Valpo schools may issue bonds to pay for multimillion-dollar maintenance program
By Amy Lavalley Post-Tribune correspondent August 20, 2013 9:04PM
Updated: September 22, 2013 6:28AM
VALPARAISO — The Valparaiso School Board and the corporation’s administrators announced at Tuesday’s meeting that they are exploring a plan to do much-needed maintenance in all of the schools without increasing the burden to taxpayers.
“Our debt is declining,” said Interim Superintendent Michael Berta.
Some of the school corporation’s bonds for earlier building projects are coming to maturity, offering an opportunity to lease short-term bonds to fund roof repairs, security measures, electrical upgrades, and other necessities without increasing the debt service rate for taxpayers.
A preliminary list of identified projects totals about $9.5 million, but could rise to $12 million. The bonds would be paid off in four to six years, said Chief Financial Officer Sharon Qualkenbush.
The school board will discuss the matter at its Sept. 17 meeting. Under a timetable set out by attorney Jim Shanahan, the school board would hold public hearings on the bond issue in October and November, so the school corporation could sell bonds before the end of the calendar year.
Even without the bond issue, the debt service tax rate would not drop because of the state’s property tax caps, said board president Mark Maassel.
School board members lauded the plan as a way to take care of heavy maintenance without increasing taxes.
“These appear to be necessities, not luxuries, and these will be consistent with our mission to provide a safe and secure learning environment to our kids,” board member Jim Sarkisian said.
The money cannot be used to hire more teachers and has nothing to do with the corporation’s general fund, Berta said. “Those dollars are dedicated only to what we’ve discussed tonight.”
In other business, the school corporation will advertise a tax rate of $1.62 per $100 assessed valuation for 2014. The certified rate for this year was 93 cents, though it was advertised at $1.76.
The school corporation will introduce the budget to the Valparaiso City Council on Sept. 23, with a public hearing on Oct. 14 and vote on Oct. 28. The budget must be approved by Nov. 1.
Additionally, the school corporation’s financial situation continues to improve over where it was last year.
The general fund, the brunt of which is used to pay for salaries and benefits, had a balance of more than $1.1 million at the end of July, while the balance for the same time last year was a negative of more than $1 million, Qualkenbush said.
The general fund also is on track for spending so far this year, she added.