Board votes to issue bonds to cover tax debt

Borrowing will cover Xanterra tax judgment

The Grand Canyon School Board voted to pursue a bond issue to raise $1.25 million to pay off a tax judgment.

Fred Rosenfeld of Stone and Youngberg LLC, the accounting firm that will administer the bond, explained the process to the Board.

He said that while judgment bonds aren't common, he had worked on a case with the Flagstaff Unified School District, which issued judgment bonds to raise $28 million it was ordered to pay to families of students injured in a bus accident. The district was insured for $10 million.

He said that an election isn't required.

The bonds are to settle a debt to Coconino County, which paid a judgment of more than $3 million in property tax refunds and interest to Xanterra. This included the more than $1 million assessed to the Grand Canyon School District and now due back from its property owners. Grand Canyon officials were pursuing legislation that would have allowed the county to carry that debt; under existing law, the whole amount is due this tax year. That legislation stalled with numerous other bills as the legislature debated gay marriage in their last days of the session.

Rosenfeld said that they could wait on the bonds in the hope that the legislation will move forward when the legislature returns in January, but the Board opted instead to go forward with the bond issue.

"If the legislation doesn't pass, the county will take that money. We'd be gambling that there won't be any opposition," said Superintendent Sheila Breen. "What I recommend is to go ahead and issue the judgment bonds."

"I am not of a mind to trust the legislature," said Board member Chuck Wahler.

The package that the district approved would raise $1,125,000 with a payback schedule over 10 years. Payments would start at $90,000 next year and rise annually to $140,000 for the final payment in the 2018-2019 school year. The payback will add an average of nearly 10 cents to the tax rate. Interest is estimated at 5.25 percent and totals nearly $393,000.

The district won't know the actual rate until the issue is worked out, but their credit rating of triple-B will influence that.

The cost to administer the bond package will be $125,000, with that fee built into the debt.

Rosenfeld said they could have the bonds issued by March 1.

Soccer season

During the call to the community, students protested the administration's recommendation that the soccer season be cancelled this year because only four potential members are academically eligible to play.

Senior Daniel Trenchard, who served as team captain last year, said that playing soccer would give students incentive to improve their grades and keep them busy.

"It would keep kids motivated to keep good grades and give us something better to do than get in trouble on weekends," he said.

Sophomore John Kissner described how being a freshman on the varsity team stretched his risk taking abilities both in and out of the classroom.

Breen said that the decision to suspend the season is a "natural consequence" resulting from years of eligibility issues.

"I'm getting very impatient," she said. "We have struggled with eligibility for several years - almost every year since I've been here, it's been a discussion."

Since the district raised eligibility requirements from a D to a C average two years ago, she said it's only gotten worse with teachers feeling the pressure.

"We have coaches going in and talking to teachers and being very forceful about 'What can you do to help these kids be eligible,'" she said. "It's not the teachers who need to be eligible. The kids need to be eligible and they need to maintain that. It shouldn't be a struggle for the teacher to be dealing with eligibility. They should just have to sign off."

She said that students knew their fourth-quarter grades would determine their eligibility this fall but some still didn't avail themselves of tutoring opportunities provided by the school.

"It's not an easy decision," she said. "It's painful but, man, we've cut the kids every ounce of slack we could for the five years that I've been here, going on six."

It was a position supported by Head of School Becky Crumbo and Athletic Director Andrew Aldaz.

"This has been a recurring problem with soccer with games having to be forfeited due to ineligibility," Crumbo's report read. "Students were targeted during the spring semester for tutoring help to provide support to any student who wanted it. Many students who were repeatedly encouraged by staff members to participate in tutoring chose not to do so and received 'Ds' or 'Fs' for the semester."

Aldaz said that because of eligibility problems in the spring, as few as four students from the 12-member track team were able to compete in some meets.

"After basketball we told them they had to stay eligible for soccer," he said.

Board President Clarinda Vail said that the Board considered it an administrative decision and not theirs as to whether a season would go forward. Breen said that while she was open to discussing it with the students, they were still leaning toward cancellation.

Booster Club

Breen presented a letter from Booster Club President Greg Walker saying that they are discontinuing all activities except for awarding scholarships. He wrote that the decision to suspend support for overnight trips, running concessions and sponsoring banquets "was not reached lightly; however, over the past few years, recruiting dedicated parents, staff and community members has been a continuous challenge. As a result, those that have been gracious enough to donate their time often find themselves overwhelmed with time intensive club responsibilities."

