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Aurora may build new school to handle overcrowding

The Aurora Public Schools’ Board of Education is considering several options — including a new school — to curb overcrowding in its schools.

Administrators called the recommendations presented Tuesday night an “urgent need.”

Two-thirds of Aurora’s elementary and middle schools are at least at 90 percent capacity, including mobile classrooms. The district is projecting its enrollment will climb by 2 percent annually for the next four years.

“Even if we hired more teachers, we wouldn’t have anywhere to put them,” said Vista Peak Exploratory School Principal Melanie Moreno at Tuesday’s board meeting.

Vista Peak Exploratory, which serves pre-school through eight grade, has converted common areas and staff workrooms into classrooms, Moreno said. The campus also utilizes a set of mobile classrooms.

The board, including three new members who were sworn in earlier in the evening, heard a report from a slate of district officials detailing the work done throughout the year, including two public forums and various districtwide surveys, that led them to their recommendations.

The district is recommending that it build a new school, which could seat nearly 1,000 students between pre-school and eighth grade, near Sixth Avenue and Airport Boulevard; realign school boundaries; purchase additional mobile classrooms and reallocate existing facilities; use about $2.2 million of existing bond money to use throughout 2016 as need occurs; and design a larger Mrachek Middle School with money that had been previously earmarked for renovations.

The suggested school would need to be, at least initially, financed through the public sector. The district is recommending using Certificate of Participation, or COP, dollars.

A COP is a lease-finance mechanism that some school districts and other government agencies have used in the past for new construction. Individuals, but most likely banks and hedge funds, purchase the certificates and collect interest on the note until the district has paid down the loan.

Aurora used COP dollars to finance the renovation of Aurora Central High School in 1988. The district does not have the option to ask voters for a bond increase until at least 2016 because its already at its legal bond limit, officials said.

However, the district already has its eyes on another bond question as soon as possible and hopes to ask voters to approve enough money to close out the COP deal. The district believes initial interest-only payments would be a little more than $1 million. Annual payments could triple, however, if the district were unable to secure a bond and was forced to pay down the principal out of its general fund.

District stakeholders who testified Tuesday night were generally in favor of the district’s recommendation.

John Dale, a retired APS employee and chair of the district’s 2008 bond committee, said the recommendations were “very creative, very good. We strongly support it.”

But there were some broader concerns raised during public comment.

Tollgate Elementary School Principal Laurie Godwin asked the board to develop a longterm districtwide solution to overcrowding. Her school is currently at 106 percent capacity and is expected to see similar enrollment numbers for the next five years, she said.

In Godwin’s opinion, the recommendations made Tuesday night only helps the eastern part of the district along E-470. The district, using housing permits, is forecasting exponential growth along the corridor.

“There’s no relief for us,” she said.

Superintendent Rico Munn told the board he hopes the realignment of boundaries after the new school is built will address Tollgate’s concerns.

Karen Porter, chair-elect of the District Accountablity Community, echoed Godwin.

“What you’re experiencing today, you’re going to experience in three years,” she said.

Poter also warned the board to not bet on another bond to pay off the school construction.

The board is expected to make a formal recommendation at its Dec. 17 meeting. If the board moves forward with the option to build a new school, it should be opened by the 2015 school year.

Correction: This article has been updated to reflect the correct location for the new school proposed at Tuesday’s Aurora Public Schools’ board meeting. It has also been updated with the correct spelling on Mrachek Middle School’s name.

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