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School district and city of Lincoln

Can officials just work out their differences?
By: Patty McAlpin, Reporter
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This is part one of a two-part series looking at the history behind the school board’s and city disagreement over building of future schools. Part one looks at the school district’s finances. Part two looks at building needs.

 

A courtroom instead of a workshop is where school and city officials may end up hashing out how schools are built for Lincoln’s future students if the two sides cannot reach an agreement sooner.

Western Placer Unified School District filed a lawsuit Dec. 28 against the city of Lincoln, Lincoln City Council, Planning Commission and Lake Development-Lincoln LLC. 

The district filed the lawsuit to make the city detail in environmental documents how and when schools will be planned to house future students from the Village 1 housing development as well as how current students could be impacted by the development.

Lincoln Councilman Spencer Short, mayor during 2012, and school district Superintendent Scott Leaman both agree that students from Village 1 need to be housed but disagree about the city’s role in the process and funding.

Short said both the city and schools operate under specific state laws.

“Those laws dictate the way we operate,” Short said. “The city has to show a connection between the fees that we charge and the services we provide. Schools have similar laws that dictate their conduct and specifically how they fund schools. The school district controls their own fate when it comes to building schools and providing education.”

The councilman said “the bottom line” is money.

“This is really a matter of how much school infrastructure costs and what is included in those costs,” Short said. “The school district needs to explain what is included in their schools and sell that to the community at large. You can have a very nice school with tons of amenities but that may not be in the budget. The message is we all have to live within our budgets.”

School officials say they have the money to pay off debt for schools already built but they don’t have any more money to build new schools.

School district officials say the problem is the state has run out of money to pay for school construction and developer fees alone are not enough to build a school.

 “There is $125 million in ongoing debt linked to ongoing forms of future income,” Leaman said. “We have the income to manage that debt.”

The debt being serviced is for the building of Twelve Bridges Elementary School, Twelve Bridges Middle School, Foskett Ranch Elementary School, Lincoln Crossing Elementary School and preliminary work on Twelve Bridges High School. Twelve Bridges Elementary School opened in 2004; Foskett Ranch Elementary School in 2005, Twelve Bridges Middle School in 2006, and Lincoln Crossing Elementary School in 2007.

“We built homes for students and now we have a mortgage to pay off,” Leaman said.

These schools were built with funds from Community Facility District 1, Community Facility District 2 and developer fees.

School district facilities planner Heather Steer said the community facility districts were not sized for what it would take “to put schools on the ground.”

“We could put money in the bank for 40 years and still not have enough money to build,” Steer said. “We would still be short an elementary school and a high school.”

The district is collecting developer fees, both community and residential. Examples include the Meadowlands project, infill projects such as KB Homes near Virginiatown Road, Walmart Neighborhood Market, Target and The Home Depot. 

Steer said the district does not have the money to build Lincoln Crossing South or Twelve Bridges High School. Planning for these schools began in 2000.

When the district was ready to build those schools, “The worst recession in America in recent history hit,” Leaman said, who took over as superintendent in 2006. He replaced Roger Yohe.
“Everything stopped,” Leaman said. “We were saddled with debt like homeowners. Suddenly, income is decreasing.”

From 2008 to 2011, the school district refinanced four bonds.

“We refinanced all the obligations for two reasons,” Leaman said. “We wanted to take advantage of positive interest rates. Also, the bonds had variable rates. Now, they are fixed. We then matched the bonds to income for the next 30 to 40 years.”

Leaman said the district is fiscally stable.

“We are sad not to have those two schools (Lincoln Crossing South and Twelve Bridges High School) but we are stable financially,” Leaman said.

The 2010 bond that the school district put to the voters was an attempt to obtain local matching money, according to Leaman. The next opportunity is 2014 when the state of California will place another school construction bond before voters statewide for approval.

Measure J, which was on the November 2010 ballot with the city’s Measure K, failed. The district had asked voters to approve a $163 million bond to build Lincoln Crossing South Elementary School, the first phase of Twelve Bridges High School and make district-wide improvements, including large additions to Glen Edwards Middle School and Lincoln High School.

The city’s Measure K in November 2010 also failed. That bond called for a 3.75 percent users’ utility tax that would have garnered $2.9 million in revenue annually to maintain public safety, and library and recreation services at current levels.

“The district tried to get voters to pass a bond in the middle of the recession,” Leaman said. “Now that we are post recession, we feel planning is key.”

Leaman said the district has learned “from past mistakes.”

“It was a mistake to put up signs for Lincoln Crossing South and Twelve Bridges High School and have people wondering where the schools are,” Leaman said.

The district views Lincoln Crossing South and Twelve Bridges High School as part of the city’s old General Plan and The Villages, seven future housing developments in the city’s sphere of influence, as part of the city’s 2008 50-year General Plan, according to Leaman.

To educate future students from the Villages, the district will need to build nine elementary schools, three middle schools and two high schools at a cost of approximately $615 million, according to Leaman. The district estimates there will be 20,238 new students.

Steer said funding for schools in The Villages is to be paid for from Senate Bill 50, the law requiring developers to pay school fees to construct schools, with a state match.  

School consultant Dr. Ron Feist has said the amount schools are allowed to collect under Senate Bill 50 will only provide 42 percent of the costs needed to build schools. Feist said the state money would represent 36 to 39 percent if the district can secure the funding.

The school district is allowed to collect Level II (developer) fees in the amount of $4.60 per square foot of conditioned living space for any building outside of the district’s two community facility districts, according to Steer.

After developer and state funds, the district needs approximately $135 million to build schools for students from the Villages. 

A lawsuit was filed by the district against the city and Lake Development in Placer County Superior Court Dec. 28 over environmental approval of the Village 1 housing development, which is slated to include one elementary school for 1,658 elementary school students.

According to the district’s facilities master plan, a new elementary school would house 800 students. Construction of a new elementary school is estimated at $29 million.  The cost to build Lincoln Crossing Elementary School, currently at capacity with 687 students, was $29,788,515, according to Steer.

Estimated cost to build a middle school for 1,100 students is $50 million, according to the facilities master plan. The cost to build Twelve Bridges Middle School, currently at capacity with 876 students, was $44,557,461.69. 

The estimated cost to build a high school for 1,800 students is approximately $105 million, according to the facilities master plan.

Short asked the school district at the Aug. 23, 2012 school board meeting for an explanation of what is required for each school. In the breakdown, he wants to know how much classroom space, multipurpose space and administrative space is needed for an elementary, middle and high school. Short also wants to know what the standard of building will be, i.e. wood, stucco or masonry.

Some schools in the past were overbuilt, according to Short.

“Foskett Ranch was overbuilt for what it provides,” Short said. “Twelve Bridges Middle School has a clock tower that was an unnecessary feature. There was a lot of focus on architecture of the schools rather than focusing on the mission of providing education.”

Short said the city wants “nice-looking schools. However, the school district has some pretty severe financial limitations. And you have to work within your limitations.”

Leaman and Steer have said at council meetings  that mistakes have been made in the past but that the district wants to work with the city on planning of new schools.

“We feel three has to be a close marriage as the city moves forward with development,” Leaman said. “Our vision is to have adequate funds.”