Should school construction savings be sent back to taxpayers?
It’s always good news when projects come in under-budget – especially when they are taxpayer-funded.
In Spokane, the Spokane School District says it’s on track for bond-funded projects to come in $47.9 million below budget. That’s an enormous savings and the school district should be congratulated for making it happen. And taxpayers should be pleased.
The question now becomes what to do with that extra money? Spokane voters approved a $288 million bond in 2009 with the understanding that it would go toward specific projects.
Now, with the extra savings, the school district is considering funding numerous other projects such as a classroom addition at North Central High School and another addition at Mullan Road Elementary School.
Those projects may very well be needed, but are they really what taxpayers approved?
In a Spokane Journal of Business article, the district’s Associate Superintendent Dr. Mark Anderson said “we’re not proposing to spend it all now.”
The question truly is whether they should spend it at all, or whether it should be returned to the taxpayers? At the very least, taxpayers should be allowed to chime-in on whether they want the extra funds spent on those projects, or perhaps something else. They might have a different priority.
School officials could insist on using the extra funds to pay off the bonds early. That would return the savings to taxpayers, by ending that part of the property tax sooner, which would increase home values in a down market and boost family take-home pay in these tough economic times. Early pay-off would also enhance the fiscal reputation of the School District and lower its borrowing costs. It would also make future school levies & bonds easier to pass, since voters would see how responsibly the District manages the public’s money.
Just because you have an extra $48 million, doesn’t necessarily mean you have to spend it.