June 16, 2005
The concept of a financial partnership between developers and Falcon School District 49 may still be salvaged, despite a school board decision last month to rebuff a multi-million-dollar offer from businessmen to help pay for schools. At a meeting Wednesday, board members and at least one Falcon-area developer discussed finding a way to tap voters and private businesses for money to build schools next year. The candid discussion came a month after board members rejected an offer of as much as $20 million to help build schools in the next few years. The board said then that it wanted the money, but it disagreed with a condition that would have required it to ask voters for one kind of tax increase over another. “In saying no to that offer, you began a cycle of negotiating whether you meant to or not,” Woodmen Hills developer Rusty Green told the D-49 board. Now, he said, it’s time for the second round. Green emphasized he was only representing himself at the meeting, but he told the board that about 42 developers and home builders have pledged to help. He didn’t think the board’s initial rejection turned them away. “We’ve always wanted to negotiate,” said board member Laine Gibson, who recalled that the previous proposal “was presented as take it or leave it.” Green said the agreement among developers and home builders — and the millions they could contribute — could be precedent-setting. He told the board that parents of school-age children in Woodmen Hills have talked to him about taxes more than the school officials. Selling a tax increase to voters, he said, would be more likely if builders contributed to the bottom line and helped convince voters of the need. Voters in D-49 have said no to two consecutive tax-increase proposals to build schools. Board President Paul Bryant asked Green why developers feel so strongly that the school board ask voters for a bond issue instead of a different kind of tax increase, known as a mill-levy override, which has been favored by district officials. Because the district is limited in how much money it can legally raise through bonds, board members say a bond issue would fix only part of the problem. A mill-levy override is not bound by such a limit. Bryant argued that it would be a hard sell to ask voters to approve a bond issue if they were left with crowded schools and split or year-round schedules. A bond issue would be $45 million to $50 million, while an override would ask for about $85 million. Bryant said the district will try to talk with developers around the first of July, when incoming Superintendent Steven Hull arrives.