My Turn: School district not asking for fee subsidy | SierraSun.com

My Turn: School district not asking for fee subsidy

John Britto

In a recent workshop regarding the proposed increase of the Town of Truckee’s traffic impact fees, I was surprised to hear a representative of the development community and a town councilman comment: “Schools need to pay their fair share …” and “Schools have contributed to traffic by reducing their bus routes …”

There is a major gap between my perspective, working for the schools, and what was voiced at that meeting. I can only try to explain that view and hope to better understand theirs.

First, I should say that we’re supportive of the goal of the traffic impact fees. We acknowledge the need for the projects the town proposes to fund with the fee, and believe those projects will benefit our community.

Our concern is that charging this fee to public agencies like the school district, which have no relation to the real engine of growth in this town, impacts the basic infrastructure that makes a town a community where people want to live. This should be important to developers, because good schools are important to many who move here.

The public schools by themselves would have little impact on the town reaching its $65 million goal. Taking public schools out of the equation would change the proposed fee, per dwelling unit equivalent, from $5,075 to $5,123. However, if schools are included, the fees on a new school would range between a quarter of a million to a million dollars. This will have a dramatic effect on the school buildings our district can deliver.

Below are facts I hope the council would consider when deciding whether schools should be exempted.

The impact of this fee on schools isn’t reducing a “profit margin.” We can’t pass the cost along to our customers. We can’t raise our building fees to compensate for the increase. The fee will reduce the size or the quality of the schools we build.

By the town’s definition, the impact fee is clearly meant for growth-inducing development.

It’s easy to demonstrate that K-12 public schools are not “growth-inducing,” as compared to something like a residential subdivision. The district, by law, must accept students from the general population of the community, and provide the necessary classroom space accordingly. When we build a facility, it is always to mitigate the impact of past growth.

Anyone who visits our campuses can see that we absorb growth for years, to the point that sites operate well over their capacity, before it is feasible to build a new school. Ironically the construction of a new school, when it happens, is a direct result of development the town has approved, albeit five to 10 years beforehand.

The building fees we collect aren’t nearly what are needed to construct a new school. Much of what is collected goes toward debt service on past purchases of portable classrooms and constructing, or upgrading, lesser facilities to accommodate growth. When we’ve built a new school, we have gone to the voters to pass a local bond, as we did for Glenshire Elementary, and for Alder Creek Middle School.

We’re very fortunate that our community has been willing to tax themselves to support the construction of new facilities. If not for that, neither of those schools would exist.

We try very hard to deliver what we promise, and ensure that the public gets the best school for their dollars. We doubt our community would be happy to hear that, on our next project a quarter of a million to a million dollars of their money will go toward a fee that has nothing to do with the schools.

The district has always waived our building fees to public agencies, churches, and other entities that are not “growth inducing.”

The comment regarding the recent reduction of busing, “impacting traffic in the Town” is important. We have been forced by budget shortfalls to reduce our routes. This is a concern that our board would like to remedy. The problem is that busing isn’t required, nor is it funded by the State.

Students are bused at enormous expense to the district. The cost of busing encroaches on the general fund by hundreds of thousand of dollars each year. Many school districts have dropped transportation entirely. Our district hasn’t because in our area it’s the safest way to get students to school.

Rather than criticizing the recent reduction of busing, perhaps the councilman should recognize that, for decades, the district has provided a public transportation system larger than any in this area. Are local developers providing that service to address their impacts?

We hope the town council will support the option to exempt, at least, our public schools from this program. We would urge people who are concerned to get involved.

We’re not asking the town to subsidize public schools. We’re asking not to be included in a program that is inappropriate to schools. If we are not a high priority to the town, at least do no harm to our efforts when the time comes to build a new school.

We believe that “doing our fair share” is building the best school facilities for our student’s that we can.