July 20, 2024

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Tonganoxie residents ponder school bond project costing $94 million

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Tonganoxie residents vote in early September on a bond project that’s being advertised as costing $51 million, but the total cost of the project with interest tops $94 million, according to the district’s bond advisor, Piper Jaffray.  The one-page report on the school district’s website doesn’t reflect the interest cost.

Piper Jaffray emailed a debt service schedule to The Sentinel, which shows USD 464 owes $42.7 million in principal and $15.8 million in interest on bonds issued in prior years.  If the new bond proposal is approved, the district would owe $94.1 million in principal payments and $62.2 million in interest, putting total debt service payments at $156.3 million through the year 2045.

The current bond and interest levy for existing bonds is 20.17 mills of property tax according to Piper Jaffray, and an additional 3 mills of property tax would be added for the proposed new bond issue.  If the new proposal is turned down, the existing 20.17 mills would decline over time and eventually go away in 2038 as current debt is paid off, unless new debt is authorized by voters in the meanwhile.

Taxpayers outside the Tonganoxie district would pay 15% of the project cost through additional state aid.

The bond vote is a mail-in ballot. The deadline to register to vote is August 15th. Ballots will be mailed on August 16th. Ballots are due back at the election office by noon on September 5th.

The cost of the bond, as presented on the district website focuses just on the incremental 3 mill cost of the project, which the district says would be about $51 a year for a home valued at $150,000. However, according to real estate website Zillow, the median home price in Tonganoxie is more than $200,000, meaning the average taxpayer may be paying more than the publicity materials state.

The bond vote is for updates to Tonganoxie High School, including new classrooms, security enhancements, updated cafeteria, and new community spaces. Enrollment is up 25% since 2005 but the USD 464 annual report show enrollment has been relatively flat in the last five years. K-5 enrollment has decreased, while high school enrollment increases to 638 in 2017/2018 from 599 for 2013/2014.

District employment, however, increased 66% since 2005; teacher employment is 45% higher but non-teacher employment jumped 90%.

2018 spending per-pupil of $11,689 is 55% higher than in 2005; of that, operating spending increased 30% and spending on capital and debt jumped 466%.

State assessment results from 2018 for all grades tested show 30% of students are on track for college and career in math, 41% are at grade-level but need remedial training to be college or career ready, and 29% are below grade level.  For just 10th-grade students, 13% of students are on track for college and career in math, 37% are at grade-level but need remedial training to be college or career ready, and 50% are below grade level.

Prior bond projects

This is the second bond vote for the district in a decade. Tonganoxie approved a bond in 2012 for $29.2 million for a new elementary school. State funding contributed more than 9 million dollars to the bond project. Of the bonds issued in the series, the last bond is set to expire in 2038.

HTK Architects designed the new elementary schools funded through a bond vote in 2012. On its website HTK noted the company, “organized and ran their pre-bond election campaign. Upon a successful bond election, HTK was awarded the design contract.” HTK has also has been deeply involved in the school bond campaign for the Emporia school district.  Architecture firms commonly focus on a type of development such as schools, but HTK markets their skills regarding bond votes.

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