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Superintendent details construction plans for CV district

The Central Valley School District is running a construction bond Feb. 8. The $69.6 million bond would include renovation and expansion on four elementary schools, build a new elementary school, expand and modernize Evergreen Middle School and an upgrade to the district’s security system in all schools.

Superintendent Ben Small started this process by forming citizen committees to talk about what the needs are in the district. The campaign is now in full swing and ballots should be mailed Friday to voters.

The bond needs a supermajority – 60 percent – to pass.

Q. What is the 25-year plan?

A. One of the things that I believe, and our school board believes, is that we have to have a road map and a vision for what our facilities will look like in the Central Valley School District, not only now, but into the future.

We also understand that enrollment projections and how our Valley develops will have an impact on that. One of the things I think is important when you look at investing in facilities of a school district is to show your community you’ve got that investment in mind as you move forward.

I believe a CEO of any organization the size of Central Valley School District would have a capital facilities plan of where the capital investment is going to be. We owe it to our community to have that same kind of forethought in moving forward when we ask them to invest in facilities. What the capital facilities committee did is they took a look at all of the school buildings in the Central Valley School District, they assessed the condition of each of those schools, they took a look at enrollment projections five years out. Then they took a look at those enrollment projections out 20 more years based on a one percent student population growth.

Enrollment projections are really solid for five years – you can get a pretty good picture of where you’re going to go. Even then we relied on experts who do enrollment projections for school districts. So then they took those enrollment projections said, “Where do we need new schools? Where do we need to alleviate overcrowding?” We projected that into the future as well. The committee knows this is the snapshot we see today and that snapshot might change.

They said before we put any bond before voters, we convene another committee to take a look at the conditions that exist in order to confirm or adjust if we need to. That 25-year plan, I think, allows the citizens in the Central Valley School District to really understand where we’re going with facilities. It creates a vision for our facilities, much like our strategic plan creates a vision for instruction and programs and the impact on students. As you move past our first bond, you start to then look at when we might need a third high school in the Central Valley School District. The committee planned for that as well.

Q. Explain the 65-cent rate hike and why that is expected to remain flat.

A. The 65-cent increase is based on calculating that at 4 and a half percent interest rate on the bonds, it’s based on assessed valuation in the district right now at about $6.6 billion, and then it’s based on those bonds maturing at a maximum of about 19 and a half years. That 65-cent rate increase takes all of those numbers puts them into a calculation and that’s where we get the 65-cent increase.

The way that we are able to manage that at a flat rate is because we can sell bonds so they mature in different stages. You can sell bonds that mature in five years, then debt comes off of that tax rolls at incremental times throughout the plan which then gives us the capacity to build new schools by maintaining a flat interest rate.

We also believe as more people move into the region into Spokane Valley the assessed valuation will grow as well. The assessed valuation impacts the tax rate as well.

Q. With buildings coming in stages, even though it may be the third step in the 25-year plan, you still expect it to remain 65 cents?

A. Absolutely. We expect it to remain right at $2.30 mark. We may be able to beat that $2.30 mark, we’ll never put a tax rate up there just because we want it to be that way. The maximum that we would get to and we’re committing to our voters is $2.30.

Q. The last bond included a new middle school. Why not on this plan?

A. If you look at the enrollment projections in our district, in 2015, that’s five years out, we would have roughly 3,000 middle school students in the Central Valley School District. If you divide those 3,000 middle school students among the five existing middle schools, you have 600 students per school.

We simply don’t have the middle school enrollment to operate a sixth middle school in the Central Valley School District.

The committee said, “We do have overcrowding issues at Greenacres Middle School, how do we solve those overcrowding issues there?” They said let’s take a look at Evergreen Middle School and expand Evergreen Middle School to alleviate that overcrowding.

It allows us to live within our means, modernize the facility at Evergreen Middle School that needs to be modernized, it creates more energy efficiency there it creates a better learning environment in a facility that was built in 1974.

What the committee said is we can’t afford to operate a sixth middle school, let’s do the best that we can within the current structures that we have.

Q. What’s going to happen to the Kindergarten Center?

A. Of course, we’ll close the Kindergarten Center and the board will make a determination of whether they keep the property or put the property up for sale.

