Chamber of Commerce backs school bond extensions

The Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce supports the extension of public funding for a bond program to build new schools and renovate existing facilities.

Chamber representatives said Wednesday the Clark County School District effort has gone well in the past 10 years and needs to be continued.

In November, voters will be asked to decide whether to continue financing the program, which is expected to raise $7 billion through 2018 to pay for school construction.

The district, now the nation’s fifth-largest system of public schools, expects to add 130,000 students in the next decade.

“As our community continues to grow, we need to expand our educational facility capacity even further,” said Hugh Anderson, chairman of the chamber’s government affairs committee. “Clark County School District needs dedicated resources.”

Voters approved the funding mechanism for the district’s first 10-year bond program in 1998 by a solid margin, 65 percent to 35 percent, and the chamber reviewed how that money was spent in evaluating the proposal for a 10-year extension.

“The chamber looked at the promises made in 1998 and the actual uses of those dollars,” Anderson said. “In the chamber’s opinion, the 1998 bond money has been wisely spent.”

The 1998 bond program was expected to build 88 new schools and remodel 184. When the work was done, there were 101 new schools — some replacing existing schools — and 244 remodeled schools.

If voters approve the $7 billion district bond question on the November ballot, those resources would be combined with $2.5 billion in district revenues from hotel taxes and the real estate transfer tax. The district is asking voters to keep its share of the property tax rate at the current $0.5534 per $100 of assessed value.

For owners of a $300,000 home, approval of the question would mean that they would continue to pay $581.07 annually for school construction. That amount would fluctuate as a property’s assessed valuation rises or falls during the time the bond is in effect.

In the proposed 2008 bond program, $5.2 billion would go to build 73 new schools and $4.3 billion would pay for modernizing and adding on to existing schools. The 2008 program would expire in 2018.

“We really stand on our record,” said district Superintendent Walt Rulffes, noting that the plan leaves the tax rate unchanged.

“The tax rate won’t increase,” he said. “There may be a misperception that if it doesn’t pass, the tax rate will drop. That’s not true, because there’s still outstanding debt from previous bond issues.”

The chamber also donated $10,000 to the School Building Committee, formed to raise private funds to publicize the district’s bond campaign.

The committee raised about $750,000 in 1998 and expects to meet or exceed that this year, said Mark Brown, the group’s co-chairman.

“People have said, ‘How are you going to get a bond passed in an election year where the economy has slowed a little bit and the electorate is uneasy and gaming revenues are down?'” Brown said. “We believe, as the community has done in the past, that they’ll step up once again.”

Chamber representatives said business leaders support the continued funding.

“Business has a true stake in education,” said Fafie Moore, chairwoman of the Las Vegas chamber and owner of Realty Executives of Nevada. “Ensuring that we have quality schools with enough capacity … is important to our economy as well as our community.

“In addition, recruiting quality professionals to Southern Nevada depends in large part on the condition of our schools.”

District schools had about 200,000 students in 1998. That number has swelled to more than 308,000 this year. By 2018, the district expects as many as 450,000 students.

Contact reporter Alan Choate at achoate@ or 702-229-6435.

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