Thursday, June 22, 2006

The World According to Doogan

In this installment of "The World According to Doogan," I want to make it clear that on the bond issue, Mike and I come close on the issue. But, he and I are worlds apart on how we go about making changes in the school system.

Now for the Divine Diva, Sheila Toomey and others, this is what Mike is saying today.

Okay, Mike wants to reduce the class sizes to 15 in the lower grades. How do we get there? Mike never says how. One can only reason that new classrooms will have to be built. Or new schools will have to be built.

How do they get built? With School Bonds. How has Mike been on School Bonds? This is what Mike said three years ago.

Anchorage Daily News (AK)
March 25, 2003
Section: Alaska
Edition: Final Page: B1

City officials ask voters to underwrite a spending spree Mike Doogan Staff The city's politicians are asking you to jack up your taxes in a big way next Tuesday. All told, the five city bonds and three school bonds on the ballot will add more than $93 in taxes for every $100,000 in property value. Mill rates vary from place to place, but at my place that's a tax increase of more than 7 percent.Think how you'd feel if the Assembly voted to raise your property taxes 7 percent.And that's the best case. These figures assume that the state pays 60 percent of the cost of some school projects and 70 percent of others. If it fails to do so, then your property taxes will rise even more.Why do these bonds cost so much?Well, there are a lot of them: $265.47 million worth in the Anchorage Bowl, about $100 million more than normal in a city election.And they involve two kinds of costs. The first is debt service, the cost of paying off the bonds. The second is the cost of operating and maintaining whatever is built. Both costs are paid outside the tax cap, which means they are simply added to your tax bill.Looking at the individual bond issues shows that some are more costly than others. Proposition 3, the $7.27 million library bond, will cost $4.40 per $100,000. Proposition 6, the $1 million public transit bond, will cost $1. But Proposition 5, the $2.93 million emergency and communications bond, will cost $5.36 per $100,000, because it will cost a whopping $659,000 a year to operate.The Anchorage Roads and Drainage Service Area bond, Proposition 4, will cost $25.60 per $100,000 almost entirely because of its size: $39.95 million. Proposition 7, the $4.99 million parks and recreation bond, will cost only $3.38.The same cost differential occurs in the school bonds. Proposition 9, $41.79 million worth of mainly school repairs, will cost $9.97 per $100,000. Proposition 10, $42 million for a new administration building, will cost $10.48, the difference being operations and maintenance charges. Proposition 11, $125.54 million to build and renovate schools, will cost $33.16. That's because Proposition 11 is larger, and it carries and operations and maintenance price tag of $2.4 million a year.Okay, that was a blizzard of numbers. What do they all mean?Simply that city and School District officials are asking us to underwrite a spending spree. Should we?That depends in part on what you think of the specifics of each bond. Do you think Girdwood needs a new library? Proposition 3 would build it. The bonds would also buy the land and pay for the of a new library in Eagle River, and remodel the Loussac.But voters don't often make up their minds like that. We rarely know the specifics of these bond packages. Instead, some of us cast our votes based on how we feel about the type of spending involved. If you are for libraries, you'll vote for Proposition 3.There's some sense to this. The fact is, the specifics aren't sure things; money from bonds doesn't have to be spent on the promised projects. It usually is, but it doesn't have to be.And the city isn't exactly overwhelming voters with information. Take Proposition 4. The information offered is a list of more than 50 projects with a typical entry reading, "Bayshore Drive surface rehab – 100th to Marathon Circle -- design." How necessary is this project? Unless you drive that section of Bayshore, you'll never know. How much of the $39.95 million does it cost? No way to tell.So you're left to vote on whether you think street and drainage improvements are important, or whether you think the public works staff knows what it is doing.Or you can vote based on your general sense of whether enough public money is being spent on road and drainage projects. My sense is that it is. Trying to build and maintain enough paved streets to handle the traffic in a northern city that relies entirely on the automobile and rests substantially on wetlands is a losing proposition. We'll never have a complete set of nicely paved roads. The question is, what level of cracks and potholes are you willing to live with?Or you can vote on your reaction to how much money the city already takes out of your pocket, and how much more it wants this time. You've got the numbers. You can do the math.Mike Doogan's opinion column appears each Tuesday, Friday and Sunday. Reach him at 257-4350 or gets worse.

Anchorage Daily News (AK)
March 18, 2003
Section: Alaska
Edition: Final
Page: B1

It looks like we'll have to vote down school bonds once again

Mike Doogan


When I looked at the $209,330,000 worth of school bonds on the April ballot, I had several questions. The first was: Isn't that a lot of money? It is. The School District is trying to reach through a window into the state treasury that was opened by voters last year. By approving a statewide bond package last November, voters also authorized a state pledge to repay bonds issued by cities and boroughs. The repayment is 70 percent for projects that meet state criteria, and 60 percent for those that don't, and is for bonds issued between 1999 and 2004. So it pays for the district to shove as many bonds at the voters as possible before the window closes.

My second question was: How certain is that repayment?

