Archive for Thursday, March 18, 2010

District learns to keep bond language flexible

March 18, 2010

Bond issues come with a hefty price tag in De Soto USD 232.

But those price tags have built new schools, expanded existing schools and purchased technology designed to better equip the district’s students for the challenges of tomorrow.

Since 2002, patrons of the district have gone to the polls and approved $151 million in bond issues. But a look at public records provided by the district shows not all of the money approved in those bond issues is spent at the time of original construction.

The bond issue passed in November 2002 was not to exceed $76.5 million and included building two new elementary schools, a new middle school and expanding Mill Valley High School.

When those buildings were constructed, the district saw significant savings on technology costs versus estimates, leaving nearly $1 million untouched.

Fast forward to February 2010 and records showed $866,000 still left over from that 2002 bond issue

So on Feb. 8, the Board of Education approved using the remaining bond funds for technology upgrades for the district’s data center, said Jeff Mildner, director of technology.

Although district voters approved another $75 million bond issue in 2008, the remaining money from the 2002 bond issue could not be transferred or used for construction of schools. Because the savings were acquired through efficiency in technology, officials said, language in the 2002 bond issue specified the money would then have to be used for technology.

Alvie Cater, district director of administrative services and community relations, said technology funds were built into each project on the 2002 bond issue.

“There were all these estimates from Hollis & Miller (architects) but the expenses came in lower than expected so the leftover money was designated for technology because that was the original benefactor,” he said.

Another $140,000 or so from the 2002 bond issue had been spent on technology purchases since the bond issue construction was completed and before February of this year. Purchases have included new cables, LCD projectors for classrooms and upgrades to computers.

While the leftover bond funds are now being used for upgrades to the district’s technology center, if ballot language had differed slightly the district could have used the money on other projects, Cater said. That’s happened in subsequent bond votes.

“They have reworded the ballot language to be more general than in 2002 in terms of technology,” he said. “The district wanted flexibility to use the money if something else comes along.”

The 2008 bond issue refers to “all necessary and related improvements” rather than specifically addressing technology, Cater said.

Currently, the district has put the 2008 bond issue on pause, having spent $52 million on the district’s seventh elementary, expansion to Mill Valley High School and a scaled-back expansion to De Soto High School.

Cater said the Board of Education could chose to go ahead with more of the construction, since voters approved up to $75 million for projects.

“The district already has the authority, the voters have already said yes,” Cater said. “But the board is using its power to manage that. With the current bond issue, they felt it was in the best interest of the voters not to issue the entire bond at this time. But in five years if they are ready to expand to the other phases of DHS they don’t need new approval.”

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