As reported in The Columbian (“Clark County districts look to future as they plan schools,” published Dec. 4, 2016), it is more expensive to build schools than to build homes. Reasons for this include the size of the facility; the diversity of spaces in a school (gyms, science labs, arts spaces and more); regulatory factors; and fees associated with the architects, engineers, consultants and contractors who are involved in school construction projects.
As reported in The Columbianon Dec. 4, 2016, it is more expensive to build schools than to build homes. This is due to the size of the footprint and facility; the diversity of spaces in a school (gyms, science labs, arts spaces and more); regulatory factors; and fees associated with the architects, engineers, consultants and contractors who are involved in the project.
The average costs to build schools are:
Elementary—approximately $300 per square foot (excluding Washington state sales tax)
Middle and high schools—approximately $400 per square foot (excluding Washington state sales tax)
The district times bond sales carefully to take advantage of favorable interest rates and reduce bond tax rates for the community. In addition, Vancouver Public Schools’ AA bond rating indicates that the district has good credit and helps secure low interest rates when investors purchase the district’s bond debt.
Interest rates can make a big difference to taxpayers. Like the interest rate on a home mortgage, a low interest rate on a bond can mean a substantial cost savings over time.
Currently, bond interest rates are at a historic low of 3.06 percent. The district hopes to be able to take advantage of this rate to reduce the impact on taxpayers.
If the district is not able to act now, bond interest rates may be higher in the future. Each 1 percent that the bond interest rate goes up is estimated to add $70 million in additional interest costs.
Potential boundary changes have not yet been considered. As the district’s overall enrollment grows and new schools are built, some adjustments could become necessary to alleviate overcrowding. Should the need for boundary changes arise, the district will involve the public and work to minimize the impact on families.
Project completions will be subject to the design and permitting process as well as the availability of contractors. Some of the projects are scheduled to be complete within two years. All of the projects are planned to be complete within seven years.
A bond is a way for an organization to pay for a major project such as remodeling or construction by borrowing a large sum of money. Money from local property taxes would be used to pay back that loan over time.
The temporary increase of $0.09 per $1,000 of assessed value would become effective with the 2018 calendar year. However, current district-issued bonds will be retired near the end of the 2020 calendar year and the rate will drop by $0.17 per $1,000 of assessed value.
The last bond measure was approved in 2001. Since then, voters have approved levies, mostly recently a maintenance and operations levy in February 2016. Bonds and levies pay for different things. Levy dollars pay for educational programs, technology and day-to-day operations of schools. Bonds pay for facilities.
Vancouver Public Schools collects a maintenance and operations levy, technology levy and bond funds from property owners who live within the district’s boundaries. Levies and bonds are used for different things. Levy dollars pay for educational programs, technology and day-to-day operations of schools. Bonds pay for facilities.
If voters approve the measure on Feb. 14, 2017, collection would begin on the new bond in 2018. A property owner is projected to pay the following in 2018 per $1,000 of assessed property value:
M & O levy
$0.18 ($0.09 increase over 2017 bond rate)
Projected bond rates after 2018
From 2019 to 2021, a property owner is projected to pay the following for bonds only per $1,000 of assessed property value:
Total bond tax rate
*Existing bonds will be retired near the end of 2020.
Many Vancouver public schools are old and have facility-related issues such as inefficient heating and cooling systems, leaky roofs and insufficient parking and/or bus loading/unloading zones. Many do not have sufficient room for large group work and/or do not support today’s teaching and learning needs. Nearly all are overcrowded and/or do not meet the requirements of recent legislation and a voter-approved initiative to reduce class sizes. Some 2,000 students currently learn in portable classrooms and spaces converted to classrooms for which they were not intended. Many schools also are not equipped to handle the projected enrollment growth for the next 10 years.
In addition, interest rates are at a 40-year historic low. Interest rates can make a difference to taxpayers. Like the interest rate on a loan, a low interest rate can mean a cost savings over time. If the district is not able to finance facility replacements and upgrades now, bond interest rates may be higher in the future. Every 1 percent that the bond interest rate goes up is projected to equal about $70 million in additional interest costs.
Levies and bonds are used for different things. Levy dollars pay for educational programs and day-to-day operations of schools, including:
Teacher and staff support
Classroom supplies, textbooks and equipment
Utilities and insurance
Safety and security staff
Levies are not typically used for significant construction and must be renewed in two-, three- or four-year intervals. The last levy that local voters approved for Vancouver Public Schools was in February 2016. A levy for Vancouver Public Schools will not appear on the ballot in the Feb. 14, 2017, special election.
