With the failure of two school bonds at the ballot box over the last four years and overcrowding at a number of schools, facilities have continued to deteriorate throughout the Peoria Unified School District.
Officials say another failure will lead to bloated class sizes and reduced safety.
PUSD has about $9 million in high priority needs and updates at district schools, according to a report commissioned by the district from ADM Group and ThinkSmart Planning.
This is part of a greater $300 million needed over the next 15 years for facility repairs that a critical needs bond on the ballot for the November election could address.
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The study findings provide real data to make informed decisions about how to fund the repairs and upgrades if the bond is approved.
PUSD President David Sandoval said the need of the district is greater than what the bond represents, but it will allow the district to at least maintain a minimum of staying somewhat flat.
“Our goal should always be to go from good to great,” he said. “I have continued support of the $125 million bond to be placed on the November ballot. We have to be diligent and smart about how we go to market. We have a lot of data and knowledge base from the last few times we’ve gone out, and we need to maximize our opportunities and leverage our wins and understand the biggest impacts as we go to market.”
Bonds are loans made to the school district which are used to purchase capital items and/or make capital improvements to existing facilities, such as building or renovating a school or purchasing school buses.
Most funding for public schools comes from residential secondary property taxes, which is revenue budgeted by the Arizona state legislature. This funding falls short of districts’ day-to-day operational and facility needs, which is why they reach out to the citizenry for bonds and overrides.
Funding is about to run dry from the district’s last bond authorization, approved by voters in 2012.
The district has just under $14.6 million left from that $180 million bond.
Matthew Bullock, Support Peoria Students PAC chairman and former PUSD governing board president, said no new money will come from the state, so PUSD will have to take care of it locally or the district will continue to see degraded school structures.
He said there will be more support for a bond this year as parents and staff see the effects of PUSD’s aging schools and facilities. And he urged voters to review the Facility Assessment & Utilization Study from ADM Group and ThinkSmart Planning.
“I highly encourage voters who want to vote ‘no,’ without learning any of the facts, to take a short tour of their nearest high school or elementary school to see all the repairs that are needed. That tour will turn a ‘no’ vote into a ‘yes’ vote for the bond,” he said.
The tax rate associated with the district’s existing bond sales and the proposed bond authorization would be $1.4781 per $100 of limited assessed valuation for a residential homeowner in the district.
It includes $56 million for elementary school upgrades and $23 million for high school upgrades.
The proposed bond includes broad categories, and is flexible because it is not site dependent, but must be delineated by elementary school or high school.
A new task force is being formed to address needed future repairs.
CFO Michelle Myers said the very immediate needs will either come out of current bond dollars or the capital budget.
If the proposed bond is approved by voters in November it would take several months after the election to access funds from bond sales.
“It would really bear fruit the next fiscal year from a planning perspective,” she said.
The school that has the most high priority needs is Frontier Elementary School at $ 933,752. The 115,000 square-foot Frontier, 21258 N. 81st Ave., on 13.5 acres was built in 1998.
The study defines high priority as a critical need, considered extremely worn or damaged, and should be replaced in the next two years.
About $1.2 million has been spent on facility improvements and upgrades in the last seven years. Total amount of projected work needed over the next 15 years is about $8.4 million, according to the report.
Critical needs include: paint wrought iron fencing and gates, repair cracked sidewalks and grind high spots, replace marquee, provide playfield maintenance and add drywell for drainage, paint/waterproof exterior, repair cracks in masonry, repair foam roofs and recoat, repair roof drain leak in corridor, paint classrooms and restrooms, replace drinking fountains and water heaters, replace restroom partitions, replace classroom carpet, provide standardized signage, replace floors in kitchen and locker rooms, and replace air handler/fan coil units within five years.
The high school that needs the most attention is Liberty High School with $721,054 in critical needs.
The 243,000 square-foot Liberty, 9621 W. Speckled Gecko Drive, on 52 acres was built in 2006-2007.
About $1.6 million has been spent on facility improvements and upgrades in the last seven years. Total amount of projected work needed over the next 15 years is about $14.7 million, according to the report.
