The state may contribute a little more money than expected to a long list of building projects being discussed by the Richland School Board needed to meet growing student enrollment and address aging schools.
Board members did not come to any decisions during a special meeting Wednesday about how to finance around $87 million in proposed construction and other projects, but heard from financial officials about the advantages and disadvantages of asking voters to approve bonds or levies to pay for the projects.
While the district received good news about how much money the state could contribute, there are stillsome issues to be addressed to get voters behind the proposal.
"We have a lot of work to do," said John Deichman with Richland Citizens for Good Schools.
The board has discussed the list of projects for the past several weeks. They include two new elementary schools and one middle school in south and West Richland to address growth, replacement or remodeling of three elementary schools in central Richland, repurposing Jefferson Elementary for other programs, as well as land purchases for future schools and the replacement of the air system at Chief Joseph Middle School.
Jon Gores, senior vice president with financial consultant firm D.A. Davidson, said the district could either use bonds or a tax levy to pay for the projects.
Bonds require 60 percent voter approval, versus a simple majority of 50 percent for a levy, but provide more money upfront and voters would have a low tax rate, thanks to increasing assessed property values. He also pointed out that a February election tends to lead to a better chance of passage for a bond, regardless of amount.
Gary Miller of the state Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction said the district also has options available as far as state funding goes. A large number of the district's schools are at or beyond the minimum age for modernization or replacement. Student overcapacity also allows the state to provide money for more classrooms.
He added that state matching funds should be closer to 60 percent or more for school replacements. Even though not all the district's proposed projects would be eligible for state matching funds, the state likely could contribute closer to 44 percent of the total costs of a bond or levy, higher than the earlier estimated 40 percent.
Board member Heather Cleary asked if the state could guarantee matching funds given recent budget difficulties.
"There has never been a time when the state didn't fund a project," Miller said, though he admitted the state has delayed paying out for a project.
Deichman said his biggest concern was knowing what order construction would go in and the potential stumbling blocks. He said the repurposing of Jefferson Elementary, which state officials have said the district can't receive state matching money to replace as elementary classroom capacity if it is used for another instructional program, is one potential "tripwire." He added that not all the projects may get support under the same funding source.
"I don't think we have to worry about the amount of money but what pile we're going to," he said.
Board Chairman Richard Jansons suggested the district first build a new elementary school in south Richland before moving on to replacing the three central elementary schools, building a second new elementary and a new middle school and repurposing Jefferson Elementary, but the board will continue that discussion.
"I don't think we're prepared to make a prioritylist," said board member Phyllis Strickler.
The board unanimously approved putting Superintendent Jim Busey in charge of working out an agreement with the Boys & Girls Club of Benton and Franklin Counties for a teen parent child care center near River's Edge High School.
The board discussed the proposal Tuesday night but delayed a decision to allow further review. Strickler said she was uncomfortable moving ahead so quickly on something the board had only recently had proposed. She also said it's not the district's duty to provide child care, though the club would actually be providing the service.
However, she voted to approve the agreement because she said she understood how beneficial the program could be to the district's teen parents and their children.
-- Ty Beaver: 582-1402; firstname.lastname@example.org