State College school board goes for referendum maximum of $85 million

State College Area School District residents now have a better idea of what might appear as a referendum amount on their May 20, 2014, ballots.

The school board passed a motion 6-3 at its meeting Monday to set a referendum maximum of $85 million to help fund the upcoming high school project. That number could decrease before it is expected to be finalized at the Feb. 10 meeting and a final referendum question is approved in March.

Board member Jim Leous said he wouldn’t want to set the maximum too low at this point and hurt project planning down the road when more numbers come out.

“Tonight we’re setting a maximum value and it can come down as we get better numbers on the overall cost of the project,” he said.

The board has previously discussed the opportunity of setting that number at $75 million, but the majority of the members thought that would be too low to set as a maximum.

Dorothea Stahl, a board member, previously said she would like to see $75 million and be more comfortable with not going over $80 million, but after talking with a variety of community members who said they would support a higher referendum, she felt better voting for the higher total.

She said she heard from people ranging parents of preschool students, who will be directly affected by a new school, to retirees, who no longer have students in the district.

Some board members, like David Hutchinson, said they want to set the higher number to make sure the entire project is completed.

He said the board has one chance to get this done and it would be a shame if they weren’t able to complete the entire project because they didn’t ask for enough money in the referendum.

But not all board members jumped on board with the $85 million maximum.

Vice President Amber Concepcion and board member Jim Pawelczyk voted against because they wouldn’t be comfortable going higher than $75 million, and board member Laurel Zydney said $85 million might be too low and put too more pressure on the general operating budget.

Pawelczyk said the project is needed, the solution is good and $85 million would provide more flexibility in the future, but he doesn’t have confidence that at least 50 percent of the community will support the higher number in a referendum vote.

Ultimately, Stahl said, they will need to work to get the number down if possible, but she doesn’t want to shortchange the project now and have to scramble later.

“I do think that we will be able to get our final numbers down to $75 (million), but I don’t want to tie us to that,” she said.

District officials have estimated that an $85 million referendum would raise property taxes for the average homeowner by between 6.52 percent and 7.17 percent over a projected three-year term of borrowing and the tax increase would come off the books when the likely 30-year bond is paid off. The smaller estimate reflects projected growth in the district’s assessed value.

The difference between $75 million and $85 million would be about $20 per year for the average homeowner for the duration of the bond, officials have said. The referendum funding will be supplemented with a district contribution to fund the entire project, which has been capped at $115 million.

Board member Ann McGlaughlin said she sees the $85 million maximum as a starting point and would welcome all feedback from the community before any numbers are finalized.