With the November 7 general election approaching, district officials are looking to shed light on the facts regarding both a bond and sinking fund proposal, which could help fund a number of capital improvement projects throughout the district.
As part of that effort, Superintendent Tim Throne sat down with The Oxford Leader recently, to discuss the two proposals.
The bond and sinking funds would allow district officials to invest $30.4 million in total into security enhancements, electrical and mechanical upgrades and projects that would extend the life of school buildings by renovating or replacing roofs, parking lots, lighting and more.
According to Throne, these needs were determined by Assistant Superintendent of Business and Operations Sam Barna, Director of Maintenance Tony Sarkins, district parents and community members.
“We are not building or constructing anything new. It is all major renovation. We asked people ‘what are the greatest needs in this building?’ and that’s how we created this list. We were doing everything we could not to raise taxes on our community when determining those needs,” said Throne.
The $28.28 million proposed bond would keep the district’s current debt service tax rate steady at 7.9 mills, according to officials, although it would extend the length of repayment for the district’s bond debt, currently set to end in 2037, by three years.
Along with a bond, district officials will also place a 5-year 0.75-mill sinking fund request on November’s ballot, which would help cover building improvements and technology equipment not covered by the bond issuance and lower the approximate $4 million difference.
If the bond is approved, the district would receive three installments of approximately $9.3 to $9.5 million in bonds every other year starting in 2018, according to Throne.
“We’re not issuing all $28 million worth of bonds up front, right away. We’re doing it over a series,” said Throne. “We’re doing that for two reasons. Number one, if you issue it all up front right away, you start paying interest on it right away. Number two, even if we had the $28 million up front, we can’t do that work all at once. We can’t consume it that fast. So why pay for that interest if those dollars are just sitting there? It’s not good financial practice. We want to make sure we are good financial stewards of our taxpayer’s dollars and that we are issuing these in the best interest of our community.”
When asked why the district has determined a bond and sinking fund to be the best methods for the district to complete these projects, as opposed to using the district’s operating funds, Throne said the district’s approximate 15 percent fund balance is not enough to fund the necessary projects without hurting its financial standing.
“If we’ve got that 15 percent fund balance in there, that allows us to meet all of our obligations as things come up and not spend additional money on interest if we had to take out a loan,” Throne said. “While (the fund balance) serves a purpose and it helps with the maintenance of our buildings, it simply can’t meet our needs for the type of projects for maintenance and renovation that we’re looking to do today. “These are big ticket items that we can’t afford to do with the operating funds that are available and these projects are needed just to keep the buildings going. If we don’t fix these problems, they are eventually going to become an even bigger financial cost down the road.”
Among the list of proposed updates is the school’s aging bus fleet. District officials are hoping to put $1.5 million over time into the purchase of new buses.
While the district has used operational funds in recent years to replace buses with used vehicles, according to Throne, it has not been enough to keep the fleet of around 50 buses up-to-date.
“We use the operational dollars to take care of our transportation needs, but there’s just not enough (available money) to buy new buses. We want to go out there, buy new buses and have those buses for years to come versus only having the strategy of buying used buses and trying to keep our fleet updated that way. Buying used buses at auctions is getting harder and harder to do.”
On the district’s list of necessary replacements, officials are also hoping to spend an estimated $500,000 on playgrounds throughout the district.
From replacing outdated pea gravel with the latest safety standard of engineered mulch to replacing play structures altogether, district officials are looking to update sections of playgrounds throughout the district which have outlived their expected lifespan.
“In the past, we’ve had community groups raise money (to replace play structures). The district has been very thankful to those groups and we’ve matched those funds. And, while we’ve been able to address some of the most pressing issues on the playgrounds, there is still work to be done. We want to address every school,” Throne said.
Among the proposed capital improvement projects is the repavement of sidewalks and parking lots throughout the district.
Representing $13.2 million of the total $30.4 million capital improvement list, Throne said the district’s ability to afford this districtwide repavement would likely be dependent on the approval of the district’s sinking fund proposal— which would give the district an estimated $800,000 per year for five years.
Officials are also looking to put an estimated $11.6 million into the district’s building systems, which would include the replacement of thermostats for heating, cooling and ventilation; the replacement of several boilers, which are currently nearing the end of their lifespan; along with new flooring and carpeting throughout the district’s schools.
“These are big ticket items,” Throne said. “It’s not like buying a new $50 thermostat. In order to control hundreds of thousands of square feet, and keep those temperatures controlled, you have major controls and valves that just need updating. We want to create a comfortable environment for our students and staff.”
While several of the district’s elementary schools currently do not have air conditioning units, Throne said these improvements would also allow for the installation of climate control units throughout the district’s elementary schools.
Also included in the list of proposed projects for the district are updates to building security, estimated to cost around $150,000. This would include the installation of energy-saving LED lights throughout the district’s parking lots and updated security cameras at the schools. $3.35 million would also be put into new roofing—primarily at Oxford High, where the roofing is now around 20 years old, according to Throne.
Through the proposed sinking fund, officials are hoping to put $1.25 million into the updates of student devices for grades K-12 and teacher devices.
According to Throne, these updates would include new computers for teachers, new video projection devices, along with updated devices for students, which would be compatible with state testing.
“Most of our classroom devices and computers were bought (through funding from the district’s) last bond in 2009. This will be our eighth year on (the teacher) computers. We’re spending money in trying to keep those going right now, so we need to replace those,” Throne said.
Should the overall cost of the proposed projects cost less than the district had anticipated, Throne says officials have already determined where the remaining funds will go.
“I want our community to know up front, if we find any savings at any point… any additional money we’re going to put towards purchasing new buses,” Throne said.
To further address questions and concerns from members of the community, Throne said the district will host several community forums and informational events as the November election draws closer
“We want to get the information out there. We want to be crystal clear on what the money is intended for and what it’s not intended for. We want our taxpayers to feel like they understand it and why we’re asking for it,” Throne said.
“Community members ultimately get a good return on investment for their schools and we want to have the best schools that we can possibly have. We don’t want to lose the investment that the district has already made in many of these buildings.”
Throne also welcomes community members to contact him with questions, either by phone at (248) 969-5000 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.