High Desert Hoofbeats
December 6, 2018.
by Sena Taylor Hauer
Dec 06, 2018 | 239 views | 0 0 comments | 12 12 recommendations | email to a friend | print
The power of the petition nearly sank the Grand County School District’s plans to build a new middle school without voter approval. Recent actions are evidence that community members can overturn administrative decisions if they pool their efforts. If the signature drive had garnered just 10 more valid names, it would have been anyone’s guess if or when the project would be launched.

I supported the school board’s efforts to implement a funding scheme to pay for a new school, while at the same time taking my hat off to the core activists who challenged the board’s plan. I don’t have a fast horse in this race; my kids graduated years ago. I believe it’s our civic duty to support education, even when it pinches our wallets. But still, I was fascinated that a grassroots effort could nearly topple the board’s plan. My hope is that our community will now unite behind the project, slated to get underway this spring.

A new school is projected to cost upwards of $27 million. The financing scheme for it will use a Local Building Authority bond to get the job done. While that method isn’t as traditional as a voter-backed General Obligation Bond, it is a surefire way to make the project happen.

The school board has not been operating in the dark on this matter. Their meetings are open to the public with the exception of executive sessions, and the board has been holding regular and frequent work meetings regarding the new school for many months. We’ve printed architectural renderings for folks to mull.

The method chosen is not unique. More than 32 Utah school districts have gone to an LBA over the past decade.

Those who drove the petition effort, though, pointed out some important fiscal issues. The interest rate on the board’s authority is 1-half percent higher (3.5 percent) as opposed to a voter-approved bond. Board members have rationalized that the additional half percent, spent now instead of in a year or who knows when the voters might back a new school, will come at an equal or better savings for taxpayers because construction costs will be at current levels.

The school board has also rationalized its timing by saying that its estimates were based on property tax numbers that weren’t clear until recently – taxes that will help pay for the school. Commercial businesses throughout Moab were all reassessed this year, making large, sometimes nearly double, increases on business property tax bills. Some might say that commercial property owners have gotten soaked from this tax hike.

The increased tax revenues are allowing the district to come up with enough money – $2.1 million – for a down payment on the new school. The timing of that information, school officials say, didn’t jive with an option to ask voters for their support.

It’s important that we are informed of hard costs and revenues for public projects. Petition signatories have tried to hold the school board accountable for how this project is being planned. It’s in our community’s best interest to have quality education for our youth, in a manner that is as fiscally conservative as possible.

Oftentimes, our elected representatives make tough decisions for the community’s wellbeing that might not be supported by a popular vote, and I think this is one of those cases. Heaven knows, if we as citizens were asked to weigh in on capital and public works projects that all of us use all of the time, we would likely be driving on dirt roads and our sewer would run in ditches. No one wants to pay for things they don’t directly enjoy. For this reason, I’m glad the board has been able to move forward.

I’ll miss the old school a bit. The exterior is distinctive with its numerous diamond-shaped eyebrows. It was the high school when I was a student in the late ’70s, and it seemed old then. We had to use modular classrooms on the east side of the building to help accommodate all the students and subjects. And still there wasn’t enough space and time in the regular school day for a full range of educational options. If we wanted to take Spanish or physics, for example, we had to attend those “elective” classes during “zero hour” at 7 a.m. before the regular school day started, the credits from which are now required if students want to be accepted by most universities.

I hope folks who backed the petition will stay engaged with the school district as other important decisions come up. Their efforts haven’t been wasted. Their nearly successful petition drive is proof that fiscal accountability is one of the highest demands of voters. Sure, it would be nice if the school could be financed for 3 percent interest instead of 3.5 percent, but that fraction isn’t something I’d have gambled on given the need for a new school and the fickle nature of voters.

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