It absolutely could be used in an opportunity to house students during construction at Greenacres Elementary School. We’ll use that flexibly and then the board will make a decision as to what they do with that property. We have to go through processes when we’re talking about surplus property and those types of things.

The committee recommended that it not be used as a school. It’s starting to be a high traffic area, Mission and Barker, with the opening of Barker Bridge it is just starting to really get congested there.

Q. What are you going to do if this bond doesn’t pass?

A. We still have to manage those challenges that we have.

The problem at Greenacres Middle School of overcrowding does not go away. We will have to look at busing more students to different locations from that situation.

The Kindergarten Center will quickly be outgrown. We project that in a year we will be busing students out of the Kindergarten Center to other schools in the district.

The issues in maintenance in outdated HVAC systems will continue to be tougher, so we will manage the best that we can.

What we will continue to have are those learning environment issues in our schools and also the safety and security issues of entryways that are blind to the office, that don’t force people to check into the office. We’ll have to manage around those.

I don’t foresee us, reconfiguring any packages. The committee has done a lot of work putting this together. They said these are the most emergent needs in our district right now. Those needs would remain.

The board would have to make a decision as to whether or not they wanted to rerun another bond. We believe we have the right package at the right time and that we’re doing the right work with our community and involving our community in moving forward with this.

Q. What would that do to your 25-year plan?

A. If you’re looking at a third comprehensive high school in our district in 2018, you have to push that back.

Now, you look at enrollment in our high schools, in 2020 we project, 4,300 high school students in the Central Valley School District, that means you’ve got 2,200 students roughly at each high school. They’re built for 1,600.

It really squishes our ability to provide the learning environment we need for our kids. Not just with the schools that are on this first bond, but in the future.

One of the reasons why a 25-year plan is important is that people see our thinking. Our thinking should be transparent to people and should be out there. We can collect information and community input as to how they think our thinking is. That’s where we get better decisions.

Q. What are the chances of receiving state matching funds?

A. There’s no guarantee of any funding. What we’ve done is we’ve gone back and looked at the history of the state match program. Since it’s inception there has never been a request for a state match fund that has been denied, or that has been committed to and not been followed through on. It’s a pretty stable program.

We also know that we are in uncharted times. We’ve taken a look at how we think this is going to play out. We have the belief there will be a pinch point at the state level where funds may be delayed. Because of the way we have our bond structured and the local map of the local money that we currently have, when we pass the bond, we can start the first three projects, and if the state match is delayed, still be able to complete the three other projects because we have enough local funds to cover the first three.

We believe that pinch point will come in 2012, 2013, the payments will be delayed or may be delayed, as we look at it, and the money from the construction match program will come back to us.

When we start those last three projects, that money will flow to us and we’ll be just fine. That’s our best look at it as we move forward. These match dollars go to local school districts only after local voters have approved money and they create jobs. We believe that’s a compelling argument with our state Legislature.

Q. Why now?

A. Construction costs that are 20 to 30 percent lower than what they were in 2008. Interest rates for borrowing money to pay back bonds are at all-time lows.

The need exists. If this were a wish list, I would say put it off until we are in better times.

This isn’t a wish list, this is a needs list of what our buildings and our facilities need in order to meet our children’s educational needs. Putting them off only creates more costs to fix those needs lists.

By doing this now, we can create jobs in our local economy. The GSI (Greater Spokane Incorporated) evaluation of 1,319 jobs, the impact of 1,207 households, and about 2,898 people in the Valley, that kind of economic impact at a time when people in our region could use jobs, it really creates a nice time for us to fix those challenges that exist in our facilities. And we can maximize our taxpayers’ dollars while doing it.

I think we have a compelling reason of why now.

Q. Final thoughts?

A. The one thing that I think separates a tax for school purposes is that it’s a local tax. It stays local. This tax, or this investment from our community, will actually garner tax from Olympia, monies from Olympia to us.

This money doesn’t go to Olympia and then get redistributed. This money stays local, creates a better environment for our local children and then brings more tax dollars into this region.

I think it’s important to distinguish that.

The 25-year plan creates accountability for us as a school system. I think we’ve created a plan that’s got community input that we’ve been open and transparent about. Our thinking has been transparent and been explained to our community. I think that’s vitally important as we move forward across all aspects of operating our school system.