Lindbergh school board eyes projects using existing funds

School board debates pros, cons of dipping into reserves

By BURKE WASSON

Lindbergh School District residents last fall approved a $32 million bond issue for building improvements deemed critical by district officials. Last week, the Board of Education began studying what else can be improved from existing district funds. Board members met Jan. 8 in a special session to discuss the district’s comprehensive facilities funding improvement plan.

While board members have taken no formal action to introduce specific projects, Director of Facilities Karl Guyer indicated that he has a list of projects he would like to see completed in the near future. A handful of the future projects discussed last week include replacement of bleachers and floors in gyms, new playground safety pads, new restroom partitions, new hot-water heaters at Lindbergh High School and emergency-preparedness projects.

Guyer said other such projects have come about through discussion he and district officials have had with parents and teachers.

As for how the district plans to fund future improvements, Assistant Superintendent for Finance/Chief Financial Officer Pat Lanane said board members can look to the district’s reserve fund and possibly restructure some of its existing restricted reserves. Lanane reiterated that no funds would be taken from restricted reserves that are in place for clubs and activities within the school district.

However, one area of concern in restructuring restricted reserves that Lanane highlighted for board members was possibly spending too much and jeopardizing the district’s current Aa bond rating.

Board member Bob Foerstel said he would be in favor of dipping into some of the reserves for needed projects and added that some residents have a perception the district has too large of a reserve.

“I tell you the bond raters will never say that,” Lanane said. “Never will they say that.”

“I appreciate that,” Foerstel said. “But I want everybody to be as happy as possible with the bond raters. So if we could find out just that scheme that would really make them happy, that would be very important.”

“The last time I looked, there’s only six school districts in the state that had a (Aa) rating,” Lanane said. “And so it is a place we’d like to stay. I’ll have some discussions with them. But again, you have to be careful when you talk to these rating agencies.

“You don’t want to alarm them in any way because things are very solid in this school district, and we want to be sure that the picture they get is the picture that is accurate and true that we have.”

Board President Mark Rudoff said he supports studying ways to fund further projects, but also expressed concern that the district’s bond rating could fall if spending is not closely monitored.

“If we have a planned spend-down of the reserves, I don’t want that,” Rudoff said. “I don’t want to put ourselves in a position where someone is uninformed and sees a declining balance without explanation and draws an erroneous conclusion. This is really part of the strategy. I guess that’s part of the deal. I’d like to think that we’re not amateurs here and we do know what we’re doing and we do understand what the implications are.

“I’m in a business where being second-guessed is part of the job. And the consequence here is that if we go through and we believe in our heart of hearts that what we’re doing is a financially responsible course of action and somebody comes along after the fact and disagrees with us, I’d rather not get to that point.”

Lanane said the study of the district’s comprehensive facilities funding improvement plan is designed so that district officials do not have to ask residents to approve another bond issue and instead pay for needed projects with existing balances.

“As you remember, Prop R has been wonderful and successful,” Lanane said. “It’s $32 million. If you go back, I believe the original price tag on all projects when we started was $54 million. So there were things that did not get into Prop R that have to have a place because they’re still out there. While they may be less critical and less imminent than some, we have to have that.

“The other piece of this kind of goes back historically a little bit where people have talked about the need to look at our operational budget and maybe increase the amount of maintenance in some projects that we’re doing out of that. And so that’s also kind of dropped into this because Karl has a certain amount that he does every year — kind of small projects. And perhaps there may be some desire to increase that number. The option is there within this plan depending on what the prerogative of the board may be. So as we’re looking at this, one of the things that if you’re going to talk about projects, if the only answer is we have to have a bond issue for any and all projects we’re going to do in the future, that’s not a lot of options. We think there are some other options. We think there are some options within Karl’s budgets that can happen. Of course, that may require some increase in his annual budget.

“There are some options within district reserves. We’re going to look at the reserve situation. There are future Prop Rs that are going to be available in the future just as this one. By extending debt, you’re able to keep up also with your building and maintenance needs — particularly large needs.