BOLD class learns ABCs of bond issues

By Scott Rothschild, srothschild@kasb.org

Bringing a school bond issue to a successful public vote and then carrying through with the construction projects requires years of planning and expert assistance.

That was the message from education, financial, architecture and construction leaders to KASB’s BOLD class of school leaders recently.

“There is a lot of time and energy that goes into a bond issue,” said Basehor-Linwood USD 458 Superintendent David Howard, whose rapidly growing district has had two approved bond issues since 2015.

Howard said to win voter approval, school districts must enlist the help of community leaders to explain the needs of the district and how the bond issue will address those needs. District leaders must be as transparent and forthright with voters as possible, provide information at every opportunity and realize that some voters will always be opposed. And, Howard joked, it doesn’t hurt to have a winning high school football team.

Howard said school boards should make the investment to hire a firm, such as Patron Insight, to conduct a pre-election survey to gauge how stakeholders feel about the district and what it would take to form a successful bond issue. Knowing the mood of voters is critical because a defeat at the ballot box adds to the expense of the next bond issue effort since construction costs increase three percent to four percent per year.

In addition to identifying projects, the bond process includes assembling a project team, which includes an architect, financial planners and builders.

Dustin Avey and Clayton Kelley, of PiperJaffray, said financial planners help districts provide a mill levy and taxpayers cost analysis, structure the bond issue and conduct the bond sale.

Avey, managing director of PiperJaffray, explained how financial planners can help districts invest bond proceeds which can help districts accomplish even more with the bond issue.

Mark Franzen and Elizabeth Johnson, of HTK Architects, explained how the architect will work with the district through the planning, construction and life of the project.

“These buildings are like kids to us,” Franzen said.

Darin Headrick, of McCownGordon Construction, said hiring a construction firm is unlike buying a car or pencils.

“You should hire who you feel the most comfortable with, who you trust the most and who you want to deal with on a daily basis for several years,” Headrick said.

Headrick explained the three major construction delivery methods — design, bid and build; construction management agency and construction management at risk. He recommended construction management at risk because the construction manager assumes all the risk for construction performance.

The professionals urged BOLD participants to research and do their due diligence before selecting financial planners, architects and construction companies because school officials must focus on educating children and not have to spend an inordinate amount of time overseeing the bond projects.

KASB’s BOLD program stands for the Business Operations Leadership Development program, which focuses on developing knowledge on building and facilities master planning, technology planning, finance strategies, procurement processes, school security, risk management and human resources. BOLD includes six training sessions that were developed by KASB leadership staff, KASB partners and experts from across the state.

Donna Zerr, principal of Augusta High School, and a member of the BOLD class, said the BOLD sessions have been excellent.

“We have learned material that you would not learn in college classes or from a webinar, etc. It is information that is pertinent to our current positions and also if we seek other district-level jobs, the sessions are so relevant then as well,” Zerr said.

She added, “This last session was thorough and complete including hiring an architect, knowing the financial specifics, and obtaining a construction management company for a school bond issue. It was so beneficial to hear from the actual businesses who are in the middle of current school bond issues across our state.

“The best aspect of BOLD is people from large districts to small districts are represented so all perspectives are shared. It’s the greatest professional development I’ve ever had.”

Kellen Adams, assistant superintendent for business and operations for El Dorado USD 490, said the BOLD sessions have been helpful.

“First is the networking and relationships – not just of my peers in other districts, but also of those working for KASB as well as others that we have met throughout the various presentations. Further, there has been a good amount of affirmation as it relates to my current position about the processes and procedures that we are currently putting into practice.

He appreciated the emphasis on learning about bond projects. “While I have now been through a $36 million project from the sale of bonds through the punch-list, I have never been through anything related to the vast amount of work prior to the vote. Learning from the past experiences of others who have been through the process from conception to a `YES’ vote was extremely beneficial.”

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