By Kal Kallison
The Eanes school district has expended or encumbered over 70 percent of the $54 million in bond monies approved by voters in 2011. With the completion of bond projects approaching, the school board will soon consider potential use of unallocated bond funds for initiatives that are not on the list of 2011 bond program projects. While this list was not part of the ballot itself, it served to identify how the district was to spend the $54 million bond package. Unallocated bond funds are available because some completed projects came in under budget.
The use of these funds for new projects understandably brings scrutiny from the community. It has even been suggested that the Board apply these unallocated funds to the overall bond debt the district carries and place any new projects on the next bond. I strongly disagree with this idea.
Using unallocated funds for vital new projects allows the district to address its needs now rather than waiting for the next bond. We don’t know when that bond election will be; we don’t know if it will pass; if it passes, we don’t know what the interest rate will be compared to the favorable one we now have; and we don’t know what currently rising construction costs will be. In addition, if we apply the unallocated bond funds (e.g., $3 million) to our existing $147 million bond debt, it would hardly make a significant reduction in our overall debt, as compared to the significant value of using these non-recaptured monies to address important current needs.
That said, the use of unallocated bond funds for new projects should be very carefully considered. Projects must be consistent with the 2011 ballot language when voters approved the bonds, and projects should fall within the spirit of the bond. In addition, there should be a high comfort level that the remaining projects will come in on budget. Given the special circumstances in using unallocated funds for new bond projects, the administration (with school board review) developed the following process for considering such projects:
1. The administration will examine the “Future Bond Initiatives” list for unmet critical needs. This document is updated continually as principals and other staff communicate their needs to the central administration. The administration will apply the criteria of Necessary, Immediate, Crucial, and Efficient – or NICE – to determine if a project is worthy of review. This is the same criteria that the board applied in considering projects for the 2011 bond.
2. If selected, a project goes to the board for review “in concept,” and the board will informally determine if the project merits further consideration.
3. If the board considers the project potentially worthy, the district bids the project for costs and refers it to the Bond Oversight Committee for its review. The BOC makes a recommendation to the board whether or not to approve the project.
4. Following the BOC’s review, the Board will take formal action on the project.
This process, which both the board and BOC favor, allows the board to provide the first general filter for a potential project, and then it allows the BOC (which I consider to be a proxy for the community) to have hard costs for the project for its review and recommendation. The board has, as always, the final responsibility for approval. We hope this process will result in using the approved $54 million of bond monies in ways that meet the critical needs of the district.
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