Crunching the Tahoma school bond numbers

Tahoma School District officials announced a revised bond tax collection rate for the $195 million construction bond this week that was lower than originally estimated after receiving information about an expected increase in property values for 2014.

Tahoma School District officials announced a revised bond tax collection rate for the $195 million construction bond this week that was lower than originally estimated after receiving information about an expected increase in property values for 2014.

Based on the projected 6 percent increase in property values the new projected increase in the tax rate for the district’s bonds, should the $195 million bond pass in November, would be $1.47 per $1,000 assessed value over the 2013 tax rate. That would pencil out to an increase of $36.75 per month for the owner of a $300,000 home or $441 per year.

The bond would be repaid over 20 years, being repaid in full in 2034. The district would have to pay interest on the bonds at a rate of about 4 percent, which would mean that over the 20 years the total cost of the $195 million bond would be $322 million.

The construction of a new Tahoma High School, which would be located in Maple Valley and serve students in grades nine through 12, is the centerpiece of the bond. Construction of the high school building is projected to cost about $144 million or about $250 per square foot. Those figures don’t include the costs for planning the site and permitting.

“We’re confident that we’ll have an attractive building but it’s also going to be done within the character of this community,” said district spokesman Kevin Patterson. “It has been made very clear to us, and these are the words people use, ‘we don’t want a Taj Mahal.’ And we won’t do that — we don’t at any of our facilities. We’re very frugal. So we want a functional building. What’s going to drive it is the educational program, not the bells and whistles. We want something that is going to last for 50 years at the minimum. So it’s going to be designed in a way that creates a very solid structure. We want it to look good, but it’s not going to be fancy. It’s going to be in the center of the community and we want the community to take pride in it.”

The proposed high school site is 35 acres in what is known as the Donut Hole, 156 acres of county-owned property located off Southeast Kent-Kangley Road and 228th Street Southeast. The school district and the county reached a deal for the district to buy the 35 acres for $9 million after the district received $4 million to put toward the cost of the property from the state legislature. The other $5 million will come from the district’s capital projects fund, which is made up mostly of impact fees the district receives from new home construction, according to Patterson. He said that district officials hope that the sale will be finalized by the end of the year.

Patterson also said that the entire process to build the school, from start to finish, is expected to take four years. That time includes planning and creating the blueprints, getting the necessary permits, prepping the site, and construction. The district’s goal would therefore be to have students in the new school for the 2017-2018 school year.

Building a comprehensive high school would then allow the district to realign the other buildings, get rid of portables and relieve the district’s overcrowding problems.

Currently the district has 71 portables district-wide. In May 2013 the average class size at the district’s elementary schools was 26.25 and at the middle schools was 30.15. Figuring with an average class size of 27 district-wide, roughly 1,900 students are housed in portables each day, which is about 25 percent of the district’s students.

Patterson said that it is expected for the student headcount to top out in 2021 or 2022.

“It’s going to be touch-and-go because we’re thinking our elementary schools are going to reach their maximum capacity — which they’re close now — by about 2016,” Patterson said.

The plans for district realignment call for Glacier Park and Rock Creek to remain elementary schools. Lake Wilderness, which is currently the largest elementary school in the state, will also remain an elementary school but the older portion of the school will be torn down and the school will become about half its current size. Shadow Lake will also remain an elementary school but will only house half the elementary grades, with the other half housed at Cedar River as a companion school. Tahoma Middle School is slated to become an elementary school and Tahoma Junior High and the current Tahoma High School building will both be turned into middle schools.

Patterson said after construction is complete district administrators anticipate that there would still be room to grow before they expect enrollment to peak, and that they wouldn’t expect needing to make major changes to the way the district is aligned thereafter.

“We never say never as far as boundaries because you are always having to look at where the kids are coming from and adjust boundaries, make some minor adjustments, but once we reconfigure the schools — and we’ll have to draw new boundaries as part of that process, we’re adding two new elementary schools basically — then that will set our basic boundaries and they should hold pretty well,” Patterson said. “Essentially we should be in good shape for a long time.”

The rest of the money from the bonds would go toward things like improving security, retrofitting classrooms to make them grade level appropriate, new heating and cooling systems, new roofs, siding, and other similar projects to update and improve the buildings.

The district is currently working on creating an itemized list of projects that Patterson said he expects to have by the end of the month. The original project list came back with a price tag of $243 million and the district leadership cut that back to $175 million worth of projects when it presented to the school board on Aug. 1 and the board ultimately made the decision to go out for the $195 million bond.

The last time that a construction bond was passed in the district was in 1997 for $45 million, which paid for the remodeling of the current Tahoma High School among other projects, and is still being repaid.

“It (the ‘97 bond) ends at the end of 2016, so if we do nothing else that will just go away,” Patterson said. “But what we’re proposing, of course, is to start this (the $195 million bond) in 2014 and so if you look at the total bond rate, then they start adding what the project cost would be.”

Patterson explained that the bond is structured so that the collection rate remains steady throughout the course of the bond, rather than having the collection rate higher the first few years until the 1997 bond is paid off.

“The ‘97 bond was for $45 million dollars, so it was quite a bit less than what we’re asking for now and even though it helps to have that drop off the books it (the bond that will be on the November ballot) is not a replacement bond,” Patterson said. “We’re asking for more money, so it’s going to cost more.”

Patterson said that if the bond measure fails the district will have to start making other plans for dealing with the overcrowding.

“The contingency plan is that when the buildings hit maximum capacity we’re going to have to change the schedule,” Patterson said. “Most likely with a year-round, multi track schedule at the elementary schools and then a double-shift, actually having two shifts of students, at the junior high and high school.”

Patterson said the district would have to start planning right away because it would have to give families and teachers plenty of notice and would have to have all the details worked out well in advance.

“It’s not ideal, there’s a reason school districts don’t intentionally do these schedules,” Patterson said. “It’s not a threat, it’s just the way it is. We’ve talked about this for years now. We talked about it in 2011 with the bond measure, that this was an alternative plan when we reached our maximum capacity.”


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