School to ask for $128 million |

School to ask for $128 million

Nicole Frey

EAGLE – A sea of red flooded into the meeting room at the Eagle County Schools office Wednesday night. Even with little girls in red shirts economizing by sharing seats and red-shirted kids sitting on red-skirted laps there weren’t enough seats to go around. The about 70 red- and black-clad people spilled over to the floors, standing along the walls and sitting on tables. They were members of the Eagle County Charter Academy sporting their school colors, and they were all there to show their support for including the charter school on a proposed ballot question that will ask taxpayers for millions this November to deal with growth in the aging school district. Wanting too muchInitially planning to ask for $139 million dollars for projects ranging from building new schools to rewiring old ones, Todd Snidow, the senior vice president of investment banking firm George K. Baum & Co., told the school board the community wouldn’t likely go for such a large sum. “$139 million – that’s a huge number,” Snidow said. “It’s double what you’ve proposed to your voters in the past. The tax tolerance is about $100 million. You might be able to get to $120 million.”Recent bad news in global economics and social situations made Snidow even more pessimistic about Eagle County School’s ability to get a bond question approved. Looking strictly at the numbers, Snidow didn’t recommend including the charter school. However, he said the charter school’s highly involved parent and teacher population could help get the question passed. Snidow said a strong grassroots effort would be necessary because the state is posing so many questions vying for taxpayer dollars. Eagle County is also asking the community for more money than the school district had anticipated, including funding for early childhood education and the library district. “I don’t have a clear recommendation for you,” Snidow said. “It’s more of a gut feeling.”Charter school settlesLike the school board, the charter school set it sights high. Initially hoping to get $7 million for a new building, the charter school was reduced to $3 million, which may have strings attached. Although some board members wanted to give the charter school the $3 million to use for building projects the school sees fit, other wanted stipulations that the charter school must use an existing Eagle County school building, like a portion of Battle Mountain High School, and use the money toward improvements in that building. If the charter school chose not to use an Eagle County school, the money would go toward other district improvements. “I don’t think it’s fair to hold them hostage to those locations,” board member MaryAnn Stavney said. But other board members in favor of moving the charter school mentioned further benefits of moving the charter school to another building included moving Red Canyon High School to the current charter school facilities in Edwards. As discussions continued into the night, the board members went back and forth about whether the charter school should get any money at all, or if it should instead be spent on technological improvements at other schools. “I would rather spend $3 million on technology at the existing Eagle Valley High School, ” board member Pat Donovan said.$128 million decisionThe board members spend two hours trying to curb their desires into $120 million worth of improvements, but finding it impossible, they decided to ask voters for $130 million instead. But Snidow jumped back in, reiterating the danger of asking the community for too much and also adding the money will make millions in interest as it waits to be used. Assistant Superintendent Karen Strakbein cautioned that with the rate of inflation and cost of building, board members shouldn’t count on interest money to fund projects that they were taken off the list, like building a transportation center. Snidow advised staying away from land purchases o n the west end, but Stavney firmly opposed the move calling it an investment that the district will inevitably need in the future, and which will likely cost more in the future. At the end of the four-hour discussion, the land purchase was added back to the list, but the transportation center didn’t make the cut, and four of five board members settled on asking taxpayers for $128 million. Board member Connie Kincaid voted against the figure sticking to a sum of $150 million throughout the night. “I just hate nitpicking the things that are really necessary for the district,” Kincaid-Strahan said. =========================What did the community support?In phone and letter surveys conducted by investment banker George K. Baum & Co. of 400 voters, Eagle Valley residents supported the following education items: – General facility repairs and technology upgrades: 71 percent.- Eagle Valley High School remodel: 71 percent.- Classrooms upgraded: 68 percent.- New transportation center: 56 percent.- New elementary school: 63 percent.- New high school: 54 percent.- Gym/multipurpose room for Eagle Valley Charter Academy: 43 percent.- New building for the charter school: 44 percent. =========================What will the board support?- Replacing Battle Mountain High School.- Remodeling Eagle Valley High School.- Facility repair projects.- A new elementary school.- Technology infrastructure projects.- Purchase of land on the west end of the county.- Charter school project. =========================What’s nextThe Eagle County School District’s Board of Education will vote on the question during an Aug. 23 school board meeting and must formally submit a ballot question by the first week of September. =========================How much will it cost you?Based on the amount of the bond, taxpayers will pay the following in property taxes:- $120 million: $155 per year.- $128 million: $165 per year (selected option).- $139 million: $180/year.Costs based on a $500,000 home. The amount triples for commercial properties. =========================Staff Writer Nicole Frey can be reached at 748-2927 or Vail, Colorado

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