Officials: Bond election would also provide money for existing schools

Liliana Castillo

Leaders at Clovis Municipal Schools say if a special school bond election isn’t approved by voters Aug. 31, it would not only mean no new middle school but no money to expand or repair many existing school buildings.

If passed, the $16 million bond issue would leverage almost $57 million in state tax monies set aside for school construction projects, CMS officals said, for a total construction package of $72.9 million.

The $16 million bond would be repaid in eight to 17 years, depending on terms negotiated in the market, according to CMS Chief Finance Officer Jose Cano.

Here’s how the $16 million would be spent:

• A $10 million local share for renovations and additions at four elementary schools, Marshall Middle School and a replacement building for Lockwood Elementary School. State matching funds would add $40 million, for a total of $50 million.

• A $6 million local match (20 percent) required to build a $30 million, 900-student middle school that would house sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders. The state’s 80-percent share, $24 million, would come from New Mexico’s Public Schools Facilities Authority.

District officials say the middle school is needed because the district’s 12 elementary schools are at 95 percent capacity and the district is seeing growth as both the city’s civilian and Cannon Air Force Base military populations grow. CAFB leaders estimate its new personnel and families would add about 2,000 new students between 2009 and 2014, school officials said.

As for the election, Jose Cano, CMS’ chief financial officer, said the election had to be held before September because that’s the month the state establishes the tax rate for the following year. Delaying the election could delay sale of bonds until May 2011, financial advisor Kevin Powers has said.

The Aug. 31 date provides Clovis schools with maximum debt structuring flexibility if the bond issues passes, he said, and the ability to have funds available to match Public School Capital Outlay Council funding at the current tax rate.

“And we need to be able to prove to the state that we have the support of taxpayers,” Deputy Superintendent of Operations Joel Shirley said.

The district also has to have its 20-percent match in the bank when the district requests the state’s 80 percent match in June 2011.

He and others stress that the bond will not add to local taxes because the district already has an ongoing capital expenditure tax that raises the same amount of tax money as these projects would require. The amount would shift to pay for new improvement projects when the old one is paid off.

Cano said if the bond fails, taxes would decrease slowly as past debt is retired. For example, taxes on a $100,000 home would drop by $6, or 50 cents a month, the first year and $9.75, or 81 cents a month, the second year.

At recent school board meetings, some voters said they won’t vote for the bond issue if the middle school is part of the question. However, school leaders and board members say they are committed to building a third middle school, based on reports by both the district’s Facilities Master Planning Committee and the Regional Growth Management Committee that state a middle school is the most effective and efficient way to handle growth.

Last week, the school board narrowed the location of the proposed third middle school from eight to two sites. The two sites are:

• 40 acres at Wilhite and Thornton streets, to be donated by owner Sid Strebeck, a Clovis businessman and land developer.

• 47 acres at Llano Estacado and Thornton streets, which the district would have to buy from the Burns family, which bought the land in 1959. The board is expected to choose a site for the school in three to five weeks.