Scottsdale Schools poised to ask for override, bond June 7

A governing board study session notice taped to the Mohave District Annex door. (photo by Melissa Fittro)

A governing board study session notice taped to the Mohave District Annex door. (photo by Melissa Fittro)

The Scottsdale Unified School District Governing Board and its leadership is considering asking voters to approve not one, but two initiatives this fall to help the district fund critical needs in Scottsdale schools.

The board is already putting together a bond proposal that would generate over $200 million to repair district buildings. During a June 2 study session, the board discussed the idea of also asking voters to approve an $8.5 million capital override to help pay for improvements in the classroom.

The governing board is set to vote on the bond and capital override elections during a general meeting scheduled for 5 p.m. Tuesday, June 7, at Coronado High School, 7501 E. Virginia Ave. If approved by the board, both issues would be on the November ballot for voters to decide.

The need for both proposals stems from the district’s current financial situation – a situation hurt by statewide budget cuts, declining enrollment and aging infrastructure.

The governing board is expected to ask Scottsdale voters for a potential multi-million-dollar bond to repair failing infrastructure. The initial $240 million proposal has been reduced to about $229 million, said Scottsdale Schools Chief Financial Officer Daniel O’Brien.

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.

The governing board also began discussing the idea of also asking voters to approve a capital override election in November. An override would give the school district approval to exceed its state-imposed budget limit by spending money generated by property taxes.

Mr. O’Brien presented to the governing board his recommendation of an $8.5 million per year override for seven years to pay for items such as classroom technology, athletics and fine arts.

Dr. Denise Birdwell

Dr. Denise Birdwell

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 posted on the district website.

“We’ve gone eight, nine years now with no building renewals from the state,” said Interim Superintendent Dr. Denise Birdwell during the meeting.

“There is a great need from an FFE and structural aspect that calls for the bond. Then you look over into the classroom and you say ‘well yes but we’ve starved the classroom for eight years.’ That’s true as well.”

An override to the tune of $8.5 million a year

District officials have been discussing the amount of $8.5 million dollars for a capital override for the past several months, according to Mr. O’Brien.

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.

$229 million of needs

The bond proposal was originally proposed to be $240 million – but has since been scaled back by $11 million.

“The $229 was gotten from the need that we need right now. Our max for our bond is well more than $500 million, that we could go out and ask the taxpayers for,” said Mr. O’Brien.

Some items officials say are crucial needs include: rebuilding Cherokee Elementary, which comes with asbestos issues; security needs at Mohave Middle School; replacing the roof at Coronado High School, which comes with the cost associated with carefully removing and replacing solar panels.

Rebuilding all elementary schools to fit between 600-700 students for pre-kindergarten through fifth grade is a part of the master facilities plan update officials have been discussing.

Brian Robichaux, president of Hunt and Caraway Architects, presented the board with preliminary elementary campus remodel plans. The “mixed phase” building would include three steps:

  • First building new administration, classroom and multi-purpose buildings on the property;
  • Then removing the old school buildings;
  • Finally constructing play fields on old building property.

The total construction timeline would be about 15 months per school, according to Mr. Robichaux.

In addition, two schools will be consolidated if the board chooses to move forward with the bond. Tonalea Elementary School students will begin going to school at what was formally known as Supai Middle School. The new school would become a kindergarten-through eighth grade school called Tonalea K-8.

Northeast Valley News Services Editor Melissa Rosequist can be e-mailed at mrosequist@newszap.com or can be followed on Twitter at twitter.com/mrosequist_.

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