The Tooele County School Board glimpsed into the future Tuesday as they got their first look at a proposed 10-year plan for facilities and capital management.
The plan projects the school district will add 2,515 new students by the time school starts in the fall of 2023. That is almost enough students to fill four new elementary schools.
“It is more than just a facilities plan,” said Scott Rogers, Tooele County School District superintendent. “The issue is how are we going to go about keeping our current schools in good shape, what schools do we need to look at retrofitting, and what we need to do over the next 10 years in terms of building.”
The plan includes an enrollment projection through the fall of 2023, a look at current school buildings and their capacity, plans for managing the district’s capital debt, and future capital needs.
Using data on population growth and birth rates from the Governor’s Office of Management and Budget, the plan projects the district’s student population to dip by 300 students in the fall of 2014 as a new charter school opens in the county.
Following the one-time drop, the district will add 2,515 students over today’s enrollment by the fall of 2023, a 17.8 percent increase, according to projections in the plan.
The plan does not anticipate any new schools until 2020, except for Dugway High School with an 80 percent matching grant from the Department of Defense. No further new construction is planned until 2020, although the district has two elementary schools in Stansbury Park that are over capacity, Rogers said.
“We need to look at utilizing our current buildings more efficiently,” he said. “With 18,000 seats in the district and 14,000 students, now is not the time to ask voters to approve bonds for more buildings.”
The capacity study revealed that elementary schools in Tooele Valley range from 65 percent of ideal capacity at Harris Elementary School, to 129 percent at Rose Springs Elementary. The ideal capacity is based on classrooms averaging 26 students.
At the secondary level, Grantsville Junior High is at 52 percent of its stretch capacity and Stansbury High School is at 103 percent. Stretch capacity includes the use of all portables currently on-site.
Aside from the cost to construct a new school building, each new building adds additional operating costs, according to Rogers.
Each new elementary building adds $500,000 in fixed operational costs, including school administration, custodial, maintenance services, utilities, and transportation costs. Each new secondary school adds $1 million in non-instructional operational costs, according to the plan.
The district currently has a boundary review committee that is looking at school boundaries. The committee is expected to have recommendations for boundary changes ready for the board to review in time to implement them for the 2015 – 2016 school year, according to Rogers.
“Changing boundaries can be controversial,” he said. “That’s part of the pain versus gain part of the plan. Boundary changes have a cost and a benefit that will have to be weighed.”
The next 10 years of growth are expected to be a little slower than the growth the district experienced a decade ago.
Since 1993 the district added 6,500 new students. During the 10 years between 2002 and 2011 the district built 11 new buildings, all of which left the district with substantial debt.
The district currently has $71.6 million of outstanding general obligation debt. General obligation debt is the result of voter approved bonds.
The last time Tooele County School District voters approved a general obligation bond was in June 2006 when 72 percent of the voters approved a $58 million bond for the construction of Stansbury High School and Settlement Canyon Elementary School.
The district also has $27.5 million in municipal building authority (MBA) debt. State law allows the district to create an MBA, which is a separate legal entity from the school district governed by the school board.
The MBA can bond for public improvements and pay for the bonds by leasing the improvement to the school district. The district does not need voter approval for MBA bonds; however, they must follow guidelines for public notices and hearings prior to approving MBA bonds.
MBA bonds have a higher interest rate than general obligation bonds because, without the vote of the public, MBA bonds are not considered backed by the full faith and credit of county residents.
The master plan recommends that the school board ask voters to approve a general obligation bond to pay off the MBA bonds.
“Its like paying off high interest credit card debt with a low interest loan,” said Rogers.
New GO bonds may be financed closer to 2 or 3 percent — a small difference that can make a big difference when millions of dollars are involved, according to Lark Reynolds, Tooele County School District business administrator.
The plan also calls for rebuilding the district’s capital reserve fund.
Since 2007 the capital reserve account balance has dropped from $18 million to just over $9.8 million.
The district has tapped into the reserve fund to cover a decrease in capital funds allotted by the state legislature, and to assist in unexpected capital expenses such as to recover from the fire at Grantsville Elementary School.
The plan suggests a debt and capital tax rate of not less than .0046 for the next 10 years. The current rate is .004839.
The capital reserve fund can be appropriated as needed for improvements to current facilities and used when the need arises for acquiring property and building new facilities.
Future capital needs anticipated in the master plan include relocating the transportation department, building a new elementary school in the Millpond/Benson Gristmill area, a new high school in the Overlake area, a new middle school in the Stansbury area, and remodeling or replacing East and Harris Elementary schools.
The complete master facilities and capital management plan can be found on the school district website at http://tooeleschools.org. The public can also use the website to make comments on the master plan that will be seen by school board members and district administration, according to Rogers.