City, board differ on costs to build schools

By: Patty McAlpin Lincoln News Messenger Reporter
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School and city officials clarified what each needs to do to collaborate on building future schools in Lincoln during Tuesday’s Western Placer Unified School District board meeting. The officials disagree regarding how the school district is calculating the cost to build future schools. “We need to determine how much of the tax base we can put on residents and still have quality schools and city services,” said Western Placer Unified School District Superintendent Scott Leaman. Lincoln Mayor Spencer Short addressed the board. “We’re behind anything the school district is required to do,” Short said, “but tell us the authority that you are operating under and we’ll back you up.” Short said the price figures and the backup for the model schools don’t match. “For example, Rocklin and Roseville built schools using bonds. Western Placer is correlating our school costs with theirs but Western Placer has no bonds,” Short said. “We are not in the school facilities business,” Short said. “There’s got to be some way to build the facilities you want. What we are asking is what is going into that price.” The school district’s facilities planner Heather Steer presented the school board with a set of options to consider. Those options included continuing to request that all environmental impact reports reflect the full legal requirements, continue to work collaboratively with local jurisdictions to ensure complete communities, draft a similar resolution to the one used in Golden Valley Unified about how it will attempt to house the influx of new students, investigate the feasibility of a school facilities improvement district in surrounding areas and begin a master plan process for sites anticipating the majority of portable additions. Steer offered Golden Valley Unified School District in Madera County as an example of how other districts handle facilities issues. “Sounds like all five look right,” Board Clerk Brian Haley asked. Steer said that environmental impact reports are not taking into account the full amount of funds needed to build schools to house children from kindergarten through 12th-grade in future developments. According to Steer’s report, the assumed total school facility cost per household is $22,578. State revenue funding accounts for $8,844 and total development impact fee revenue is $9,471, leaving a revenue shortfall of $4,264 per household. In a June 14, 2012 letter to the city of Lincoln’s development services department director Rod Campbell regarding the notice of draft environmental impact report for the Village 1 Specific Plan, located along Highway 193 abutting Turkey Creek Golf Course, Steer said the project would have a total of 5,639 residential units. That would translate into approximately 3,383.4 students to Western Placer Unified School District to be served by an already-impacted district based on a measurement of .60 students per dwelling unit, according to Steer. “While the draft EIR does speak in greater volume to the funding issues that face the district and covers the concerns of the district in the phasing plan in relating to the phasing in the area surrounding the proposed school site, it is still woefully deficient in mitigating the significant problems with this development in relation to the district and does not even cover the impacts relating to serving students from this project,” Steer said in the letter. Steer also wrote, “If WPUSD is forced to serve new students from developments based solely on mandated Level II residential construction fees, WPUSD will not be able to construct any new schools within this plan area and will have to transport students to any other school within the district that has space available to place even more portable classrooms and student seating.” Leaman said the district has shared its figures regarding future school facilities costs with the city of Lincoln Western Placer Unified School District School Committee (collaborative planning group). District officials also talk about facilities needs as new developments come before the Planning Commission or City Council for approval. “We do appreciate conversations we’ve had with the city manager and it’s true we hadn’t gone to the City Council and had this conversation,” Leaman said. Board President Damian Armitage said the school district needs to take the lead. “It is our job to explain to the city and to the developer so they know what they are getting into,” said Armitage, who represents the school board on the combined school/city committee along with board member Paul Carras. “It will be expensive,” Leaman said. The district’s report estimates a new elementary school will cost approximately $23 million, a middle school approximately $39 million and a high school approximately $97 million. The district needs to build nine elementary schools, three middle schools and two high schools for approximately 24,000 students in grades kindergarten through 12 for 33,731 dwelling units from seven villages outlined in the city of Lincoln’s 2050 General Plan Update adopted in 2008, as previously reported in the News Messenger. “The city feels it can’t legally have a direct role” in negotiating with developers so we are on our own in many ways,” Leaman said. Steer said another district in the state, Chawanakee, sued to make sure its facility needs were met. She said Madera County had to retract an approved environmental impact report for development to address non-school facility mitigation concerns. Phil Rodriguez from Lewis Planned Communities said he needs a better understanding of what $22,000 school facility cost per household is. That number includes the facilities the district will need to educate a student in elementary school, middle school and high school, according to Steer. “High schools have gotten enormous in the region with respect to cost,” Rodriguez said. “The district has had the chance to speak to any EIR issued since before I was on the council,” Short said. “The district is not explaining its needs. With regard to a Mello Roos, we need to know the total capacity and look at the land to hold that tax. Lincoln Crossing has a Mello Roos and it is too much for that area.” “We can’t force development agreements,” Short said. “Let’s share information, sit down at the school/city committee and walk through this.”