School district to run referendum in May on school facilities

 Princeton School District will have a referendum this coming May seeking permission for the district to bond for up to $30 million to construct a new K-2 elementary school and to remodel and add onto the high school, plus upgrade the district’s security and technology.

The school board unanimously passed the referendum motion at its February 6 meeting.

The referendum will take place on or near May 20. Besides the security and technology work, the proposal includes elimination of the district’s portable classrooms, renovation of the high school kitchen and cafeteria, creation of additional high school gym space, an upgrade of handicap accessibility and improvement of the high school’s industrial-tech facilities.

The high school has one small portable originally designed with two units, while the K-2 South Elementary has a 14-unit portable classroom building that houses second grade. The proposed new K-2 school would replace South Elementary.

There was not a lot of discussion at the meeting leading to the referendum motion, though there had been a number of citizen committees doing studies, and some board discussions on the issue in the past several months.

School board member Craig Johnson made the motion to hold the referendum and board member Howard Vaillancourt seconded it. The motion passed after there had been a failed motion made by board member Chuck Nagle, which board member Eric Minks seconded “for the sake of discussion.”

Nagle’s motion was to run a referendum this coming May “consisting of two independent questions – (a) new K-2 elementary school on the North Elementary property and (b) additional high school gymnasiums and improvements and secure entrance vestibules at the high school and middle school for a total proposed bond amount not to exceed $30 million and if question (a) fails, the district will proceed as soon as possible with South Elementary renovations and expansion similar to the recent North Elementary project.”

Nagle’s motion failed 6-1, with Nagle voting yes.

School board chair Deb Ulm said she and other board members hope to decide at the February 18 board meeting the exact question or questions to place on the referendum. Superintendent Julia Espe has indicated that a referendum for building a new school and making renovations and additions elsewhere could be in the form of either one or two questions.

The school board has to also decide the exact spot it would have a new K-2 school built. The options committee, made up of citizens, recommended that it be built on the north end of the city, with space on the North Elementary campus being preferential.

Ulm noteed that the school board can only supply facts concerning an upcoming referendum. But a group separate from the board will be campaigning to get voters to vote for the referendum, Ulm said.

Impact on taxes

The school board recently made public an analysis from financial consulting firm, Ehlers, on what the tax impact of servicing two bond issues totaling $29.955 million would be on property. Owners of a residential parcel with an estimated market value of $125,000 would pay $106 per year, while the contribution on a $200,000 residential parcel would be b $194. The tax on a $253,000 residential property would be $253, and the tax on a $400,000 parcel would be $428.

A commercial industrial parcel with an estimated market value of $500,000 would have an annual property tax of $993 to service the debt. The tax on an apartment building valued at $400,000 would be $537, while an agricultural homestead valued at $200,000 would have a $131 annual tax.

An agricultural non-homestead parcel valued at $1,500 would be taxed at $1.61 per acre while a seasonal recreational property valued at $100,000 would have a $107 annual bill.

The Ehlers analysis shows that if the planned referendum passes in May, payments on the nearly $30 million in new debt would just go toward paying interest in years 2015 through 2023. Subsequent payments in the next 11 years would go toward paying both principal and interest.

The payment schedule would coincide with the district retiring old bonds in payable 2023.

The analysis states that the financing would be through two bond issues – one for $10 million and the other for $19.955 million.

Opposition heard

District resident Rich Harris used the meeting’s open forum to voice his opposition to building a new elementary school. He acknowledged the cited space deficiencies but saidhe believes there are other solutions for meeting the space needs, with the “most obvious” being to renovate and expand South Elementary.

Although those alternatives “may be less than perfect, they would be adequate and many of us through out individual lives, put up with adequate solutions instead of paying for perfect,” Harris said.