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November 28, 2015

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$5.3 billion school bond proposal still in works; former first ladies stand ready to give support

Updated Thursday, April 12, 2012 | 10:33 a.m.

As the Clark County School District contemplates a new, $5.3 billion capital program, four former Nevada first ladies filed paperwork Tuesday to form a political action committee to support the potential ballot initiative.

With the 1998 bond program comes to a close, the School District is likely to seek public approval for a new capital campaign, which may raise property taxes as much as $74 a year on a $100,000 home. The district estimates it will need to issue $5.3 billion in school construction bonds to repair and modernize its aging school buildings over the next decade. Voter approval is needed for the School District to increase its debt limit.

Former first lady Sandy Miller filed paperwork with the Nevada Secretary of State's Office to form a PAC to help get the vote out for the potential school bond program.

Sandy Miller, Secretary of State Ron Miller's mother, will chair the PAC, according to the PAC filing. Other members of the PAC include former first ladies Bonnie Bryan, Dawn Gibbons and Dema Guinn.

Las Vegas Sun columnist Jon Ralston first broke the news Tuesday afternoon.

The purpose of the PAC is "to advocate for the passage of a ballot question in support of capital projects for public schools," according to PAC documents filed by attorney Scott Taylor. A call for comment was not immediately returned Tuesday.

For the School District to issue bonds, its revenues - from property and local school taxes - must exceed its debt on previous bond measures, which are still being repaid. Because of the depressed housing market, the district does not expect to have the bonding capacity for another six years, according to the district's chief financial officer Jeff Weiler.

However, by 2018, construction relief may come too late, Weiler said, noting that some of the district's oldest and most dilapidated schools may need to be closed for safety reasons. Weiler proposed two bond options during a February School Board meeting to fund a new capital campaign, which would require voter approval.

If the new capital bond program were approved, the majority of the money - about $3.4 billion - would go toward renovating and replacing old schools. About $1 billion would go to new technology and equipment for schools. The rest of the bond money would help build new schools in growing regions of the valley, and help the district strive for "educational equity" among its schools.

All seven School Board members expressed support of a bond program during a February meeting. The School District must submit ballot questions to the Clark County election department by June to be included on the November ballot.

The School District is currently conducting research on the feasibility of a property tax increase. The PAC presumably would help the district conduct focus groups and research ways to target voters to approve the bond initiative.

Fitch Ratings maintained the School District's bond rating at AA- in February, after downgrading it from AA to AA- in February 2011. Fitch analysts in February said the financial outlook for the district remained negative.

"As a result of the severe tax base contraction, the district will likely be forced to either restructure debt or raise the tax rate above the level promised to voters in the 1998 bond authorization," according to the Fitch report.

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