A sense of urgency is ramping up as bond funds for capital improvement projects in the Peoria Unified School District are about to run out, making another election a priority.
To get a measure on the November ballot, the district will have to act quickly.
Otherwise the district will have to wait until 2021, which many experts say will leave facilities in disrepair and some schools overcrowded.
To begin the process for a proposed bond or maintenance and operations override, the governing board must first establish an advisory committee and its guidelines through a majority vote.
Creating such a committee could be on the governing board’s agenda for its Jan. 23 public meeting.
The Citizens’ Advisory Committee would be tasked with analyzing the need for a bond and/or override.
Bonds are loans made to the school district, which are used to purchase capital items and/or make improvements to existing facilities, as well as fund new schools. An override pays for people and programs.
PUSD CFO Michelle Myers said deadlines must be met in order to get a measure on the Nov. 3 ballot. The board would need to vote on a recommendation from the committee in May, she said.
“Time is a bit of the essence. If we don’t formulate the committee for 2020 and meetings don’t start in February, we would be a bit behind schedule because really the latest a recommendation can be brought forward to the governing board and a vote can take place calling for an election in May because of the prescribed timeline set by Maricopa County elections,” Ms. Myers said.
If a new advisory committee is established, it will have resources that past bond/override committees did not have. District officials are about to complete a facility utilization and capacity study that will help prioritize needs related to the remaining bond dollars as well as needs for future bond authorizations, Ms. Myers said.
“Last year we started in February and meetings took place roughly every other week. Sometimes additional meetings were added and we brought forward updates along the way,” said Ms. Myers.
“And when considering an override question as well as a potential bond authorization, there will be foundational results. This year we will have the results of the utilization and capital outlay report that should be ready in late February,” Ms. Myers added.
“So all of that will take time so if we don’t start in February we would really be at a disadvantage with the amount of time we have to work with.”
Over the last few years, funds have tightened due to the failure of a $189 bond in 2018 and a $198 million bond in 2016.
A bond authorization is in place for 10 years, and bond proceeds from a bond sale need to be expended within three years of the sale date.
Ms. Myers said the district’s last bond sale of the 2012 bond election came in July. The district has fully utilized the remaining bond authorization, and has only about $17 million in bond proceeds left.
The final 2012 bond funds will go to the following: security/safety projects, roofing, fencing, heating, ventilation air conditioning (HVAC), energy management systems, parking lot renovations and purchase of student transportation vehicles.
Last November, a 15% override failed by only 133 votes.
The current 13% override was approved in November 2015 and went into effect in July 2016. An override is in place for seven years, but if it is not renewed by the voters, additional funding will be eliminated.
With the PUSD override in its fourth year, the district has the opportunity for a second and final chance at an override before $26 million is cut annually starting in 2021, resulting in pay cuts for all staff members and layoffs for all health care professionals and assistant principals.
In 2019, 11 people served on the citizens advisory committee for the recently failed override. Some experts say a more diverse committee membership is needed to get a better perspective of what the electorate wants.
Last year’s committee was made up of five district employees and six community members. The same members can be brought back in 2020 or the governing board can modify the committee if it desires.
Governing board member Beverly Pingerelli said the board needs to be more representative of the community.
“Last time, it was pushing 50 percent that were employed by PUSD. I did recommend a teacher, but I ask that we not have a majority of district employees on the board. For transparency,” Ms. Pingerelli said.
Governing board member Monica Ceja Martinez said it’s not just for transparency, but to have a committee with a variety of skill sets and expertise.
“We have seen great things come out of this, adding diverse lenses. I would like input from administration — what lessons did we learn from those past committees that we continue to mold and get the best insight and level of expertise? I know there were a lot of community forms submitted (from those interested in being a committee member) and being able to leverage the skill set of our community, whether it be analytical data analysis, finance, safety measures. I would like to take a look and see,” she said.
The timeline to get a measure on the ballot is typically around 10 months, with committee meetings beginning in February which concludes with a recommendation to the board, typically in May. The district will formally call for an election. Then work will take place with Maricopa County, June through August, and the timeline concludes on election day.
Philip Haldiman can be reached at 623-876-3697, firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter @philiphaldiman.