September 15, 2008

SD2 Bond Issue Proposal Put on Hold

By Shay, Becky

Billings voters will not be asked to approve a multimillion- dollar bond issue in November.

School District 2 trustees voted unanimously Monday to "declare their intention to potentially" ask for the money in November 2009.

The trustees already voted to ask for funding to build a new West End elementary school and rebuild or renovate Broadwater and McKinley elementary schools, the district's oldest buildings. However, they decided the timing isn't right this fall, considering a flagging economy, a full ballot and wanting more time to educate the public about how the projects will fit into long-term facilities planning.

Once project designs - which will include looking at cost - are in place, school leaders will decide how much bond money is needed.

To start that process, the board authorized Superintendent Jack Copps to work with company representatives to develop contracts to plan for the projects.

JGA Architects Engineers' preliminary budget for planning work on the school project is $65,410. CTA's preliminary budget for work on the McKinley and Broadwater projects is $44,904. Those bills will be paid using money - hopefully only accrued interest - from the sale of Crossroads Alternative High School.

The trustees also voted to establish a task force for each project. The panel will develop designs and provide public information on the projects.

The three task forces will have 11 to 14 members, and consist of parents and neighbors of affected schools, one at-large member and representatives of the board and administration, including a principal.

Board chairwoman Kathy Kelker said an application for task force membership and other information about the group's responsibilities will be placed on the school district's Web site. No date was set for appointing the task forces.

Educating the public is a part of the reason for delaying a vote. Trustee Malcolm Goodrich used tentative language in his motion to hold off on the bond because once the board puts the public on notice that it has set a date for a bond issue, it must follow state laws that limit its ability to speak as a proponent of the issue.

Goodrich, a bankruptcy attorney, said another reason to hold off on a vote is the national economy and the local perception of the economy. He called it "political suicide" to run a bond election this fall or maybe even next spring.

"I think we owe it to the voters to back off as much as we owe it to the kids to make these repairs," he said.

Rimrock reprieve

In other business, the trustees heard a proposal from Rocky Mountain College President Michael Mace that may rejuvenate Rimrock Elementary as a lab school.

The school was shuttered in 2001 then reopened for one year as a kindergarten center. It was closed again this year during budget cuts, saving about $200,000 in operations costs.

Mace said the Rocky board would be interested in a lease/ purchase option on the school, which sits on 5 acres near the college. Copps said School District 2 purchased the school from Rocky in the 1950s, and the deed requires that it be used for Billings Public Schools.

The proposal is that Rocky's department of education would be housed at the school along with a K-6 neighborhood school. Teacher candidates at Rocky would do their student teaching at the school, Mace said. It is possible that people earning their master's degrees in administration could do internships there, he said.

As part of the deal, Rocky would be willing to pay down bonds the district may have, Mace said. Copps said another option would be the district getting cash to pay down the bonds.

Rocky would pay for maintenance and operations, maybe including administration, Mace said. The college would likely not make major improvements in the building unless it had a purchase option, he said.

Copps said it is possible that Rimrock's heating system will need to be replaced next year, a project that could cost up to $400,000.

The trustees agreed that Copps could work with Rocky to see if the two administrations can come to terms. However, they cautioned that whatever is done with Rimrock must be based, in part, on an analysis of how it would affect other elementary schools.

Copps is expected to update the board in October, the same month that Rocky's trustees meet.

Copyright Billings Gazette Aug 19, 2008

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