Bonds pay for facilities, including:
Building upgrades, e.g., new roofs, heating and cooling systems
Safe and secure entrances
Remodeling and expansion
If approved by local voters, bonds are eligible for state matching funds. They are paid off over a maximum of 20 years.
The last bond measure that local voters approved for Vancouver Public Schools was in 2001.
State laws restrict the involvement of school district employees with respect to levy and bond campaigns. District employees are obligated to inform the public about all aspects of a special election but are prohibited from actively campaigning in conjunction with their official duties. However, this restriction does not apply to employees acting as official representatives of their professional bargaining organizations or as private citizens on their own time away from work.
Yes and maybe. Earlier this year, the state provided $43 million to assist with class-size reductions. If voters approve the new bond measure, the state will supply an additional projected $50 million. If voters do not approve the new bond measure, the state will not supply assistance funds.
The bond plan’s beginnings date back to 2008, when current and former students; employees; parents; and community, agency and business leaders came together to help Vancouver Public Schools craft a new strategic plan. That plan, called Design II, prioritized pre-kindergarten education, high-quality teaching, digital technology tools, family involvement, safety, positive school climates and programs that help students discover their unique talents and interests.
While VPS has made gains in those areas during the past eight years, the district’s existing facilities do not accommodate all of the goals outlined in the plan. For example, lack of space due to overcrowding prohibits some schools from implementing Family-Community Resource Centers to increase family involvement. In other schools, space constraints mean that not every interested student can participate in programs.
The plan to replace, expand or upgrade every school in the district has been developed over the past two years with what’s best for students in mind. To determine this, we’ve gathered input from students, parents, family members, staff members, volunteers, community members and district partners. In March 2015, we conducted a survey about facility needs that captured responses from 1,500 people. Over the next year and a half, 12 symposia involving hundreds of people provided insights about schools and visions for the future of education, and the district has worked with school staff members and professional architects to transform those ideas into design concepts. Feedback provided in community and online surveys and at staff presentations and open houses also has helped to refine the plan.
In person at the Clark County Elections Office (1408 Franklin St.)
By mail using either a downloaded form or one obtained from public libraries, schools and other locations
People who are currently registered to vote in Washington state but not Clark County and would like to register to vote in the Feb. 14 special election must do so online, in person at the Clark County Elections Office or by mail by Jan. 16.
Those who are not currently registered to vote in Washington state and would like to register to vote in the Feb. 14 special election must register online, in person or by mail by Jan. 16. If they miss the Jan. 16 cutoff, they may register to vote up to eight days (Feb. 6) before the election if they fill out and submit their registration form in person at the Clark County Elections Office.
Under certain conditions, people with disabilities or citizens 61 years of age or older are eligible for a tax exemption. Consideration is given to income, ownership of the taxable residence and other factors. For more information and to apply for an exemption, contact the Clark County Assessor’s Office by calling 360-397-2391, email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit the Assessor’s Office’s website.
The district has identified approximately $562 million worth of facility needs. If local voters approve the bond measure in February 2017, the funding to meet those needs would come from several sources:
If approved, the proposed $458 million bond measure is projected to increase temporarily the bond tax rate by $0.09 per $1,000 of assessed property value for three years.
When combined with the existing bonds, the bond rate is projected to be $1.52 per $1,000 of assessed value for tax collection years 2018–2020 and then drop to $1.35 per $1,000 assessed value starting in 2021.
For the owner of a median-priced $225,000 home, the change in the VPS bond tax rate is about $20 per year for three years.
The three-year operations levy, approved by voters in 2016, will cost $2.68 per $1,000 of assessed property value in 2018. The technology levy, approved by voters in 2013, will cost $0.23 per $1,000 of assessed property value in 2018. With approval of the bond, combined local school tax rates would be $4.43.
This is a mail-in election. Ballots will be mailed to registered voters by Jan. 27, 2017. Persons who reside in Clark County but who will be out of town during the election may contact the elections office to have a ballot mailed to an alternate address. Requests should be made at least 29 days in advance of Election Day.
The district conducted an extensive community-engagement effort to determine the scope of need and develop the bond plan while balancing careful consideration of the needs with a desire to keep tax rates stable. The district’s board of directors approved the plan and bond amount at its Nov. 8, 2016, board meeting.
A school district can, and must, provide information about proposed bond measures to the citizens of the community. The school district puts bond information on the district and school websites and in an issue of Inside Vancouver Public Schoolsand school newsletters. The district also mails a bond fact brochure to all community residents and shares information in its mobile app and on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube. It also provides information via an e-newsletter and other ways.