District OKs issuing maintenance bonds

Dallas will begin key projects shortly

DALLAS — The Dallas School Board on March 23 authorized issuing $9.7 million in bonds from the $17 million school maintenance bond approved by voters in November.

Issuing that amount allows the district to begin work on the biggest projects on its to-do list while still reaping the highest possible benefit from a yet-to-be passed bill in the state legislature that would offer matching grants for school projects.

Senate Bill 447 would provide matching funds of up to $8 million to school districts with general obligation bonds for maintenance or building projects. Under the current language, Dallas would receive at most $7.3 million in matching funds, the exact amount of its next issuance, which could qualify for a matching grant if the bill were to pass as is.

SB 447 has moved from the Senate Committee on Education to the Joint Ways and Means Committee, but there still are plenty of questions left, including whether amendments could be made excluding Dallas. The original intent of the bill was to offer incentives for districts to pass bonds for upgrades and construction. Dallas has already passed its bond, so if an amendment were to specify bonds must be approved in a future election, the district would not qualify. So far, that has not happened.

“There has not been any changes to that bill, other than it’s moved forward in the legislative process. We do not know if it will pass,” said Tami Montague, Dallas School District business manager. “There’s a lot of rulemaking that has to happen after, even if it makes it all the way through the legislature.”

Dallas School Board member Matt Posey said he was concerned about issuing less than $10 million, given there were no guarantees of grant funding. He said construction costs are likely to go up significantly before the district will issue its next series in three years.

However, Board Chairman Mike Blanchard said the district couldn’t issue much more than $10 million without stretching its ability to spend a majority of the money in the three-year time frame required by law. Also with the higher amount, interest costs could push the bond tax rate up above the $1.74 per $1,000 of assessed value promised voters during the campaign.

“It’s low risk to go with $9.7 million,” Blanchard said.

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