East Grand contemplates complex funding options, eyes potential future bond
East Grand School District’s Board of Education has a difficult decision to make, and they have less than a fortnight to do it.
The local government body has spent the last several weeks contemplating and reviewing different funding options for pair of projects the district is currently eyeing: a safety and security improvement project and a facilities improvement project. The two projects are technically separate however, due to a unique dynamic involving the timing of a state grant and upcoming election cycles, school board members are contemplating both projects, and their respective funding mechanisms in tandem.
The first and most pressing issue before the board is a potential safety and security project connected to a BEST grant. BEST grants are a specific category of competitive grant offered to school districts by the state of Colorado. In May East Grand was awarded a $2.1 million BEST grant to be applied to safety and security related capital improvement projects in the district. The award comes with stipulations though and East Grand School District must come up with $5.9 million to leverage the BEST grant dollars.
The safety and security project would primarily be focused on physical construction efforts at East Grand Middle School and Fraser Valley Elementary, beefing up security measures at the entryways for those buildings. According to East Grand Superintendent Frank Reeves roughly 75% of the expenses related to the safety and security improvement project would be devoted to those construction projects with the remainder going towards new classroom locks, exterior key fob systems and additional security camera improvements.
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In addition to the safety and security project East Grand is also contemplating a much broader capital improvement project that would be focused on the district’ facilities as a whole, and not specifically on security related concerns. The idea for the facility improvement project developed out of the district’s recent master planning process, which identified numerous specific needs within the district’s facilities.
District officials have not yet developed a potential cost range for the capital improvement project. Instead they plan to spend the next school year conducting a series of State of the District meetings with community members and property owners laying out the needs outlined in the master-planning document. District officials hope to develop a set of priorities and goals from those meetings based on public feedback.
“What is the will of the voters?” Superintendent Frank Reeves asked. “What are the voters willing to accept? We will present the needs to the community and find out what the votes want based on that. There is no sense in building a bond question that has no chance of passing.”
Tuesday night East Grand’s Board of Education heard a presentation from representatives of the Britz Company, a Denver based public affairs consulting firm that specializes in school district related campaigns. The presentation was a crash-course of sorts in school district political campaigns and focused on a number of complex issues from voter turnout demographics and voter fatigue to the advantages and disadvantages of the various funding options how those efforts would potentially play out.
Representatives from the Britz Company discussed various funding options, the benefits and drawbacks of each and the general political campaign strategy the district would look to employ when presenting any funding questions to voters.
To secure funding for the projects East Grand could look to three different options: a GO Bond, a Certificate of Participation or a Mill Levy Override. Under the GO Bond option East Grand would go to the voters of Grand County and ask them to approve the issuance of a bond by the district that would be repaid over time. Under the Certificate of Participation option East Grand would essentially borrow money to cover costs related to projects without seeking voter approval. Certificates of Participation, often called COPs, are typically used as an interim funding mechanism and often result in bond requests or requests for a Mill Levy Override to cover the borrowed funds.
The Mill Levy Override option would involve asking voters to approve such an action, which would allow the district to “override” the state’s school finace act and obtain additional funding for operational needs.
According to Reeves the district must respond to the state of Colorado regarding their plans for the BEST grant no later than July 1, or the district could lose the grant funds. As such the East Grand Board of Education will need to make a decision at their final meeting of June to determine their strategy for approaching the funding questions.
As they approach the issue of the BEST grant board members essentially have three different options.
“We could go through the COP route,” Reeves said. “We could try and pass a bond this November, or we can turn the grant down and try again for it in 2020.”
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