Opinion: Unanswered questions surround BVSD’s bond measure

Photo by MChe Lee on Unsplash

Thursday, Oct. 20, 2022

Learn more about 5A: BVSD bonds

Want a second opinion? Read Yes on 5A: Investing in schools is investing in our children and communities

Adapted from comments by Celeste Landry, with editing by Shay Castle*

Boulder Valley School District’s (BVSD) resources seem to be limited only by its legal debt limit: Voters have approved every bond in the last 20 years, including Colorado’s record-setting bond in 2014. This fall, BVSD will ask for $350 million more.

The money is slated for the maintenance of all school buildings, constructing a new elementary school in Erie, replacing New Vista High School, and funding expansions to Career and Technical Education offerings. To support this ask, BVSD references Colorado’s shrinking investment in public education, but BVSD’s claims of “inadequate funding” may not be as relevant to BVSD as it is to the state overall.

BVSD is considered a wealthy district by the state, and gets less money from the state per child than many other districts because it gets so much funding directly from property taxes. 

BVSD understandably wants to encourage students (and the state funding that travels with them) to stay in the district, and doesn’t want Erie families to consider nearby non-BVSD options: Erie Elementary or Red Hawk Elementary, which are in St. Vrain Valley School District. (Editor’s note: Red Hawk Elementary is over-capacity, and multiple SVVSD elementary schools are projected to be over capacity in coming years.)

Bonds make sense for a new school, but not for annual maintenance. This bond only covers a few years of projected maintenance needs, yet the maintenance is 54% of the bond. (If asbestos removal and American Disability Act playground improvements are included, the maintenance increases to 59% of the bond.) We need a long-term strategy addressing how to pay for the maintenance needs that are anticipated 10 or 20 years from now.

The district blames the state for not providing money for maintenance. On its own website, BVSD states that bonds and mill levies are one option to raise revenue and fund maintenance.

BVSD will likely bump up against its debt limit in the next bond — presumably in eight years, if the 1998, 2006, 2014 and 2022 cycle continues. BVSD originally considered including in this bond proposal a change to the way that the debt limit is calculated so that bumping up against that limit is delayed.

It seems that BVSD is counting on taxpayers in lieu of long-range planning for the future of its buildings. The district is facing declining enrollment, particularly in Boulder, which may necessitate closing one or more schools. BVSD’s Capital Improvement Planning Review Committee (CIPRC) did discuss this expectation and whether BVSD should wait for the Long Range Advisory Committee (LRAC) recommendations before putting a bond measure on the ballot. BVSD didn’t wait; the LRAC’s first meeting wasn’t until late September, according to district officials.

In 2016, BVSD voters approved a property tax increase for capital construction, maintenance and technology. That fund is called the Operations and Technology Fund. It does pay for technology, but it also pays for operations like security and custodial services.

Voters did not approve the tax increase for operations. That annual money for operations should go to maintenance instead. BVSD should rename and repurpose the 2016 Operations and Technology Fund to the Maintenance and Technology Fund. BVSD should ask voters for a bigger annual maintenance allotment, instead of making 54% of this bond measure go to maintenance and smaller facility improvements.

The cost of housing is high in Boulder Valley. Perhaps only trust fund babies and the super wealthy  will be able to afford Boulder in the future. Increasing property taxes to pay the debt for long-term bonds to do short-term maintenance is not a responsible way to fund facility improvements.

Celeste Landry is a member of Boulder Beat’s Opinion Panel. Learn more about Celeste.

*This opinion piece was assembled from a collection of comments on an op-ed advocating for passage of 5A, which Celeste Landry was assigned to edit (given her position on BBOP). The comments were so comprehensive and thoughtful that we thought they deserved to be their own piece. They were assembled and organized by Shay Castle, and another editor was assigned to the Pro 5A piece.

This op-ed does not necessarily reflect the views of Boulder Beat or its writers, editors and contributors

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