School board reverses previous decision on financing for new school

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District will issue certificates of participation

By Gabrielle Porter

The Jeffco school board directed district staff to start paperwork to issue certificates of participation to fund the building of a new school and finish a later phase of an existing school, both in the northern part of the district.

In a unanimous vote last Thursday, the board decided to start the process to issue COPs to build a K-8 school in Arvada’s Candelas neighborhood. The board voted 4-1 to do the same for long-planned additions to Sierra Elementary School in Arvada.

COPs are tax-exempt bonds issued by government entities, typically secured with revenue from an equipment or facility lease. They do not require voter approval under Colorado’s Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights.

District staffers have said for months that growth in the northern part of Jeffco has created urgent facilities needs, and that several new schools likely will be necessary in coming years.

Board member Amanda Stevens voted against using COPs at Sierra, saying she believes a voter-approved bond package is the best way to fund the project. She voted in favor of using the financing method for the new school, however.

The last estimate for the projects, obtained last summer, put the cost at $25 million for the new school and $15 for the build-out to Sierra Elementary, but chief operations officer Steve Bell said construction costs likely have increased significantly since then due to inflation.

The board’s vote reverses decisions made by the former three-person conservative majority. Former board members John Newkirk, Ken Witt and Julie Williams declined to issue COPs during their tenure at the district’s helm, instead opting last May to put $15 million saved from the previous year toward the Candelas school.

The new school board also voted Jan. 14 to return that $15 million to the general fund.

The previous board’s refusal to use COPs became a centerpiece of the trio’s campaign leading up to the recall election that ousted them in November, with conservatives hailing the decision as fiscally responsible. Liberals on the board and their supporters condemned the decision as a failure to address pressing growth needs.

At last Thursday’s meeting, board members also mentioned the possibility of asking voters to approve a bond in 2016. Bell said that, if a bond package passes, it could be used to pay down or pay off the COP bonds.

Superintendent Dan McMinimee said district staff needs to complete a master facilities plan before presenting a bond package to the board.

Jeffco voters approved a bond package, as well as a property tax increase, in 2012. The bond funds were used for repair and maintenance projects deferred during the recession.

Contact Gabrielle Porter at gabrielle@evergreenco.com or at 303-350-1042. Follow her on Twitter at @gabyreport.