Alaska News

Anchorage voters to decide fate of $59.3 million school bond package

For Gladys Wood Elementary School, a lot depends on the outcome of Tuesday's Anchorage municipal election.

That's when voters will decide on Proposition 1 -- a $59.3-million bond package that would pay for capital projects at eight Anchorage public schools. At $17.8 million, the project at Gladys Wood has the highest price tag.

Ed Graff, Anchorage School District superintendent, said the money would fund the enclosure of classrooms and the library at the elementary school, as well as the replacement of roof sections and the renovation of four kindergarten classrooms, among a list of other work.

Gladys Wood was built in the 1970s. Its design reflects a brief trend when schools featured big, open spaces, Graff said. As a result, multiple classrooms still exist off one hallway without walls separating them from foot traffic. The lack of walls also means noise travels with ease, said Lynn Mayberry-Burke, the school's assistant principal.

"The design is not really conducive to the educational needs," she said.

Mike Abbott, the school district's chief operating officer, has said that annual school bonds provide about 90 percent of the funds for capital projects.

Through the years, Anchorage voters have wavered in their support for the bonds. The school district needs their approval to take on the new debt.

ADVERTISEMENT

In 2010, the school district took a "bond holiday" in response to community feedback and put no bonds on the ballot, according to the district's website. Since then, the last three municipal elections have seen school bonds passed. In 2011, a majority of voters said OK to one of three school bonds.

In the past, if voters approved a school bond, municipal residents picked up part of the new debt through an increase in property taxes and the state paid off as much as 70 percent. This year, however, the Alaska Legislature has decided to stop reimbursement for new bonds for five years as it looks for ways to cut costs.

The state Senate has passed a bill that would eliminate state debt reimbursement for new school bonds that would take effect retroactively starting Jan. 1, 2015. While the House passed a similar bill, it did not get the two-thirds margin of approval to make its effective date prior to the Anchorage vote. Bills typically take effect 90 days after they're passed and signed by the governor. Without a change to its effective date, the bill would probably not impact the April election as long as the bonds are passed before the bill becomes a law. But even at that, there there is disagreement in Juneau. Some legislators and legal experts believe the bill would be retroactive regardless of the effective date, while others believe the Anchorage bonds can squeak by and be reimbursed if they are passed and sold in time.

And that's not all that remains unclear. Some legislators said late last week that they were still looking for ways to not pay for the bonds up for vote on Tuesday.

If the bonds pass and the state doesn't pay the reimbursement, Anchorage residents will see a greater increase in annual property taxes. Without state reimbursement, the owner of a $100,000 house would see about a $14.11 increase in annual property tax. With reimbursement, the same homeowner would pay an additional $5.59, according to school district figures.

Abbott said the state debt reimbursement has never been guaranteed, "however it has been exceptionably reliable, for which we are appreciative." For more than 30 years, the Legislature has fully funded the state's debt obligation, according to the school district.

The school district approximates it pays off about $56.4 million in bond debt each fiscal year. It determines what capital projects to bond for based on its six-year Capital Improvement Plan.

Other projects that would be funded by the $59.3 million bond package include:

• Turnagain Elementary School: $15 million to replace flooring, ceiling, walls and doors; renovate library, art, health and entrance areas; improve front office security.

• Mountain View Elementary School: $13 million to replace, flooring, ceilings, walls and doors; renovate bathrooms; improve front office security.

• Rabbit Creek Elementary School: $11.5 million to relocate main office to face visitor entrance; replace flooring, ceilings, walls and doors; replace roof section.

• Fire Lake Elementary School: $945,000 for roof replacement.

• Inlet View Elementary School: $545,000 for domestic water supply improvements.

• West High School: $300,000 for roof improvements in pool area.

• East High School: $160,000 for a bus loop.

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly said the House-passed version of the bond reimbursement bill didn't have a clause making it retroactive to January. It did contain a retroactive clause, but the House failed to make the effective date of bill retroactive to January, creating disagreement over whether it would apply to Anchorage's school-bond election.

Tegan Hanlon

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

Sponsored