The new falcon herald logo.
Feature Articles

Just Another Band-Aid?

Eighty million dollars sounded like a lot of money when Falcon School District voters passed the mill levy increase last November. However, inflation, spurred on by the high cost of gasoline and raw materials, is making it impossible for D 49 officials to build all the capital improvements they promised voters.According to the AAA Web site, gasoline prices have risen from $2.11 a gallon a year ago to $2.88 today. In a June 7 Reuter’s article, it was reported that commodities, such as aluminum, steel and copper, have seen steep price increases because of “China’s industrial growth.” The price of iron ore used in the production of steel increased 71 percent over the last 18 months, and copper prices jumped from $1.75 to $3.50 a pound within the last year.Production and transportation costs of all goods are typically passed on to the buyer, leaving school district officials facing some tough decisions because two new high schools will now cost about $10 million more to build than estimated last November.Henry Reitwiesner, director of strategic growth for D 49, talked about the impact this will have on the school district and what steps could be taken to cover the deficit caused by inflation.In May, D 49 school board members voted unanimously to build the new high school in Falcon exactly as specified before the November election, complete with soccer fields, tennis courts and a football stadium. “The voters in Falcon will get more than was presented to them before the election because the school, which was originally planned to accommodate 900 students, will now be built for 1,200, with room to expand to 1,600 students in the future,” Reitwiesner said.How will the school construction translate to inflation costs?Before school officials asked voters for a mill-levy increase last November, Reitwiesner and other school officials and LKA Partners, an architectural firm that designed many area schools including Doherty High School; and representatives from construction companies that included GE Johnson, Nunn Construction and JE Dunn construction, came up with an estimate they thought would cover all capital improvements. But, Reitwiesner said no contracts were signed to build the schools until after the election.Prior to the election last November, developers also promised money, adding up to about $10 million, from their pockets to the school district. Reitwiesner said he’s had questions about the status of that money. Could the developers’ donation cover the cost overruns caused by inflation?Rusty Green, developer of Woodmen Hills, said many local developers thought the $80 million mill levy increase would never pass. Therefore, the developers wanted D 49 school board members to ask for a $45-million bond, and once passed, they would donate an additional $10 million. “Although an exact figure was never really agreed upon,” Green said. He added that once school officials decided to go forward with the $80 million mill-levy increase, the deal with developers was “off the table.”However, Green said many home builders in D 49 did agree to a pay a voluntary fee of $1,500 for every new home constructed. The fee would be placed in an account for capital improvements in the school district. Currently, Green said the majority of the builders “are contributing the fee, but some of the larger home building companies are not.”While it is a voluntary fee, Reitwiesner said the $1,500 is “merely a Band-Aid.””A true assessment on a house is $15,000 per home, which is similar to what other states charge homebuilders … but we are not there yet, we are in Colorado, in Falcon, and we are not going to get $15,000 additional per house to build schools,” he said.Reitwiesner also said the $120 million is the actual figure needed to place all of D 49’s current student population in classrooms without using temporary classrooms. But school officials didn’t think voters would vote for such a large mill levy increase last November. The need to delay building “high school No. 3″ at the corner of Dublin Street and Powers Boulevard would undoubtedly cause overcrowding at both the new Falcon and Sand Creek high schools, he added.But the revenue stream of $1,500 per home promised to the district may be a fund the district can borrow against to cover the cost of inflation, Reitwiesner said. Plus, he said interest on the $80 million mill levy may be another source of revenue.”Falcon D 49 has been overcrowded for decades and how the district responds to future growth is a school board decision,” Reitwiesner said.He also referenced Colorado state laws that affect fast-growing school districts. The Gallagher Amendment, which lowers the residential assessment rate, only works in districts that have an even ratio of commercial to residential properties. Seventy-six percent of D 49’s tax revenue comes from residential properties.Under the “fee in lieu of land price structure,” developers’ payments only cover about one-third of the actual land value. And he said the current one-day counting system to determine the student population in the district is unfair because children arriving after the October count date must still be educated, but the district receives no state funding for those students.Rezoning affects the district as well.”Any industrial or commercial land rezoned into residential developments puts an undue burden on the taxpayers,” Reitwiesner said. While developers claim residential properties can add to both the tax base and the bonding capacity of a district, there is a lag time of up to two years before the district receives any funding for the students, but they must educate them the first day they arrive at school.”We are a real good school district on the edge of being great,” Reitwiesner said. “Business people in the community know this is a good place to grow. But, as the city of Colorado Springs and El Paso County officials continue to push more residential development on us, we can’t keep up because of all those other factors I mentioned. We are the fastest growing school district in the county, soon to be the largest district in El Paso County.”He said current laws make it impossible for fast growing school districts to receive adequate funding. “If people in the Falcon School District really want to make a culture change, they need to educate people on the decision-making bodies in the city, county, and state,” Reitwiesner said. “The fastest growing districts are being treated so poorly right now, and it can’t get any better unless we have a culture change.”Editor’s note: Steve Dunlap from Nunn Construction and Chris Holt from G.E. Johnson declined to comment for this article, saying that all questions about increased construction costs should be directed to D 49 officials.

StratusIQ Fiber Internet Falcon Advertisement

Current Weather

Weather Cams by StratusIQ

Search Advertisers