Although the Alpine School District’s typical indicators indicated now is the right time to pursue a bond, it may decide to push off a vote by a year.
“This is the prime time to bond, however, there is that COVID-19 piece that concerns us,” said David Stephenson, a spokesman for the district.
The Alpine School District Board of Education is considering placing a $475 to 550 million bond to place on the November ballot, which would likely be used to purchase land to build future schools and to renovate and rebuild existing facilities. While data from a Y2 Analytics survey conducted at the beginning of the pandemic showed community support for the bond, the district is unsure of how COVID-19’s impact on the economy will influence a vote.
ASD plans to survey the community again this summer.
An initial Y2 Analytics survey presented to the board of education in late March showed that 62% of respondents would likely support a $475 million bond that would lead to no property tax increases due to other bonds being paid off, 60% of respondents said they’d support a $500 million bond that would lead to a $20 a year property tax increase on the average home and 46% would support a $550 million bond that would increase property taxes by about $120 a year.
The district has not announced a dollar amount for the bond, or which projects it could potentially fund. Bonds cannot be used for teacher pay.
Pushing a potential bond vote to 2021 would mean the district couldn’t access those funds until 2022 if the bond were to pass. Elementary schools take a year to build, middle schools take between 18 months and two years, and high schools take about three years. Projects are usually rolled out in phases that extend over a four-year period.
“That’s why we like to stay consistent,” said Kimberly Bird, a spokeswoman for the district. “We like to keep with a pattern, so we don’t create these spikes and dips with our public.”
The district had about 80,000 students enrolled this academic year and expects to see an additional 4,700 enrolled over the next five years.
Five elementary schools in ASD had enrollments of more than 1,000 students this year, including Dry Creek Elementary School, which had 1,028 students as of April 30. Lehi High School had 1,532 students and Skyridge High School had 2,925, making it the largest high school in the district by more than 500 students.
The district is creating a holding plan that could support enrollment for a year or two if a bond vote is delayed. It already has an extended day model in some schools and a zero hour at Skyridge High School.
Even with measures in place to keep high enrollments manageable, schools are running out of space.
“We are at that point, but we are definitely not going to put a bond on the ballot if we are not confident it will pass,” Stephenson said.
The district last passed a bond in 2016 for $387 million, which went to fund projects such as the rebuild of Lehi High School, a middle school still being built, and the construction of Belmont and Liberty Hills elementary schools.
ASD has a pattern of placing a bond on the ballot every four years in conjunction with presidential elections.
Bird said the board of education is not anxious to decide now but will in August. The second survey conducted this summer will help it to understand what impact COVID-19 will have on a potential vote.
“None of us have a crystal ball of the true impact of our economic situation,” she said.
By this time in 2016, the district had taken ideas for which projects could be on the bond to the community for input. COVID-19 and related shutdowns have postponed that process this year.
The district expects the second survey’s results to be adjusted from the first when it comes to answers about what the district can do to handle growth. After experiencing at-home, online learning, it expects parents to show more support for using online classes to help handle school size.
“We think people like online learning, not school dismissal,” Bird said.
She said they want to make sure the district is listening to the public. If feedback indicates the community would not support a bond, a vote would likely be delayed until next year.
A delay would mean that as other bonds are paid off, property taxes would decrease, and the impact of a new bond would appear larger than it would if a bond is on the ballot this year. The district does have two AAA bond ratings from Moody’s and Finch Ratings, which help the district secure bonds with low-interest rates.
District staff has finished a listening tour that met with parent leadership groups at every school within the district. It plans to give presentations to the general public, as well.