An adviser for the Bedford School District told the Board of Education last week that scheduling a facilities and infrastructure referendum for November would be preferable to waiting until next spring to ask voters for support.
Janet Morley, vice president of Capital Markets Advisors, said a vote in the fall would be advantageous rather than May 2022 in order to start the nearly two-year process of waiting for state Education Department approval, bidding and borrowing. The district would also have a greater likelihood of locking in historically low interest rates, even though expectations are that rates will remain low for the foreseeable future, Morley said.
With a November vote, the district would be able to issue bonds or bond anticipation notes by June 2023, she said. A vote next May would likely push that off by close to another year, although there could be an opportunity for an expedited process for some of the less complicated projects such as roofing.
“There may be some options to still get some of that debt and level out a little bit even with the later vote but certainly an easier way to go would be to do a vote in November,” Morley said.
The district is weighing scenarios that include propositions of $35 million, $55.8 million and $66 million to address the wide-ranging needs throughout the district’s facilities. Work would include many infrastructure upgrades, modernizing certain school spaces to create suitable areas for STEM instruction and upgrading the high school athletic facilities.
However, there is uncertainty whether the district can arrive at the necessary decisions regarding the project’s size and scope in time to hold a November vote. Board member John Boucher said that November is doable, although ultimately, it’s a Board of Education decision.
Boucher said there would be tours of all the school and athletic facilities by the Bond Advisory Committee later this month. The committee would then spend July grappling with what projects should be included in a bond.
“The Bond Advisory Committee, including community members, has a goal of coming to a recommended set of projects and, therefore, a total by the Aug. 1 time frame to allow for us to try and achieve this November goal,” Boucher said.
However, a couple of board members questioned whether there would be sufficient time for the board to attract comments and have enough time to deliberate. The 30-day comment period would begin in late August and extend through most of September. There would then be time to publicly notice the vote for November.
Board member Michael Bauscher said according to that schedule, the public comment period wouldn’t end until almost the time the district would have to complete its state Environmental Quality Review Act resolution.
“So it doesn’t seem to build in time of deliberation of substantive comments to the extent that there are any,” Bauscher said.
Morley responded by saying that many districts that are considering a referendum tend to follow a similar time frame.
She explained that the over the five years the district is on schedule to retire the majority of its debt service. For 2022-23, debt service is scheduled to be about $7.5 million before dropping to $6.1 million the following school year.
By fiscal years 2026 and 2027, there is an additional drop to about $2.6 million in debt service, Morley said. The goal is to have a fairly consistent debt service level so there aren’t large swings while the district addresses the needs of the facilities, she said.
Typically, school districts handle about $10 to $15 million worth of work during a particular summer, Morley added.