Fairfax County voters are faced with a $252.75 million dollar decision.
Included on the Nov. 8 general election ballot is a school bond referendum to fund Fairfax County Public School's 2012-16 Capital Improvement Program (CIP).
Each year Fairfax County Public Schools develops a five-year CIP to address future facility needs, including renovations of existing facilities and building of new facilities.
According to Denise James, director of Facilities Planning Services for FCPS, unfinished projects from previous CIP’s are carried over into the new one.
“The CIP includes a cash flow of expenditures on projections over the next five years, and then anticipates expenditures in the 'out years' – i.e., over the subsequent 6-10 year period, for planning purposes,” she wrote in an email to Burke Patch. “However, FCPS must stay within an annual cash-flow limit of $155 million, established by the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors.”
“The CIP includes all needed projects, some of which are funded and some of which are not,” James said. “The current CIP -- and all CIPs for that matter -- are predicated on the assumption that school bonds will continue to be approved by the voters in the future.”
Bond passage places the projects listed in the referendum in the queue with all other unfinished projects.
Capital improvements of Fairfax County schools are not funded through the school system’s operating budget (2.2 billion for FY 2011), but through the sale of bonds. FCPS said bonds are similar to a home mortgage, in that they are a type of long-term borrowing which spreads the cost over a number of years. Voters must approve bond sales because they require future debt.
The Fairfax County School Board voted in January 2011 to approve the FY 2012-16 (CIP) totaling $804.9 million. According to a school board press release, $199.4 million of that amount was already funded with previously approved school bonds. The 2011 School Bond Referendum is for $252.75 million, leaving an outstanding balance of $352.75 million.
“The remainder of the funding will come from future bond sales,” James said.
Since 1999, Fairfax County voters have passed six school bonds totaling $1,809,875,000 (almost $1.81 billion).
- In 1999 for $ 297,205,000
- In 2001 for $ 377,955,000
- In 2003 for $ 290,610,000
- In 2005 for $ 246,325,000
- In 2007 for $ 365,200,000
- In 2009 for $ 232,580,000
Passage does not guarantee funding for completion of projects.
“Some projects are shown in the bond as planning only and some for planning and construction,” James said. “For those that are shown as for planning only — a future bond would need to be approved to fund construction.”
Even with the passage of these bond referendums, Fairfax County schools are years behind in renovations and construction. There is a backlog of projects.
For example, Spartans Organized for Action on Renovation (SOAR) is a community effort to secure needed funding for the school's renovation. They say the school is in need of renovations, and they want the work completed earlier than 2019, as currently scheduled in the CIP.
“Currently FCPS does not fund any CIP funding from their operating budget, although we think this would be a great idea if they would. If there is any available money that could be carved out of the $3+ billion FCPS annual operating budget, we believe the underfunded CIP would be a worthy cause,” said SOAR’s website. West Springfield High School is slated to receive $5.95 million for planning in the 2011 Bond Referendum.
An independent reviewing body establishes the renovation and construction queue. “Ideally, schools should be renovated on a 25-30 year cycle,” said James. But she admits the cycle has been longer. “The time frame for renovations was longer several years ago – up to a 40 year cycle,” she said.
“When construction costs are high, the number of capital projects that can be completed within a specified time frame is reduced,” she said. “However, with lower construction costs, more projects can be accommodated more quickly within that $155 million spending limit.”
“At present, we are experiencing lower construction costs, and the cost savings has been applied to other capital projects, which reduces that time frame for schools waiting for renovations,” she said. “This is also reflected in this year’s school bond proposal.”
Even though the Board of Supervisors recently raised the annual capital-improvement spending limit from $130 million to $155 million, some believe it should be increased even more.
"It [the spending limit] leads to the queue getting longer and longer while the buildings get older and older," said a parent at a West Springfield High School PTSA meeting.
That is true of . Built 47 years ago, in 1964-65, . This year's bond includes some $84.62 million for TJ's renovations.
Yet, according to the Thomas Jefferson Partnership Fund, the bond does not include money to equip the specialized research labs at the school. The Partnership Fund estimates the total cost of expansion and equipment to exceed $100 million. They've initiated a capital campaign called TJ 2.0 to raise the additional millions.
Of the nation’s more than 3,000 counties, Fairfax is among only 37 that have the highest credit rating possible for a local government:
- Aaa from Moody’s Investors Service
- AAA from Standard & Poor’s
- AAA rating from Fitch Investors Service
“The sale of bonds and the yearly spending limit is based on County financial guidelines which work to safeguard the County’s AAA bond ratings, and helps ensure County bonds are sold with low interest rates,” James said.
The county's bond debt is not a contributing factor to local tax increases, unless debt service costs significantly increase as a percentage of combined general fund disbursements.
Annual bonding debt service interest payments are paid from the Board of Supervisors annual operating budget and not the FCPS annual operating budget.
According to FCPS, 80 percent of 2012-16 CIP funding is dedicated to renovating existing facilities. Twenty percent is dedicated to new construction and infrastructure upgrades, such as roof replacements; heating, ventilation, and air conditioning upgrades; security enhancements; and technology infrastructure.
Following is the complete list of projects in the 2011 bond referendum.Capacity Enhancement (Additions and other modifications) Fairfax Villa Elementary School $3,129,294 Greenbriar EastElementary School $3,889,687 Union Mill Elementary School $3,419,715 Modular Relocations $3,250,000 Capacity Enhancement Subtotal: $13,688,696 Renovation Elementary School Renovation Canterbury Woods (Construction) $14,894,268 Clermont (Planning & Construction) $13,608,872 Sunrise Valley (Planning & Construction) $16,215,447 Garfield (Planning & Construction) $14,158,593 Terra Centre (Planning & Construction) $16,614,596 Westgate (Planning & Construction) $14,221,431 Terraset (Planning) $1,053,799 Haycock (Planning) $960,703 Woodlawn (Planning) $1,189,450 Forestville (Planning) $1,165,000 North Springfield (Planning) $899,000 Springfield Estates(Planning) $723,444 Keene Mill (Planning) $908,010 Bucknell (Planning) $1,131,776 Elementary School Renovation Subtotal: $97,744,389 Middle School Renovation Sandburg (Construction) $44,293,958 Thoreau (Planning) $2,175,000 Middle School Renovation Subtotal: $46,468,958 High School Renovation Thomas Jefferson (Construction) $84,625,065 Langley (Planning) $5,650,000 West Springfield (Planning) $5,950,000 High School Renovation Subtotal: $96,225,065 Infrastructure Management Technology Upgrades $4,000,000 Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) Upgrades $2,500,000 Roof Replacement $6,500,000 Athletic Infrastructure $2,500,000 HVAC Replacement $7,500,000 Security Enhancements $1,050,000 Asphalt Paving $2,125,000 Infrastructure Management Subtotal: $26,175,000 Project Subtotal $280,302,107 *Prior Bond Savings ($29,052,107) Bond Cost $1,500,000 REFERENDUM TOTAL $252,750,000
*Amount reflects cost savings realized through lower than anticipated construction costs for previous bond projects