Sex education

After two public meetings, and with little discussion the Board adopted new sex education curriculum for middle and high school. Breen said that only two parents came in to review it.

Meeting night

Because Breen was selected to serve on a committee that meets the third Tuesday of the month, the Board voted to return its regular meeting night to the second Tuesday.

Breen said that PTA President Michele Martin agreed to move those meetings to a Wednesday night to prevent future conflicts.

Field trips

The Board agreed with a policy requiring all teachers to submit requests for off-site field trips by Sept. 1 for a master calendar.

"We can balance them in terms of which kids get to participate and who's being left out," Breen said. "It doesn't restrict local trips."

Another policy was approved in a 3-1 vote, with Board member Suzette Streit dissenting, to assess a $50 use fee as well as the price of gas and bus driver salary for off-campus trips not directly related to curriculum.

"It's not that we don't want trips," said Breen. "We want them to be planned. We want them tied to the curriculum."

She said they also want to minimize travel expenses for trips not tied to classroom lessons. Aldaz said that the cost to take a bus to Phoenix is about $500, including gas and a driver.

Streit asked for examples of trips for which participants would be assessed the fee.

Though she said it was hard to give an example, "when you see how teachers fill it out, it becomes very clear," Breen said.

"Quite frankly, if somebody comes to me and says they want to take their class to Las Vegas for a fun time, that's a no-brainer," said Streit in questioning the need for a written policy at all. Breen said it was required in order to charge the fee

Outdoor education

The Board voted to give teachers greater leeway in planning outdoor education by withdrawing the district's commitment to send the sixth grade class to Camp Colton every year.

In a letter presented to the Board, Breen wrote that issues with the current program include uncertainty in scheduling, communication, difficulties with weather and cost.

Camp Colton Coordinator Cynthia Sauve said that the camp called two weeks ago saying Grand Canyon had one chance to attend, during the week of Aug. 18. Though they eventually scheduled the school for the week of May 11, Sauve said there were also communication issues last year, when Grand Canyon's camp reservation was pushed back a day due to weather.

"It's only because I called for another reason that I found out we were changed to Tuesday-Friday," she said. "I'm not sure I would have been informed. We would have pulled up with the bus on Monday."

Breen said that this year's Camp Colton trip will go as planned and that they haven't ruled out future trips. But, she said, she prefers that the district look at it as one of many options, not the main format for outdoor education.

"I'm asking the Board to withdraw the firm commitment and allow us to see Camp Colton as one option," she said.

Crumbo said an in-house program that could include all of the middle school is also a possibility.

"We have a very qualified staff of outdoor educators that we think can blow the lid off Camp Colton," she said. "That's where we're coming from. We have a lot of experience in the middle school."

Contracts

The Board approved Cynthia Robertson as a substitute teacher. They also approved the hiring of Amanda Fuhrman as a part time Spanish teacher and Elizabeth Van Hook to teach second grade.

They also approved numerous extra duty contracts.

Non-athletic contracts included: George Haughton - High School Student Council advisor, Cynthia Sauve - Middle School Student Council advisor, Karen Weber - freshman class sponsor, Lori Rommel - sophomore class sponsor, Elizabeth Davis - junior class sponsor and Area of Interaction leader for Communty and Service, Dan Lopez - senior class sponsor, Cynthia Granberg - Approaches to Learning articulation leader and high school team leader, Katie Buttram - personal project coordinator, Jesse Smith - middle school team leader, Bob Kelso - Gifted Program and testing coordinator, Brad Houston - Academic Decathlon coach.

Andrew Aldaz, Dan Lopez and Arlene Keebahe will divide the Athletic Director duties.

Coaching contracts included: Tia Semallie - high school volleyball head coach, Adrianne Keebahe - high school volleyball assistant coach, Dan Lopez - high school girls basketball head coach and high school baseball head coach, Megan Bloomer - high school girls basketball assistant coach, Greg Walker - high school boys basketball head coach, Andrew Aldaz - high school softball head coach and head coach for middle school boys and girls, Jack Pennington - middle school soccer head coach, Ginny Donley - middle school soccer assistant coach.

Spending

The Board approved payroll vouchers for $29,856.39 and $34,916.88 and accounts payable vouchers for $24,838.34, $14,432.35, $26,698.69, $277.71 and $93,233.99.

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