Littleton Public Schools Board of Education to place $80 million bond issue on November ballot for facility repairs;
Every school slated for improvements with no increase in the current tax rate
(8-29-13) During its meeting last night, the Littleton Public Schools Board of Education voted 4-0 (Board Member Mary Nichols was absent) to include an item on the November 2013 ballot that would allow LPS to raise $80 million in funds for school repairs without increasing the current tax rate.
The decision came on the heels of a two-year study of the district’s capital needs and the recommendation of a citizen’s Capital Improvement Planning Committee, which reviewed the district’s facilities to determine infrastructure needs now and in the future. The Committee presented its report to the Board on August 8. The report identified the greatest areas of need, which include:
- Upgrade heating and ventilation systems, including replacing original boilers;
- Repair and improve power and electrical equipment;
- Replace failing roofing;
- Repair or upgrade fire alarms and fire sprinkler systems;
- Repair and replace inefficient lighting;
- Repair deficient plumbing;
- Update wireless access points and improve technology infrastructure including wired and wireless to support more science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM).
The district’s citizens Financial Advisory Committee also recommended at the August 8 meeting that the Board move forward with a bond question on the ballot this November.
The district addresses as many capital needs as it can every year with existing dollars. But, LPS schools are 50 years old on average and range in age from 32 years old to 93 years old. They require repairs and upgrades to keep them safe, efficient, and functioning properly. The needs greatly exceed the funding to address them. In the 2012-2013 school year, there was only enough funding for the most critical $1.5 million in safety needs, mainly in the areas of air quality, roofing, flooring, fire alarms, and concrete repair, even though many more critical needs were identified. LPS facilities are composed of 2.2 million square feet on 350 acres divided among 26 sites. LPS maintains 1.7 million square feet of roofing throughout the district. It’s been 11 years since LPS asked voters to raise funds for capital needs.
“The roof at Runyon Elementary School is a perfect example of a critical need,” said LPS Chief Operations Officer Diane Doney. Last winter, district operations personnel discovered that the Runyon roof had major structural problems that had to be addressed right away. During winter break, support beams were installed in every classroom and in all other possible areas to ensure student safety. However, support beams could not be installed in the gym, which meant that some classes and activities were disrupted. “For the entire spring semester, no one could use the gym if it snowed more than two inches,” said Doney. The district repaired Runyon’s gym roof this past summer, and little capital funding is left to address other critical needs throughout the district. The rest of Runyon’s roof still must be repaired, as well.
Littleton High School, which was built in 1956, is still using its original boiler. It cannot be repaired because the manufacturer went out of business years ago and parts are no longer available. The electrical systems in many of the schools must be repaired or upgraded to accommodate the technology that supports learning at all grade levels. (More than 14,000 laptops and netbooks are being used every day by students and staff across the district.)
How can the district raise $80 million without raising the tax rate?
Two years ago, the district (like many homeowners) refinanced its loans to take advantage of historically low interest rates. LPS was able to lower its interest rate of 5.2 percent down to 2.9 percent, which has saved taxpayers millions and will result in a slight decrease in the property tax rate: about one dollar for every $100,000 of a home’s market value. The average homeowner would see property taxes decrease by three dollars a month, or $36 a year. This November, local voters will be asked for their permission to extend the current tax rate and allow the school district to continue to collect the same amount of property taxes it does currently to be used strictly for facility repairs.
“Taking advantage of lower interest rates and refinancing made good business sense,” said LPS Superintendent Scott Murphy. “Now this community has the opportunity to turn a few dollars into $80 million by keeping the current tax rate in place. Older schools require frequent upkeep and maintenance to keep them safe and efficient. And, $80 million could fix a lot of leaky roofs, leaky plumbing, and worn out ventilation systems.”
The LPS community is tax savvy and has a long history of supporting its schools. Community opinion surveys conducted by phone and mail in the last few months show that 81 percent of respondents would vote in favor of a local $80 million bond issue that would not raise the tax rate. LPS continues to be one of the top achieving school districts in the Denver metro area. High achieving schools translate to higher, stable home values in the community.