After saying no last year, Anchorage voters will decide Tuesday on a $58.5M school bond

Rogers Park Elementary School Principal Nuri Johnsen walked down a hallway decorated with student art projects this week and around a large trash can in the middle of the floor that collected water dripping from the ceiling. It's not an unusual sight, she said.

"We have active leaks every year," Johnsen said. "There was one in the classroom just last week, just kind of coming down the wall and going right into the closet and creating big puddles."

Johnsen said staff pinned a tarp from the ceiling of a kindergarten classroom last year to collect water leaking in. She said she worried about the approaching 40-degree temperatures forecast for the city and the snow melt that would follow. That water would certainly find its way into the school, she said.

"It just interferes with the school day," Johnsen said of the leaky roof. "It definitely impacts our education here."

The school needs a new roof to replace its current one, which is 26 years old, said Mike Nero, Anchorage School District director of capital planning and construction. It's one of a dozen projects on this year's $58.45 million school bond package that voters will weigh in on Tuesday in the municipal election.

School officials said they are hoping for a different outcome than last year, when 51 percent of voters rejected a $49.3 million school bond proposition. It was the first time a majority of voters had said no to a school bond proposal since 2011. Several of the projects from that failed 2016 bond package, including the Rogers Park roof, have reappeared on this year's proposal.

Just because last year's bond didn't pass doesn't mean the needs went away, Nero said. Instead, the backlog of projects continues to grow and the number of emergency repairs needed continues to increase, he said.


"It makes our current request even more crucial," said School Board President Tam Agosti-Gisler in an interview Thursday.

If passed by voters, this year's $58.45 million school bond proposition would pay for roof replacements at seven schools and the Student Nutrition building in South Anchorage. It would also fund the replacement of ventilation systems at three schools as well as renovations at the library shared by West High School and Romig Middle School.

Nero said that if voters approve the school bond, the portion of their taxes that pays for the school projects would not increase.

The proposed bond would cost taxpayers $11.67 per $100,000 of assessed property, but at the same time the district has paid off bond debt totaling $11.79 per $100,000, according to the school district. If voters approve the bond, the net impact would be a decrease of 42 cents for the average $350,000 home.

"This is basically a hold-harmless scenario," Agosti-Gisler said.

The Anchorage School District has bonded for its major capital projects for years, at times separating the projects into several ballot propositions in a single election.

Of the 28 school bond propositions voted on since 1998, eight did not pass, according to district data.

Last year, the Anchorage School District commissioned a survey to determine why Anchorage voters said no to the 2016 school bond. The survey found that most voters who typically supported school bonds said they rejected the 2016 proposal because of the state's fiscal situation and the lack of matching funds from the state government — a practice the state Legislature stopped for five years, starting in 2015.

Agosti-Gisler said the district relies on bonding to pay for its larger capital projects. Its regular operating budget includes funds for operations and maintenance but not "big-ticket items," she said, like a new roof and other major structural improvements.

"I get perplexed when I hear people saying the maintenance and/or renovation of all these taxpayer facilities needs to come from our operating budget," she said. "That was never the intent of the operating budget when the Legislature set up the bond debt reimbursement system."

She said the projects included in this year's bond were some of the most critical.

For Rogers Park, the bond includes both a new roof and a new ventilation system.

Principal Johnsen walked into a classroom this week and stopped to listen to the hum of the ventilation system that she said sounded like a jet plane landing when it turned on and turned off each day. While it ran, it sounded more like a fan on in the background.

Outside, neon signs asked drivers not to idle their cars in front of the school. The individual ventilation units in each classroom sucked the fumes into the building, Johnsen said.

The proposed bond includes a project to turn the aging cabinet ventilation units into a centralized system, which would cut down on the noise, allow for better regulation of the temperature in classrooms and pull air in from a single source, Nero said.

For West and Romig, the bond would mean a new roof in the shared library — a project also on the 2016 bond.

In January 2016, a magnitude-7.1 earthquake rocked Southcentral Alaska and caused structural damage to the library that connects West and Romig.


The space still remains without ceiling tiles, which the West and Romig principals said has impeded the room's use. Sound travels easily, they said, so they have to limit the number of classes that can use the library at once.

The $6.75 million project at the schools' campus would also include structural and seismic improvements, the relocation of the high school counseling area and the addition of new classrooms to eliminate the need for outside portables, Nero said.

"I just want to be able to not worry and get this back to where it can be," said Romig Principal Sven Gustafson.

Tegan Hanlon

Tegan Hanlon was a reporter for the Anchorage Daily News between 2013 and 2019. She now reports for Alaska Public Media.