Wade Freedle: About that $47 million high school bond
The Nevada Joint Union High School District (NJUHSD) is proposing to issue bonds in the amount of $47 million to repair and upgrade facilities at Nevada Union, Bear River, Silver Springs and McCourtney Road Adult Center.
The bonds will be issued for a 30-year term and the interest payments will total $29,420,000, for a total liability of $76,420,000, per the calculation of the bond counsel retained by the district.
This type of expansionary program would appear to be in response to a significant increase in enrollment. However, that is not the case. In 2000, high school enrollment in all schools was 4,604; in 2015 it had declined to 3,003 or a loss of 35 percent from peak enrollment. Further, from 2005 through 2015, intermediate school enrollment in the schools that feed the future enrollment of the high schools declined from 8,369 to 4,894 or a loss of 42 percent from peak enrollment. In addition, the NJUHSD forecast for enrollment over the next three years is for losses of 6 percent in 2016-2017, 5 percent in 2017-2018 and 8 percent in 2018-2019 (NJUHSD budget for 2016/2017 – page 159). This represents a loss of 503 students and will bring total district enrollment down to 2,100 students.
The proposed expenditures are contained in a list of 84 projects for the four locations and range from $8,042,958 in new solar installations to reorganizing the storage containers at Nevada Union for $3,564. Almost all of the projects are questionable, either in terms of whether the campus will be in operation long enough to utilize the facility, or if the repairs are really needed at this time, or has there been a justification based on cost reductions that provide a return on investment (all of the solar are in this category).
But of especial interest are the replacement tracks proposed for both schools.
The Bear River track is being replaced because it was originally constructed with English Standard dimensions (yards), but now they need a track based on metric dimensions so they are proposing to build a new track for $758,000 instead of moving the finish line 10 percent further down the track to achieve a metric distance. Nevada Union does not have any justification other than the track is 10 years old and they propose to build a new track for $784,000. It is difficult to see any need in these new track proposals. Nor is the validity of need the only question in regard to the proposed projects. The listed costs are rough order of magnitude rather than engineered estimates, which raises the question as to their accuracy.
This entire bond proposal is the first phase in what will become a continuing cycle if it is not defeated. First, the high schools are short of money because they are short of students. The current student deficit of approximately 1,000 translates into a funding shortage of $9 million per year, based on a state reimbursement of $9,000 per student. These deficits have been accumulating over the past 15 years and translate into the cumulative deficit represented by this bond proposal. If this bond proposal is passed, the funding problem will not be solved. The annual operating deficits will continue to accelerate as student enrollment declines and in four or five years the District will be proposing another bond to supplement operating costs. And the cycle will continue until the district board faces up to the fact that one of the major high schools must be closed. At this point in time the District is proposing to spend an additional $22,451,105 on facilities improvements at Bear River that will be a complete loss when the decision is made to consolidate the campuses.
A “yes” vote will enable the district board to avoid the decision for another four or five years. A no vote will force them to confront the realities of declining enrollment now and make the managerial decisions that will save taxpayers $76,420,000.
Wade Freedle lives in Grass Valley.
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