It’s official: Scottsdale Schools voters can expect to see a $229 million bond initiative and an $8.5 million capital override on election ballots come this November.
During the Tuesday, June 7 Scottsdale Unified School District Governing Board meeting held at Coronado High School, 7501 E. Virginia Ave., school board members voted to ask taxpayers to help fund needs in and out of the classroom district officials say are critical.
The vote comes after months of discussion about aging infrastructure, failing students and declining enrollment. Conversations have already resulted in the consolidation of two schools, the inclusion of gifted programs and world languages, and a new literacy plan.
District officials credit the amount of state budget cuts as part of the reason they need help paying to take care of district facilities.
In the spring the Governing Board was presented with necessary renovations needed in each of its 30 schools; some repairs include updating facilities that are nearly 50-years-old. The board also was faced with its steadily declining enrollment during a presentation on May 5.
The bond and override conversation comes just before the board is to vote on the 2016-17 proposed budget on June 21.
Board members Pam Kirby, Kim Hartmann, Barbara Perleberg and Bonnie Sneed, board president, all approved the bond initiative. Board member George Jackson abstained from the vote, citing a conflict of interest with his career as a financial advisor with Wells Fargo, who takes part in advising bond initiatives throughout the country. Mr. Jackson told The Independent during a June 8 phone interview that his employer does not do that type of work locally, and he was unaware his employer would require him to sit-out the vote prior to being elected to the Governing Board.
All five board members approved the capital override vote for the next several years.
State statute requires bond money to be used to repair infrastructure. SUSD is earmarking the money for rebuilding and renovating facilities, refreshing the transportation fleet and updating security and safety, among other things.
An override would give the school district approval to exceed its state-imposed budget limit by spending money generated by property taxes.
Scottsdale Schools Chief Financial Officer Daniel O’Brien presented to the Governing Board his recommendation of an $8.5 million override for seven years to pay for items such as classroom technology, athletics and fine arts, during a June 2 study session.
The budget increase would affect property taxes by an estimated tax rate of .18 cents per $100 of net assessed valuation, according to the June 7 meeting agenda.
The district is proposing the capital override be used toward:
- Classroom technology and infrastructure: $4.9 million;
- Furniture/fixtures/equipment: $800,000;
- Fine Arts: $500,000;
- Curriculum: $1.4 million;
- Athletics: $250,000;
- Playground equipment and code compliance: $350,000;
- Library (including digital resources): $300,000.
Other items needed to be paid for include district-wide software licensing on computers, classroom textbooks that are out of date and worn out physical education equipment.
The Governing Board has the power to authorize and sell the bond amount, prioritize expenditures, monitor the appropriate expenditures, notify the community yearly of the expenditures, approve the design of schools and provide timelines of construction, among others.
The district website now has a link called “Elections” that is to house all reports regarding the bond, according to Interim Superintendent Dr. Denise Birdwell.
“In addition, when considering the sales of bonds the Governing Board has the fiscal responsibility to review the district’s priority needs, community tax liabilities and current and predicted enrollment data to assure all factors have been weighed in the decision making process,” said Dr. Birdwell at the June 7 public hearing.
During the meeting board members each reiterated their beliefs for why they chose to pass the bond and the capital override.
“I know my fellow board members, in varying degrees, are respectful that this district as a whole over the past decade, may or may not have the equity built up in trust by our community to necessarily deserve this bond at this moment,” said Mrs. Perleberg.
“I know it’s a difficult thing to say and it’s a difficult thing to hear, but I’ve come here tonight in total belief that our kids deserve schools that are safe and conducive to learning. That is a fact we can’t argue.”
The responsibility of taking care of students has continued to be pushed down to lower and lower levels of government in recent years, says President Sneed.
“One of the things that Prop 123 did was really build awareness that there probably isn’t going to be any increased support from our state legislature,” she said.
“If nothing else, our local community needs to understand that if we’re going to have safe buildings, repairs and text books, the state has pushed this responsibility not just to schools but down to community colleges, to counties, to cities and to the district schools in order to balance their budget.”
Taking care of students is an act that President Sneed says residents were honored with decades ago, and it is time to continue the same traditions.
“I understand the situation that we’ve been in for a number of years — part of that is just because of economy, it’s no one’s fault — but I’m asking taxpayers to become citizens, and to step up and do what our citizens did for us 50 years ago, when they built some of these buildings,” she said.
“We’ve been great stewards of them, we take very good care of them. Now we have to think of students who are going to need the same care from their citizens 50 years from now.”