DALLAS - Two months after voters approved $60 million of bonds, the Carlsbad Municipal School District is preparing to issue half that amount to build four elementary schools.

The bonds are expected to price April 16. Carlsbad voters approved the $60 million bond referendum in February.

Moody's Investors Service rates the bonds an underlying Aa3 but boosts that two notches to Aa1 with coverage from the New Mexico School District Enhancement Program. The outlook is stable.

"The rating reflects the district's large tax base with concentration in oil and gas, average socioeconomic profile, healthy financial operations supported by adequate reserves, low debt burden, and high defined-benefit pension burden," said Moody's analyst Charles Martin.

The district serves a 2,497-mile area in Eddy County, New Mexico, including the city of Carlsbad. The local economy is driven by oil and gas production, tourism, and potash mining, according to Moody's.

"Oil and gas values account for a significant 53.1% of the total tax base and have grown rapidly over the last four years as production in Eddy County has doubled between 2009 and 2013," Martin noted.

Carlsbad Caverns National Park draws tourists to the area and had 388,566 visitors in 2013 according to National Park Service statistics.

The largest employers in the district include two potash mines and the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant, which stores nuclear waste in rooms mined in a salt formation.

Despite declining 29.3% in 2010 due to a sharp drop in oil prices, taxable values have grown an average of 5.9% annually over the last five years to yield a full valuation of $5.6 billion.

"The vast majority of the growth can be attributed to increasing oil production, but the district has also seen a notable increase in new development," Martin said. "There have been several large multi-family projects built in recent years and there were more single family home permits issued in 2013 than in any of the previous 10 years."

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