Park City School District intends to put another bond on ballot | ParkRecord.com

Park City School District intends to put another bond on ballot

School board says taxes will be levied if measure fails

The Park City Board of Education voted unanimously last week to move toward putting a large bond on the ballot this fall to address the school district's pressing facility needs while also cautioning residents that their tax bills will still rise if the measure fails.

A bond measure, which may ask taxpayers to foot a bill of more than $100 million, would go toward an expansion of Park City High School, the construction of a new school for fifth- and sixth-graders and potentially the acquisition of land. With elementary schools bursting at the seams due to the growth of preschool and all-day kindergarten programs, many school officials have been adamant that the facilities must be built as soon as possible because they would clear out much-needed space at the elementary schools by moving fifth grade out in a grade realignment.

The need is so dire, officials say, that the projects must be completed whether residents pass a bond or not. In its vote to move forward with a bond, the board of education also specified that, should the measure fail, the district will instead impose tax levy increases, placing a much larger burden on taxpayers in the short term.

According to district data, a $100 million bond, paid back over 20 years, would cost a primary homeowner of a $650,000 property $205 annually. In contrast, an increase of the capital tax levy would be imposed over a shorter span, but would cost taxpayers much more. A two-year capital tax increase aimed at generating $100 million would run $1,396 per year for the same homeowner.

Additional cost examples for both a bond and tax levy increase are available on the district's website, pcschools.us. The school board is expected to finalize the amount of the bond at a public meeting next week, but wouldn't officially vote to put a measure on the ballot until August.

"If the bond passes, we've done our job," said board member J.J. Ehlers, "and if it fails, we're going to have to be the bad guys."

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Added Andrew Caplan: "We're going to do it — it's how does the community wants to pay for it. I feel strongly that we should give the community that decision."

At a public meeting last week, nearly every board member indicated they vastly prefer gathering the revenue through a bond because of the tax burden a capital tax increase would place on taxpayers.

Given that, the board agreed that it will be important in the coming months to educate the public about why the projects are necessary. A $56 million bond that would have funded large-scale construction and allowed the district to implement grade realignment failed in 2015 in large part because many residents felt school leaders rushed the process.

Avoiding the pitfalls that scuttled that bond, and getting support from people who voted against it, is seen as critical. The district is expected to ramp up messaging efforts in an attempt to get people on board as soon as possible.

"I think it's important to give the community a coordinated message from us as a board that we are in need of facilities," Caplan said.

A crucial part of the messaging efforts will be keeping residents informed about a number of decisions the school board has yet to make. For instance, it has not determined where a new school for fifth- and sixth-graders would be located, nor has it decided on a final design for the PCHS expansion. The board is expected to make those decisions in the coming months.

Other factors that remain in flux include what year grade realignment will be implemented — it could come as soon as the 2018-2019 school year or be delayed until the construction projects are completed — and when the district will change the bell schedules in order to begin high school classes later in the morning.