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After defeat of Prop A, another proposal not a matter of if, but when, Sandfort says


April 20, 2005 - Lindbergh School District officials last week began discussing plans to ask voters again for a tax-rate increase.

"It's not a matter of if we have to go back out; it's a matter of when you have to go back out," Superintendent Jim Sandfort said Saturday during a Board of Education plan-ning session.

District officials also are drafting plans for roof renovations and other capital upgrades with a no-tax-rate-increase bond issue. To do so, however, the district would need voter approval to extend the life of the 10-cent tax from its previous capital improvements project, Proposition 4.

Meanwhile, Lindbergh faces a projected $2.3 million hole in its 2005-2006 budget, left by voters' rejection on April 5 of a 65-cent tax-rate increase.

To plug the gap, district officials and Board of Education members are considering cutting expenditures by around $1.4 million, including the elimination of 11 teaching positions, spending a minimal amount of reserves and rolling up the district's current tax rate to the legal amount allowed without voter approval. It would be the third straight year the district cut expenses and spent reserves.

Those are short-term solutions to a long-term problem. With expenditures outgrowing revenues, board President Mark Rudoff asked district administrators at the planning session to provide a time table of the deadlines to file tax-rate referendums or propositions on upcoming ballots through next April.

"I know we've got at least three opportunities," he said.

The next opportunity is the Aug. 2 election, and the board would have to file a proposal by May 24 if it wanted to be on that ballot.

When laying out district priorities, all five board members at the planning session cited repairing district fi-nances.

"Where I come from and where I live, funding comes first," board Vice President Kenneth Fey said.

"We have to figure out school funding and once that's figured out we have to decide how you come back (to voters) with a tax levy, how you come with a non-tax-increase bond issue," Rudoff said. "But that's after we figure out state funding."

The Legislature is crafting a new state formula for funding education, but based on the proposal that last week earned Senate approval, the outcome is glum, Chief Fi-nancial Officer Pat Lanane told the board.

"There is no help coming in the form of state assistance," the assistant superintendent for finance said. "If this (legislation) doesn't change, it will be hard for me even to support it. Sorry I haven't had good news for you all for a long time, but this certainly is not what I consider to be good news."

Lindbergh does have around $22 million sitting in the bank — though Lanane says not all of it is available — but the district doesn't want to spend much. That reserve fund impacts Lindbergh's bond rating, which then impacts the interest rates the district pays on bond issues.

"This is a huge savings to the taxpayers," Lanane said. "You're talking about hundreds of thousands of dollars of interest ... It's extremely important we maintain that rating."

"If we go with this tax levy again, that's something we have to pound home hard because I tried to talk to people, just the folks in the neighborhood, and they looked at me like I was speaking Chinese," Fey said.

On the no-tax-rate-increase bond issue, Lindbergh officials want to replace old roofs, install new fire alarm systems in all buildings and establish a new fire main at the high school, among other capital upgrades.

"I like to think of these as 'it's-about-time' projects," said Karl Guyer, Lindbergh director of facilities. "For some of the teachers dealing with the roofs, they're going to just simply look at me and say: 'It's about time.'"

Guyer estimates the project cost at $11 million, but all plans are preliminary and subject to change.

A timeline hasn't been set, but the ball is rolling. At its regular meeting last week, the board appropriated $19,400 for Enviro Tech Services to study the district's roofing needs and present a plan for renovation.

Lindbergh will track these expenses so they can later be replenished with the possible extension of a 10-cent debt-service levy. That tax sunsets in 2013 when the $14 million Proposition 4 bonds are to be repaid, and the district must obtain voter approval to extend the life of the levy. So while it would be a "no-tax-rate-increase" referendum, Lindbergh's tax rate would drop 10 cents in 2013 if voters reject the measure.

In 2003, voters approved Proposition 4, which resulted in the construction of the swimming pool and multipurpose athletic facility, among other districtwide capital upgrades. The 10-cent tax-rate increase was part of the deal.

In other financial matters, the board last week also approved an $8,500 expenditure for a 6-foot-tall, 14-foot-wide scoreboard for the girls' softball team. As the low bidder, Daktronics won the job over Nevco, which bid $9,360.

The board also appropriated $60,000 to install new fiber optic cable for Lindbergh's districtwide network.

The district simply had run out of capacity with old cable, Guyer said.

Total cost is $53,430 and the remaining $6,570 will be kept as a contingency for any unforeseen cost, he said.

The board will meet at 6 p.m. Tuesday, May 17, in the boardroom at 4900 S. Lindbergh Blvd. to discuss Lindbergh's finances.

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