Alaska News

Anchorage School District proposes bond packages, plans for opinion poll

Anchorage School District administrators presented possible bond packages Monday that voters may see on the 2016 municipal ballot, pending school board approval and a $11,000 public opinion survey.

Tom Roth, the district's chief operating officer, said at a school board work session that the administration recommended a $48.4 million capital improvement bond and a separate $3.5 million bus bond, both of which Anchorage taxpayers would fund at 100 percent if they passed.

"It allows the district to really get after more of the emergent, deferred maintenance requirements across the district," Roth said. He described the plan as sustainable, but not optimal. Roth recommended that the school district shelve bonding for any large-scale, single-school projects given the current fiscal climate and state of bond reimbursement.

During the last legislative session, state lawmakers passed a bill that imposed a five-year moratorium on the state reimbursement of school bonds that had a start date reaching back to January 1 of this year. Before that, the state typically paid between 60 percent and 70 percent of school bonds, while Anchorage taxpayers picked up the rest of the bill.

The $48.4 million bond package recommended by administrators included $31.3 million to pay for updated sprinklers, surveillance cameras, roof projects and intercom systems at various schools, plus $13.1 million for emergency generators, heating systems and cooling systems, among other school capital projects. The total cost also included $1.4 million to fund the design of remodeling the Whaley School and $2.6 million to fund the design to relocate Mt. Iliamna Elementary School, which serves students who need emotional and behavioral support, from Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson to Lake Otis Elementary School, Roth said.

A separate $3.5 million bond would buy 27 school buses, Roth said.

The alternative bond package, which totaled $52.8 million, included everything except the $13.1 million for school capital projects. In its place was $17.5 million for capital projects to Central Middle School of Science including improvements to its roof, drainage system and exterior windows, Roth said. This proposal also included the separate bus bond.


Heidi Embley, school district spokeswoman, said over the next several months the district will educate the public on its bond process and capital planning.

"Our infrastructure is dependent on the bond process. We don't put a lot of money into our operating budget -- just some minor maintenance but not for full school renovations," Embley said.

The school district also has an $11,000 contract with Chugiak-based Hays Research Group. The group will conduct a public opinion telephone poll on the school bonds, surveying about 1,000 Anchorage voters, she said.

Embley said pollsters will ask questions including if the voters support a $45 million to $55 million bond proposal without state debt reimbursement in 2016 and if they support bonding to replace school buses, Embley said.

She said she hopes to get the survey out in the next week. The poll will help the school district gauge the public's appetite for school bonds and what sort of language it supports, she said.

In the last municipal election, 53 percent of Anchorage voters approved a $59.3 million school bond package. The school district did not poll on that bond proposal, but Embley said it had in previous years.

School board member Eric Croft said during the work session that he wanted the survey to ask if Anchorage voters would rather the school district continue to bond to rebuild its schools or close them. He called that question the "elephant in the room."

"Do you want us to keep putting schools forward to be replaced as they age out or become unsafe or do you want us to close them down?" he asked.

Embley said the school district should get the results of the poll before Thanksgiving break.

Depending on the results, the administration's recommended bond package may change, Roth said. The school board is scheduled to vote on the bond proposal on December 4, he said.

Tegan Hanlon

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