Editorial: School voters have key questions to consider

Voters will determine in Tuesday’s special election whether to support a $16 million bond issue for Clovis Municipal Schools construction projects.

Those include building a third middle school and replacing one elementary school and several other significant remodeling and replacement projects.

We urge voters to consider the following questions and applicable facts:

• Are the projects essential?

District officials expect to see more than 850 new students in the next four years, primarily due to expansion at Cannon Air Force Base. If that estimate and the current student population holds, student enrollment would be about 9,500 by 2014.

Existing buildings can hold about 7,900 students and there is room for 1,500 more in existing portable classrooms. In addition, the district already has funds with which it plans to increase elementary school capacity by about 500 more students.

If the bond issue fails, several new portables might be required since Clovis High School has the most empty space, but can’t be used to ease overcrowding in the lower grades.

The average age of CMS schools is 54 years. Adequate lighting can be a problem and technology upgrades can be a challenge in buildings that old, in addition to sewer lines and other infrastructure issues. Plus, 80 percent of the portables have been in use more than 20 years and students in them are not always physically comfortable due to climate-control issues.

Some bond-issue supporters believe it would be time to start major construction projects even if Cannon weren’t expanding.

• Is the proposal cost effective?

If taxpayers pass the $16 million bond, New Mexico is expected to provide $57 million more in revenues set aside for projects around the state.

“It’s like we’ve been pre-approved to buy a house,” said Joel Shirley, deputy superintendent of operations for CMS. “But if we don’t have our match approved, we don’t get the 80 percent (from the state.)”

“The money is going to be allocated (to build schools somewhere in New Mexico),” Shirley said. “We want to be first in line.”

CMS has identified $72.9 million worth of building projects it hopes to complete by 2014. The $16 million local contribution would be paid off in eight to 17 years, depending on terms the district can negotiate.

• Will my taxes go up?

No, school officials said, because previous bonds recently were paid off.

It’s like buying a new car. You make monthly payments until you own the car. Then, when that last payment is made, you have new options for spending (or saving) those dollars each month. (Old buildings, like old cars, may need more maintenance than new ones.)

If the bond issue fails, taxes for the owner of a $100,000 home would decrease about $6 next year and another $3.75 in 2012.

• Can school officials be trusted to use the money appropriately?

They’ve said they plan to build a new middle school, improve four elementary schools and Marshall Middle School, and rebuild Lockwood Elementary School.

But ballot wording allows flexibility.

It asks only permission to “erect, remodel, make additions to and furnish school buildings, purchase or improve school grounds, purchase computer software and hardware for student use in public schools (and) provide matching funds for capital outlay projects.”

Shirley said the language cannot be too specific because school officials need options in case situations change during the building process. But officials would not venture far from the stated plan, he said, because of the trust needed with voters for future needs. “It would be short-sighted to kill the goose that lays the golden egg,” he said.