of new bonds, which can now be issued for the district’s capital improvement projects, those large-scale construction projects exceeding $100,000.

In contrast to a traditional bond that allocates a fixed sum of money, the continuation bond allows the school district to issue money in increments throughout a 10-year period based on fluctuating capital needs. But the district cannot issue more money than can be covered by the 10-cent rate, and transactions must be authorized by the county’s Debt Management Commission and the State Finance Board.

Luna urged board members to begin the process as soon as possible, so a framework could be in place to undertake capital improvements in the summer of 2009.

She offered three possible first projects: Re-keying classrooms district-wide so teachers can lock their classrooms from the inside in cases of emergency, $160,000; replacing the boiler and renovating the heating and air system at Whittell High School, $1 million; and upgrading fire alarm panels and systems district-wide, $2.2 million.

Board member Karen Chessell asked Marty Johnson of JNA Consulting, who was contracted to manage the bond transactions, if bonds could be sold in the shaky economic climate.

“Three or four weeks ago, nothing was trading in the market,” Johnson said. “But now, with good ratings, general obligation bonds will sell.”

Board members voted to accept the bond resolution and to move forward with getting approval for $30 million of financing for the next three years. Although the Debt Management Commission may authorize a lump amount, each individual issuance will have to be approved by the school board. Any surplus money will be rolled over into a savings account that will be used for future projects in a pay-as-you-go fashion.

Blomstrom said the KIDS committee’s work was not finished. She said the organization would stay intact to serve as a watchdog group and ensure bond proceeds are going where they need to go.

Blomstrom said she would be handing over her chair position to KIDS member and Lake Tahoe parent Lawrence Howell.

“We’ll attend board meetings,” Howell said. “We’ll try to make available monthly progress reports.”