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PUSD board denies $198M bond vote, would have funded new schools to alleviate overcrowding

Posted 5/12/17

PUSD board member Beverly Pingerelli speaks during a Peoria Unified School District board meeting Thursday, April 28, 2016 at Peoria Unified Administration Building in Glendale. Ms. Pingerelli voted …

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PUSD board denies $198M bond vote, would have funded new schools to alleviate overcrowding

PUSD board member Beverly Pingerelli speaks during a Peoria Unified School District board meeting Thursday, April 28, 2016 at Peoria Unified Administration Building in Glendale. Ms. Pingerelli voted against a bond that would have funded new schools and facility improvements, among other things, May 11.
By Philip Haldiman, Independent Newsmedia

Last Thursday, Peoria Unified School District Governing Board rejected putting a $198 million bond on the November ballot to fund new schools and facility improvements.

Board President Beverly Pingerelli and members Judy Doane and Monica Ceja Martinez voted against the proposal.

Board members Kathy Knecht and David Sandoval supported it.

The majority said the proposal was too rushed to go before citizens who voted down a similar bond last November.

The proposed bond included $112.5 million for land and construction of Peoria Traditional School as well as two elementary schools and one high school. It also included $35.1 million for technology district wide, $24.3 million for performing art center renovations and $12.6 million for other improvements.

Last November, voters denied a bond of the same amount by a 19 percent margin.

CFO Ken Hicks said this time around the bond was the same  dollar amount, but included an additional elementary school and Peoria Traditional School.

“We didn’t take the last bond and just copy and paste,” he said.

All Board members said a bond was needed but differed on its timing or whether the proposal was appropriate.

Ms. Knecht said the vote was disheartening.

“Time will reveal that the delay to 2018 was a political manipulation by people whose interests have nothing to do with our school district or our students. The allegiances of the Board members were crystal clear,” she said. “Parents, teachers and administration presented a solid, compelling case that was ignored. Delaying an election is a tragic waste of time, money and motivation. Our district and all its stakeholders were sold out for the sake of political gamesmanship.”

Ms. Ceja Martinez said she didn’t have all the data to make the right decision.

It is an unrealistic expectation that the community pay capital expenditures dollar-for-dollar up north and south. The district can’t afford that, but it is a staring point, she said.

“When my parents moved to Peoria 30 years ago, they had to deal with growth. Fast forward 30 years later I am sitting in this seat and I am now dealing with that growth. Fast forward 30 years from now in 2055 we will have 455,000 people in Peoria,” she said. “This is not going away, so when making fast judgments on decisions that affect the city, we need to involve everybody, the city, all areas, north and south, top and bottom. We have to be responsible. I have all these questions because I keep asking. And I still have a lot of questions.”

The population of Peoria has grown by almost 50 percent since 2000, much of it in the northern part of the city. This has led to overcrowding in some schools necessitating a new bond, especially, some say, after the last bond failed.

The PUSD boundary goes to the Yavapai County line in the northern part of the city, an area that has seen explosive growth in the last 10 years, which has led to capacity at least in two schools.

Superintendent Dr. Darwin Stiffler said the district will be at capacity by 2021, based on projections. The school board recently approved a new district map that will cause many students to attend different schools in the coming academic year.

Mr. Sandoval said there is a definite sense of urgency.

“The redistricting we just went through was basically meant to be a Band-aid for three years to solve overcrowding,” he said. “And, if it takes two years for an elementary school to be built and three years to build a high school, we could potentially have to move kids again by waiting a year.”

Mr. Hicks said a bond election would have cost the district $200,000, which is traditionally taken from the Maintenance and Operating Budget. Ms. Knecht and Ms. Ceja Martinez took issue with this money being taken out of funds intended for teachers. Ms. Knecht said waiting will lead to higher costs for a district that needs to be wise with its spending.

“Whether it is land or nails, costs will always go up,” she said.

On April 14, the Governing Board approved the formation of the Citizens’ Bond Advisory Committee to recommend the necessity of a bond election. The committee subsequently voted 7-3 in favor of a bond. The committee is made up of five members chosen by one Governing Board member each, plus five members from the recent Boundary Committee.

Had the bond been approved by the Governing Board, the district must notify Maricopa County Elections by the first week of June, with the option to modify the proposal up until June 22.
Staunch supporters of the bond attended the May 11 meeting.

Annette McCarty-Abraham, president of Peoria United Parent Council, said good schools improve market and property values. She cited a story about a family that moved to Arizona five years ago from the East Coast because the mother was an executive at PetSmart. At the time, she said, the company recommended PUSD, but now employees are being told relocate to other parts of the Valley.

“Peoria needs to attract great companies and their families, so we want those businesses to proudly recommend PUSD,” she said.

Committee member Rick Gutridge  supported the bond, but voted to delay it until 2018.
The political risks of a 2017 election are tremendous, he said.

“I do believe we need new money for repairs and at least one new school. Unfortunately, the committee didn’t have enough time to put together a proposal that was appreciably different from the last bond, which was overwhelmingly defeated six months ago. I just don’t think families have changed their perception of the state of things such that you will convince them to vote in favor of a bond in 2017. If you lose in 2017, you will go back in 2018. The more people say no, the easier it is to continue to say no,” Mr. Gutridge said. “You should wait and put together a more palatable proposal for the voter. I think that is the wiser, safer course of action.”


Peoria Unified School Board denied a $198 million bond, the majority of which would have gone to four new schools. A similar proposal, with the same amount was denied by voters in the last General Election. Here is what would have been included in the bond.

$112.5 million: one high school, two elementary schools and Peoria Traditional School
$35.1 million: technology
$24.3 million: performing art center renovations
$12.6 million: building improvements
$7.8 million: site improvements
$4.7 million: equipment
$1 million: student transportation