By Vera Castaneda
The first partially virtual Glendale Unified school board meeting on Tuesday consisted of coronavirus-related topics, including a possible action to save taxpayers an estimated $6 million.
Board members unanimously approved a resolution for school bond refinancing set to take place on April 22 — a move the district had already planned to make a couple of months ago.
Stephen Dickinson, the district’s chief business and financial officer, estimated the district has nearly $87.5 million in general-obligation bonds from 2011, 2012 and 2014 that can be refinanced. Based on market rates from early March, he estimated refunding bonds could save local taxpayers $6 million in the form of lower property taxes in the future.
“Here’s another piece of good news since this crisis has occurred — interest rates fell almost to zero initially and then they bounced back by a full 1%, but still an absolutely great time for us to refinance some of our school district debt,” Dickinson said.
The Federal Reserve slashed interest rates to nearly zero on March 15 to counter the impact of the coronavirus on the economy, with closures of businesses, schools and government facilities.
On March 23, the Federal Reserve announced a commitment to buy an unlimited number of government bonds to keep the market afloat. A few days later, President Donald Trump signed a $2-trillion economic relief package to help those struggling with the pandemic.
Although school bonds are more complicated, it’s similar to refinancing a home mortgage when interest rates are low, Dickinson said.
When board member Greg Krikorian raised concerns about the markets’ unpredictability, Dickinson said he doesn’t expect interest rates to drastically change, and the resolution allows canceling or delaying the process if interest rates are still low by late April.
Dickinson, along with school board members Supt. Vivian Ekchian, and a few other district staffers, were physically present for the meeting but kept a 9-foot distance or more from each other, and they had a supply of disinfectant wipes and hand sanitizer.
“While the majority of our employees and staff are working from home … there are many employees who are still showing up to work,” said Shant Sahakian, board clerk, referring to cafeteria workers packaging weekday to-go meals for students, staff distributing digital devices and others.
“We, as a leadership team, our board of education and superintendent [internally decided] if our employees are showing up to work, we should show up to work as well,” he said.
Meetings are closed to the public until the Safer at Home public-health order is lifted, but there is a 30-minute window to sign up for public comment through Zoom video conferencing.
Nine people were scheduled for public comment on Tuesday. However, technical difficulties throughout the first half hour whittled it down to six people and led the meeting running later than expected.
Board of education meetings can be watched live though channel 15 through Charter Spectrum TV, channel 99 through AT&T U-verse or online through livestream. Recorded video is also posted on the district website the following day.
The next board meeting is scheduled for 4:30 p.m. on April 21 and is expected to be conducted in the same partially virtual manner.
Source: Glendale News-Press