Officials: SD2 bonds drawing support

2010-07-27T23:23:00Z Officials: SD2 bonds drawing supportROB ROGERS Of The Gazette Staff The Billings Gazette
July 27, 2010 11:23 pm  • 

Billings School District 2 officials have started picking up support for the two building improvement bonds totaling $12 million that will go before voters in September.

Visiting with neighborhood organizations and business and civic leaders, officials said they’re finding solid support.

“People really want us to take care of our schools,” said Barbara Bryan, board chairwoman.

The district faces $123 million in deferred maintenance, according to figures released by the district in June, so officials have felt increasing pressure to find a way to maintain buildings.

“This is not a wish list,” Superintendent Keith Beeman said of the bond-sponsored projects. “This list is what we need.”

The $12 million is a combination of two federal, interest-free bonds for which the district is eligible. The projects, which would start next year if the bonds pass, were chosen specifically to address avoiding “future catastrophic damage,” maximizing utility savings and improving the learning environment for students at all the district’s buildings across the city.

The projects to be completed include replacing the nearly 80-year-old boiler at Senior High, replacing the roofs at 10 schools and replacing windows at seven schools. The improvements would save the district $94,435 a year in energy costs.

District officials also see passage of the bonds as a way to rebuild trust with voters. In May, voters approved two of three mill levies worth $1.9 million. The second levy, technology funding for the high schools, went through a recount and passed by a scant 10 votes.

Trustee Connie Wardell believes that if voters see the district being responsible with tax dollars and see it using the two bonds to make smart improvements to its schools, they’ll be more likely to support the district.

“I feel it’s really important to rebuild trust with voters,” she said.

Officials see the bonds’ price tag as its main selling point.

Under the program, the federal government would pay the interest on the loan, and the district would pay back the principal.

Helping reduce the district’s debt load is a sinking fund that would accompany the bond. A sinking fund works by collecting the monthly payments the district would make on the loans over the 16 years and putting them into an account earning interest.

When the debt comes due, the district pays back the lump sum of what it owes from the sinking fund and then uses the interest it has earned to further pay down the loan. Because the district will have paid no interest on the bond money it borrowed, the interest collected from the sinking fund would reduce the money the district pays out of pocket to repay the loan.

In addition, there’s a possibility of state assistance to help the district pay back the bond.

With the sinking fund and the state help, trustees are hopeful that, of the total $12 million borrowed, the district — and ultimately taxpayers — will have to pay back only about $5.5 million.

Based on that $5.5 million, a property owner with a $200,000 home would pay $8.66 a year in taxes for 16 years.

The projects span the district. Nearly every school will see some kind of work.

“Children in every neighborhood are going to benefit,” Bryan said.

Beeman said the facility improvements would help neighborhoods take pride in their schools and help students and teachers in the classroom.

“We’re asking students to come to our schools every day to do their best,” he said. “You can’t learn when you’re dodging raindrops coming from the ceiling.”

Ballots for the bond election will be mailed out Aug. 19 and are due to the county elections office by Sept. 7.

Contact Rob Rogers at rrogers@billingsgazette.com or at 406-657-1231.

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