Back on the horse: Peoria Unified planning for new funding measure on ballot

By Philip Haldiman
Independent Newsmedia

A $189.2 million bond to fund improvements for the Peoria Unified School District may have failed only a few months ago, but the district isn’t wasting any time to get a new bond on the ballot for the general election in November.

The bond advisory committee that recommended the 2018 bond will be reinstated so it can begin work on a new bond.

The committee is expected to reconvene next month.

The governing board could approve a proposed bond and/or override recommendation from the committee. If this happens, the voters will make a final decision in the Nov. 5 election.

“No matter the recommendation, our community leaders must join our unified effort by publicly supporting the initiatives. We will need our council members from the cities of Peoria, Glendale, Youngtown and Surprise to take a stand for all their residents, especially their youngest people for their safety and well-being,” said PUSD President Monica Ceja Martinez. “All meetings are open to the public except executive sessions. I encourage the public to attend as it is a great opportunity to let the committee know what’s going on at your school and what the students need.”

Before the committee can reconvene, the governing board president and superintendent must develop guidelines for the committee to be approved by the board. The guidelines are expected to be considered by the board at the next meeting, 6 p.m., Thursday, Jan. 24, at the PUSD administrative office, 6330 W. Thunderbird Road, Glendale.

They include a written, specific statement of the purpose of the committee, the dates on which interim and final reports of the committee are to be rendered and the date or event upon which the committee will be terminated.

Staff will also bring a list of members who have committed to the committee.

Ms. Ceja Martinez said it is very important committee members have a sincere commitment to the advancement of public education.

“I want our policy to highlight that the recommendation be based on research and facts, not feelings, and represent the community’s population,” she said.

Last year’s committee had 13 members ranging from parents to administration living throughout the city.

John Croteau, chief operations officer of safety and risk management, said staff’s intention is to have some continuity from the last committee and invite all 13 members back.

If some members choose not to return, he said there are 33 people who have shown interest in serving.

The committee members were selected from a list of candidates who indicated they were interested in serving on the bond committee and other committees. Each governing board member selected two members from the list, and the superintendent selected three additional individuals – a certified employee, classified employee and administrator.

Kacie Franklin, chair of the PAC that supported the bond efforts last year, supports reconvening the committee.

She said it is good the district is not waiting until 2020, when it will be a more do-or-die situation.

The committee work should be quicker and less painful than last year, but the needs remain great and the stakes are higher, Ms. Franklin said.

“I would encourage the board to review the members of the committee and ensure there is equal representation across the board, from each age group, each community in our area, all political affiliations and from our business community as well,” she said. “I would also encourage the board to review their selections and ensure the people part of this committee are truly pro-public education and are community members who are encouraging and wanting to see the district grow.”

PUSD is receiving voter-approved funds through a bond approved in 2012 and an override approved in 2015.

Bonds fund capital projects, such as improvements and new schools, and overrides fund maintenance and operation costs, such as salaries, benefits, transportation costs, utilities and other expenditures that are not of a capital nature.

CFO Michelle Myers said the district is in the final stages of the 2012 bond, with a final $17.4 million bond sale scheduled for July, totaling $27.4 million in remaining bond funds.

“The district is prioritizing what those funds will go to with a focus on safety,” Ms. Myers said.

Governing board member Cory Underhill said with the current need for facility improvements, the projected student growth in the district of up to 10,000 students over the next five to 10 years and the phasing out of the 2012 bond funding and current override, it is critical to explore every avenue to accessing resources to continue providing students and families with the highest quality educational experiences.

“With significant work having been recently done by the advisory committee to identify district needs, it is a timely decision to reconvene,” Ms. Underhill said. “I look forward to the advisory committee’s recommendation of a strategy to help ensure all students throughout our district can continue to access the comprehensive, high quality, and innovative educational opportunities provided by the Peoria Unified School District, both now and in the future.”

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