Squeaking in under a Dec. 5 deadline to make the March 3 primary election, the Trinity Alps Unified School District Board of Trustees voted during a special meeting Monday night to place a $16.67 million school bond measure on the ballot to help raise the needed funds for emergency mold abatement, reconstruction and modernization of Trinity High School and Weaverville Elementary School facilities.
They have looked for alternative funding sources including long-term borrowing in efforts to avoid a bond measure, but District Supt. Jaime Green informed board members Monday that the district’s chances of obtaining state hardship funds are slim to none unless it uses every tool available including attempted passage of a bond.
“We need to make the attempt because they know we can,” he said, referring to conversations he’s had with representatives of the California Office of Public School Construction (OPSC) during inspections last week of district facilities.
“We’ve sent our hardship application in, and they’ve already told us we won’t quality because we haven’t used all the tools. Bonding is one, and the cost of other loans we’ve looked at would mean laying off a couple of teachers at least,” Green said.
The $16.67 million bond measure is based on calculations of the district’s maximum debt capacity. Passage requires approval by 55 percent plus one of the voters within the boundaries of the Trinity Alps Unified District that includes the communities of Burnt Ranch, Coffee Creek, Douglas City, Junction City, Lewiston, Trinity Center and Weaverville.
If the bond is passed in March, funds would be available to the district as soon as May or June. If it doesn’t pass in March, the district would try again for the November election to satisfy state expectations that there be two attempts, and the election must be held in an even-numbered year.
The cost to homeowners in the district would be six cents per $100, or $60 per $100,000 of assessed home value to generate $1,048,000 in annual revenue.
“At my house (and every other average home in the district), that’s $120 a year. It means going to Burger King one less time per month, and I can do that,” Green said, adding “we’ve told the community we aren’t going to bond immediately, but OPSC would make us wait for months and our buildings would still be shut.”
He reported that mold remediation has been completed at Weaverville Elementary where final certification is pending with the county Environmental Health Officer, but circumstances are more problematic at the high school and are still developing.
“We have snow on the roof and today we found three new leaks. We have to replace our science labs. We have aging schools that need to be redone and funding is holding us back. If we have that, we can turn our schools around pretty quickly,” Green said, adding passage of the bond “would put us in a position of strength, not weakness, and to get an election in March, we have to submit this to the county by the end of this week.”
He said the facilities situation and resulting financial strain “have put us through a lot of pain and suffering. People in the community are very supportive, and I think we have a good shot at passage. I believe the glass is half-full and we have opportunity for good to come from all of this.”
The district is already $10 million into the mold abatement project, using emergency reserve funds to rent portable buildings to start school in September while 90 percent of the facilities at Trinity High and Weaverville Elementary were sealed up due to the black mold infestation discovered last June.
Bond proceeds could only be used for capital improvements, not payroll, but they would allow for reimbursement of the reserve funds already spent on eligible expenses.
The lack of a reserve has put the district in a cash flow bind as it awaits property tax revenue to come in next March.
In separate actions at Monday night’s special session, the board approved resolutions requesting a temporary transfer of funds from Trinity County or from the Trinity County Superintendent of Schools to cover its anticipated cash shortage in January and February estimated at $800,000 to cover payroll.
Green indicated both are very supportive of the district, but still require formal action to approve the request. Costs to initiate the temporary transfer are minimal and the money would be repaid by the district as soon as property tax revenue is received in March.
Board members suggested wording changes to the bond measure, but were informed that the district’s attorneys and bond counsel have firmly weighed in to draft a measure they believe is immune to future legal challenges suffered by a similar measure approved by the Mountain Valley Unified School District in Hayfork.
“Their job is to defend it and make it bulletproof. We’ve spent a lot of hours on this. It is not rushed. It is stamped by our attorneys,” Green said, adding that once the board votes to go forward, law prohibits any district representative from advocating or campaigning for the bond measure, though community groups could form to do so.
The board vote moving the bond measure forward to the March election was a unanimous 4-0 with one member absent.