Farmington Schools bond would fix core issues, buy buses

After just six months on the job, Farmington Public Schools (FPS) Superintendent Dr. Robert Herrera now finds himself preparing for a capital bond campaign.

Trustees last month approved language for a $98 million request that will appear on the March 10 Presidential Primary ballot. Funds would address $72.5 million in critical infrastructure needs, $20 million in technology improvements, and $5.5 million in bus replacements.

The millage comes five years after voters approved a $131.5 million bond, an amount reduced after the district lost two elections for larger amounts. That bond work is in its final phase.

Millage effect

The $98 million figure emerged from a facilities study that laid out the district’s capital needs over a period of 10 years. Herrera said funds will meet needs about seven years out and drop the debt millage from 3.3 to 3.2 mills.

Herrera explained that, without the new bond, restructuring debt would drop taxes by 1 mill in July. “We’re asking the community to renew .9 mills of that and continue their support as in the past.”

“I think there’s a sense that the prior bond didn’t cover all our needs at the time, and we would be coming back,” he said. “We can very clearly show the need. The allocations of resources are very simple to communicate.”

Funds will be used to fix failing systems in some buildings, replace dated furnishings and playground equipment, update technology infrastructure and devices for students and teachers, and replace eight buses each year.

Of the district’s fleet of around 90 buses, 60 need to be replaced. Herrera said district staff once repaired bus frames to keep them on the road longer, but can’t do that any longer because of new safety standards.

“The engines stay good, but the buses fall apart,” he said. “We’re $5 million behind in our bus rotation.”

Bond oversight

Herrera anticipates appointing a new bond oversight committee. The group that served during the $131.5 million bond implementation recently submitted a joint letter of resignation that outlined concerns with the final leg of the program.

The committee objected to re-opening the former Highmeadow Common Campus, which now houses Farmington Central High School, and to additions at Alameda Early Childhood Center, which will eventually serve as the district’s only preschool, and at Longacre Elementary. The bond program anticipated closing Alameda and the Farmington Central/Farmington Community School building.

The committee recommended re-closing Highmeadow, using space at East Middle School to house administrative offices, closing the Schulman Administrative Center and Maxfield Education Center, and using the $8 million in resulting savings for critical needs. The committee also recommended a new facilities and site utilization study.

Herrera said he has had “positive conversations” with committee members and acknowledged their concerns about the Board of Trustees reallocating some of the bond funds.

“They have a clear recollection of the true needs of the district, and they seemed to acknowledge and understand our perspective,” he said.

Right-sized’

While school closures over the past five years have been painful, Herrera said, they have “right-sized” and reduced the district’s footprint.

“Everything in the last bond has been extremely helpful in managing the district and allocating resources,” he said. “The reality is, we’re right back where we know those mechanical needs are out there and we need to address them again.”

While there’s no formal effort to promote the bond yet, a 2017-18 facilities study will be posted on the district’s website in the near future.

Simply put, Herrera said, “That is the bond campaign.”