By Crystal Hayduk
The Chelsea School District’s $81 million bond request on the Nov. 5 ballot was approved 2,275 to 1,484, a 30-percent turnout by district voters who reside in Washtenaw County. (Among district voters who reside in Jackson County, 12.75 percent of voters turned out to reject the request 47 to 36.)
The bond was requested to add and remodel, furnish, and equip buildings and other district facilities; purchase and install technology for educational use; buy school buses; and improve playgrounds, athletic fields, facilities, and sites.
But obtaining voter approval for the bond is the first of many steps in completing district projects or acquiring assets.
Superintendent Julie Helber said the board of education is expected to vote on a bonding resolution in early January. This resolution will be to sell the first (of three) series of 2019 bonds, which should net $31 million in proceeds to pay for upcoming projects and purchases.
Bonds are sold through the Michigan Department of Treasury to investors who desire safe, tax-free, guaranteed investments. The investors’ money is loaned to school districts for specific purposes as written in bond ballot language. When taxes are collected, the district repays the debt.
The 2019 bond is being paid for through homeowner taxes, which have been 7 mills since the 1995 bond millage was passed. Homeowners will continue to pay 7 mills through 2020, and then the tax will begin to decrease annually. It is expected to be 4.53% by 2025.
Helber said that Chelsea School District receives a Standard & Poor’s rating; and receives advice from PFM, a financial advising company, and bond attorneys at Thrun Law.
The district also hires an underwriter to assist with issuing the bonds and obtaining the best interest rates for the district and its voters. After interviewing three firms, the district has chosen to work with Stifel. “They just assisted with the WISD (Washtenaw Intermediate School District) bond sale, and are experts with school bonds,” said Helber.
By the time all of the paperwork goes through, the bonds will be ready for sale in the spring. “Since spring is actually a competitive time of year for getting the best bids on new projects, the bulk of the projects are scheduled for summer 2021,” said Helber.
Projects and purchases that were previously planned will be done next summer and primarily be paid for with the last of the 2009 bond funds, from proceeds obtained in 2018.
The most likely projects for summer 2020 include replacing old technology at South Meadows, purchasing some buses, paving the portion of the WSEC (Washington Street Education Center) parking lot that was not completed in 2019, and remodeling the 500 building on the WSEC campus for career and technical education.
“We plan to open the 500 building for health science and principles of engineering/robotics classes in fall of 2020,” said Helber.
Although 2020 will be a relatively light summer for projects, the following two summers will be much busier. District administrative staff will soon be very busy managing the preliminary details in order to obtain bids.
Helber said that summer is a good time to complete work on spaces that are regularly used by students, but some activities can be undertaken during the school year if they don’t directly impact students, such as future construction of a bus wash at the transportation department.