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Animosity, bond approval highlight Chandler school board meeting

Posted 6/13/24

​A non-unanimous vote to take a bond to voters and, for a brief moment, Governing Board members raising their voices at each other were two things that occurred at a June 12 Chandler Unified School …

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Animosity, bond approval highlight Chandler school board meeting


​A non-unanimous vote to take a bond to voters and, for a brief moment, Governing Board members raising their voices at each other were two things that occurred at a June 12 Chandler Unified School District meeting.

Board member and former CUSD chief financial officer Joel Wirth got into a brief and heated exchange during a discussion over the need or desire to take a $487 million bond to district voters this November.

Before the board finally voted, 4-1, to start the bond vote process, board member Kurt Rohrs — the lone dissenting vote — and Wirth had tense words on the dais.

Rohrs said he doesn’t see how the math adds up to $487 million worth of essential facilities that a new bond would pay for. The district recently decided to sell the last of its bonds from the $290 million, 20-year bond approved by CUSD voters in November 2019.

“I don’t believe we need $487 million — I just don’t,” Rohrs said.

“Kurt, you’ve been given a list of all the expenses in the bond — all of it. And you significantly are excluding it. You’re not bothering to tell the truth. You don’t care about the school district when you make those kinds of moves.”

Rohrs moved for tabling the board’s vote on sending the bond out, but his motion died because it wasn’t seconded. He said he wants the district to pare down its bond request to “the essentials.”

“I agree that we gotta go out for some bond money, but I don’t believe there’s half a billion dollars’ worth of stuff we need to do,” Rohrs said.

Wirth had earlier made a point about how hard it is to maintain 6 million square feet of roofed facilities, plus outdoor facilities, vehicles and equipment.

“It’s really hard to explain to the public how big 6 million square feet really is,” Wirth said. “That’s almost 3,000 homes. It’s phenomenally large.”

Board member Jason Olive said the need shouldn’t be tough to understand at all, especially when taking recent inflation into account. He listed a few items on a bond committee’s recommendations to be covered, and pointed out to Rohrs how those items add up.

Board President Barb Mozdzen pointed out that $487 million would not only provide rainy-day funds for infrastructure emergencies, but would also provide money for projects beyond those CUSD already knows it must fund, such as expensive roof replacements.

Board member Patti Serrano said she wanted to clarify that the district has no plans to build any “new schools,” as its enrollment is slowly shrinking and CUSD has campuses all over Chandler and beyond.

Rohrs countered that projects such as the $30-million-plus demolition and rebuild of Galveston Elementary School, along with a similar plan for 1957-completed Hartford Sylvia Encinas Elementary, are equivalent in cost and score to building new schools.

A bond committee recommended an option that would slightly reduce the district’s secondary tax levy rate starting in 2025-26. Three other options — none that would cost taxpayers less than $451 million and the most expensive being $592 million — were also presented to the board at a May work session.
The district has mostly exhausted its 2019 bond funds and has some expensive projects and site improvements needed for its 44 campuses, 40,000-plus students and 5,000 employees.

Rohrs said the $487 million bond would be, by far, the most the district has ever asked taxpayers to fund at one time. He also said CUSD levies, overall, have meant more money going from each taxpayer to the district each year for 10 consecutive years.

If approved, the secondary property tax rate of $1.25 (per $100 of assessed property valuation) would go into effect in 2025-26 and would later drop. That would be a reduction from $1.28 — the secondary rate for 2024-25, which is locked in and was approved when voters gave the green light to the 2019 bond.

The 2019 bond passed by a 63-37 margin with about 45,000 people voting. The November 2021 override passed by about a 56-44 margin with only a 42,000-voter turnout.

CUSD wouldn’t need to take an override and a bond to voters in the same year. Since the district approved a five-year override in 2021, CUSD would next ask its voters in 2025 to vote on such spending again, with more than a year to make decisions if it doesn’t pass.

We’d like to invite our readers to submit their civil comments on this topic.  Email AZOpinions@iniusa.orgEmail Jason W. Brooks at jbrooks@iniusa.org.