Not very certain at all. In fact, Gov. Frank Murkowski wants to reduce state school debt reimbursement by 10 percent, which would reduce the 60 per cent and 70 percent to 54 percent and 63 percent, respectively. And that's just this year.

Beyond that, how likely you think state repayment is depends on your attitude about the state's finances. I am not optimistic. Despite tall talk by some politicians, it is almost certain that during the life of these bonds, the state will have to take money from the Permanent Fund or institute an income tax, or both. So you will be paying off these bonds one way or the other. (And remember, $209.33 million is just the face value of the bonds. They will cost a lot more, just how much depending on what interest rate the district will have to pay and for how long.)

Thirdly, I wondered, how necessary are these projects?

A lot of people think they are necessary. The three bonds -- Props. 9, 10 and 11 -- were approved by the district's Capital Request Advisory Committee, the School Board and the Assembly. But I have my doubts.

Prop. 9 is mostly repairs: roof replacements, restroom upgrades and the like. Unfortunately, the bond also contains $840,000 to buy buses. We shouldn't be bonding for buses, but I can see the appeal to district officials. Bonding avoids the necessity of taking the cost of the buses out of operating expenses, and increases the tax cap to pay them off. So it's a twofer. Still, this doesn't seem like sufficient reason to reject the entire $41,790,000 proposition.

Prop. 10 is $42 million for a new administrative building. Life will go on in the School District without it. But it would save the district $1.7 million a year in leasing costs, and consolidate most services where the public can easily find them. That's probably not worth $42 million. But it might be worth $16.8 million, the cost if the state actually pays 60 percent. So as Clint Eastwood said in one of the "Dirty Harry" movies: Are you feeling lucky?

The biggest problem on the ballot is Prop. 11. The largest single project is a school which has been rejected twice by the voters, and for which the district cannot demonstrate a need. It's our old friend, the Eagle River high school, a project that costs a tidy $51 million.

This is the third time in the past four years that the Eagle River high school has been on the ballot. The district improves its pitch each time. The justification begins, as usual, with the statement that Chugiak High School is overcrowded. But this year, the district can say that its remodeling of Bartlett High School has made it smaller, in terms of student capacity, so the additional Chugiak students can't be bused there. And the district promises to put in special programs to draw more students to the new high school.

Does this make the high school a worthy project? No. There is plenty of classroom space to house all the students right now, if the district would add ninth grade to a couple of middle schools and change them to junior highs. And the district's projections show declining, not increasing, enrollment in the Chugiak-Eagle River area.

Is this enough to vote against Prop. 11, the bond that contains the Eagle River high school? It is for me. A defeat will delay other projects in the bond, but the district can bring them back again next year.

It's disappointing to be writing another column against school bonds. But district officials keep making the same mistake. Their job is not to give the parents of Eagle River, or anywhere else, whatever they want. Their job is to manage the district's finances prudently, and to reject projects that don't make long-term sense. Since they haven't done that, we, the voters, will have to. Again.

Mike Doogan's opinion column appears each Tuesday, Friday and Sunday. His telephone number is 257-4350, and his e-mail address is


Photo 1: DOOGAN_CMYK_031803.jpg

When I read this, like on his first comments, I damn near had a heart attack. It will be interesting to know what Jake Metcalfe the Alaska Democratic Party Chairman/School Board Member/IBEW Lawyer will have to say on this one.

All I can say is........ !!!!!!!!MEDIC!!!!!!!.

For the record. I supported the bonds this time and stated so when I was campaigning for this last school board race, and I did so reluctantly because of the packaging. In my view, voter's guilt is played on by the school district in that the district calculates what and how to package the bonds so it works on voter's guilt.

At the NorthEast Community Council meeting, the question was asked of the candidates. I said I did, but I would like to see the maintenance bonds be fully funded by the State of Alaska not by bonds. I even stated this on the Dan Fagan show.

This would break free the voter's worries on making sure schools remain safe and sound without having to worry about the added costs of projects that are plain wrong.

As for the bond for the K-Mart building that Mike spoke of, I was in favor of it being bought with federal money and turned into a charter school (Mckay style school). That in turn, could have relieved elementary schools such as Airport Heights of using classrooms for the special needs students.

It would also have given stability to those students by placing them in a school that could keep them there until they entered the later grades.

To give you an example of this. A intensive needs classroom at Airport Heights may have four to ten students. Those students could have attended a special needs school that would have been in the K-Mart building.

The space freed up, could have been used for regular education, thus decreasing the sizes of the classrooms in the school.

The K-Mart building was over 120,000 sq ft. It could have had a huge student enrollment and the federal government could have paid for this. And I stated this publicly when I ran in the School Board Race.

For Mike, all he states is; the classes need to be reduced in size, but he nevers states how. I think the answer is obvious. School bonds perhaps?

Education is my forte and Mike had better come up with some answers. The voters will definately have a choice between Mike and myself when it comes to education.

Unfortuntely for Mike, he does not have a proven track record on the issue when it comes to education. But he certainly has one on School Bonds. And that is it .

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