Most school district bond measures pass in Arizona

Dysart measures fail; Peoria too close to call following Nov. 5 election


A day after the election, most school districts across the Valley are sighing relief following passage of their school bonds and overrides.

Based on results posted Tuesday night at the Maricopa County Recorder’s Office website, 26 of the 33 funding requests totaling $1.4 billion for capital improvements and operations won support from voters – and by a two-to-one margin in some cases.

But four measures failed, including a bond and override in Surprise’s Dysart Unified School District; while three remain too close to call, such as the override requested by the Peoria Unified School District.

While the state provides some funding for education, school districts across the state rely heavily on property tax-backed bonds for new schools, improvements and new technology.

Accounting for a total of $1,426,350,00 in new bond requests, the average funding measure was $109 million across 13 districts.

The smallest request was $2.4 million for Nadaburg Unified School District No. 81; the largest bond request comes from the Chandler Unified School District, which sought and got $289,750,000 for a raft of projects and upgrades.

At least 20 districts asked voters to approve maintenance and operations overrides — ranging from as little as $1.1 million requested by Liberty Elementary School District No. 25 to as much at $107 sought and approved for Scottsdale Unified School District No. 48.

But in most cases, overrides sought an approval to add 10% or 15% to a district’s annual budget; such funding is typically a continuation of existing funding and, in most cases, adds nothing to existing property tax rates.

The same is true of some bond requests, such as those in districts where previous bonds have been paid down.

But in some cases, bond requests — now approved — will add to homeowners’ secondary property tax burdens.

Dysart bond & override

The Dysart district sought both a continuation of an M&O override, as well as a new $152 million bond measure for capital improvements and facility upgrades.

Voters there rejected the requests, defeating the bond on a 48-52% margin, while trouncing the requested budget override 43-57%.

As a continuation of the existing 15% override in that district, there would have been no new impact on tax rates as compared to previous years.

The bond, however, would have cost a homeowner there an estimated additional $10.88 per month, based on the bond assessment rate and a home worth $153,580.

Dysart officials responded to the election results Wednesday with a posting at the district website, acknowledging a pair of planned new schools and land for another will be put on hold.

“The bond funding would have helped ensure the safety and security of our schools, and provided much-needed school and site improvements. We will continue to maintain our fleet of buses, but will not be able to replace our oldest vehicles at this time. Despite anticipated growth, we must delay the construction of two new elementary schools and will not yet be able to purchase land for a high school,” school officials stated.

In 2015 following the previous year’s override rejection, the Dysart board voted to lay off more than 10% of its 1,300 teachers, handing 143 employees their walking papers.

But school officials now hope for another bite at the funding apple before such austerity measures may be called for again.

“The override funding currently in place for these programs from a 2015 override election is still in place at 100% through the 2020-2021 school year. If funding is not approved prior to the 2021-2022 school year, the override funding will begin phasing out, and cuts will need to be made to balance the budget,” district officials stated. 

Peoria override

Families in the Peoria Unified School District are waiting to find out about their funding override, which appeared too close to call the morning after the Nov. 5 election.

The Maricopa County Recorder’s Office unofficially reported the district’s override question going down to a 51% to 49% defeat, with 21,648 votes against the measure and 21,029 votes for – a margin of only 619 or about 1.4% or votes cast.

In a statement sent to district parents, PUSD Superintendent Linda Palles Thompson declared the race too close to call.

“Yesterday, 42,987 registered voters had ballots counted for Peoria Unified’s override election. The current, unofficial results show 21,029 ‘yes’ votes to 21,648 “no” votes,” Ms. Thompson stated. “We anticipate approximately 2,000 votes left to be counted and anticipate another update from the county by the end of the day tomorrow.”

School officials in Peoria, unlike many other Valley school districts, had not sought a new bond; rather they asked voters to approve a continuation of their budget override with a 2% increase.

According to the district’s website, the lost override would cost the schools $26 million per year, resulting in pay cuts for all staff members and layoffs for all health care professionals and assistant principals.

Those won’t be the only cuts should the measure fail once all votes are counted, though.

“In addition, class sizes would increase and the ability to offer programs such as arts, music, physical education and gifted education programs would be threatened. There would be a charge for full-day kindergarten. Fees related to athletic and extracurricular activities would also significantly increase and these programs would be reduced,” district officials stated.

The cuts would also reduce safety at campus across the district, according to officials.

East Valley districts

Across the Valley, some of the bigger school districts fared much better than their West Valley counterparts.

Voters in the Chandler Unified School District approved their bond overwhelmingly, voting 62-38% in support of a nearly $290 million bond.

The funding unlocks $225 million in new construction and facility upgrades, $25 million to buy air-conditioned buses, $31.8 million for technology and new classroom furnishings and $8 million for tech upgrades at its administrative facilities.

A plurality of Scottsdale voters gave their OK to their district’s desires, approving three bonds and an override.

Scottsdale bond question No. 1, seeking voter authorization to sell up to $112.6 million general obligation bonds for parks, recreation, and senior services was approved with 32,891 ballots cast, or 69%.

Scottsdale bond question No. 2, seeking voter authorization to sell up to $112.3 million general obligation bonds for community spaces and infrastructure was approved with 32,001 ballots cast, or 68%.

Scottsdale bond question No. 3, seeking voter authorization to sell up to $94.1 million general obligation bonds for public safety and technology was approved with 33,881 ballots cast, or 73%.

The district’s maintenance and override renewal was also approved by 61% of voters, with 25,780 ballots cast.