Critical needs include: reseal/paint landscape walls, repair cracks in sidewalks, paint railings on all ramps and stairs, reseal/paint exterior, round floor slabs have efflorescence problems at all campus buildings, vapor infiltration through the floor slab exists at areas with vinyl composite tile flooring, remove vinyl composite tile flooring and polish grind floors, paint restrooms – walls have been repaired and need to be repainted, replace carpet in classrooms not previously changed out, concrete floor slab is cracking and separating at the expansion joints in the second floor corridor of Building 200, slab should be repaired and vinyl composite tile flooring replaced, insulate floor at freezer unit in kitchen – it is not insulated and ice builds up along the front of the unit, renovate restrooms in locker rooms, replace faucets at lavatories, and replace drinking fountains – boys locker room units have been destroyed by abuse.
Peoria’s population increased by 4,067 people in 2018, a 2.4% increase from 2017 and a 11.2% jump from 2010, according to the U.S. Census. PUSD has experienced difficulty keeping up with the growth, particularly in the north, with redistricting completed in 2017 to adjust for school overcrowding.
Liberty, Sunrise Mountain, Ironwood and Centennial high schools are over capacity and experiencing wear and tear on facilities.
Patti Beltram, who sat on the bond and override advisory committee and has children at Liberty, said with more home builds in northern Peoria it emphasizes how crowded the school is and how there is no end in sight for that growth.
This proposed bond addresses the critical needs of all school buildings and the purchase of land for a much needed high school to address the overcrowding in the northern part of PUSD, she said.
“Personally I would have liked to have added a new high school, however being fiscally conscious, that amount would take us too high,” she said. “Not having the new high school on the bond, Liberty will not see relief. As a Liberty High School parent this is already critical, plus creating social distancing in an overpopulated school is going to be a challenge.”
Ironwood High School is third on the list in urgent repairs and upgrades with $720,108 in critical needs.
The 241,082 square-foot Ironwood, 6051 W. Sweetwater Ave., Glendale, on 39 acres was built in 1986.
About $4 million has been spent on facility improvements and upgrades in the last seven years. Total amount of projected work needed over the next 15 years is about $12.4 million, according to the report.
Critical needs include: sidewalk racks need repair throughout campus, pulverize and overlay asphalt parking lots, seal/waterproof landscape walls, install booster pump for irrigation system at freshmen baseball and softball fields, provide standardized signage, caulk exterior expansion/control joints, reseal/waterproof exterior walls, repair cracks and seal exterior structural columns, recoat foam roof and add foam to obtain proper slope for drainage, repair single-ply roof where leaking, remove unused equipment, piping, and conduits from roof, provide parapet cap flashing, provide proper supports for pipes and conduits on roof, replace carpets in rooms not completed in 2016, replace classroom fan coils/unit ventilators, campus-wide replacement of hardware and exterior doors, campus-wide renovation of restrooms with new finishes and compliant fixtures, upgrade exterior glazing to dual pane low-e glass.
About $301 million in repairs and updates should be done to Peoria Unified School District facilities over the next 15 years, according to the study. But because of the COVID-19 pandemic, it is unclear how and when upgrades may be implemented.
Governing board member Monica Ceja Martinez said the district has taken extreme but necessary measures to combat a global pandemic but there has been some trade-offs such as limiting human interaction, deploying resources where needed and increased financial strain.
She said the school board needs to take full responsibility for not meeting more frequently, increased ownership, and identifying priorities for the superintendent to follow through.
In an economic crisis, it is difficult to predict what the local community will do, and state cuts will impact Peoria Unified students, Ms. Ceja Martinez said. No matter the end result, PUSD will need to lean into discomfort, engage in difficult conversations, and recognize the district’s intent is to serve every student, she said.
“We have a situation that will literally change what education will look like [because of COVID-19]. It is hard for me as one governing board member to say we need $300 million if education is going to look different. The realty is that when we go back in August things are going to look different. And our current class size at 35 students is not sufficient,” she said. “We need to rethink how this district is structured because how we did it 30 years ago is not the same today. The bottom line is that I’m not comfortable putting all the money into the critical needs of our schools when we as a board have not discussed a one, three, or five year plan, especially with COVID-19.”
Philip Haldiman can be reached at 623-876-3697, email@example.com, or on Twitter @philiphaldiman.