By Philip Haldiman
The clock is ticking for the Peoria Unified School District Governing Board to decide if it will accept a 15-acre land donation for a potential future elementary school at the Meadows community within the Camino a Lago development at Williams Road and 95th Avenue.
The district is waiting for the completion of a study to determine the feasibility of having a school at the location, which must be completed by Jan. 31, 2019. If the governing board approves the donation agreement, the land sale must completed by Feb. 28, 2019.
Initial deadlines were Dec. 14 for the study and Jan. 10, 2019 for the closure.
Land owner Camino A Lago LLC extended the deadlines after excess soil above the original buildable grade was recorded during the study.
PUSD CFO Michelle Myers said the proposed agreement will come back to the board in late January, with a final report of the feasibility study and the resolution of the excess soil.
“(The deadline extension) will allow the district adequate time to address the excess soil that is on the potential donation parcel and to coordinate removal of the soil,” Ms. Myers said.
In exchange for the donation, the district must reimburse $527,448 to the owner for easement infrastructure already installed on the property. Such an agreement is not uncommon when land is donated to the district for a school.
Kathy Knecht, who has served 12 years on the board and will term-out this year, said she won’t be able to vote on this issue, but it is a big decision for the future of the school district and hopes everybody understands the ramifications of not approving the donation.
The district brings many assets to the neighborhoods in the north, she said.
“I hope the future iterations of the board and administration accept the challenge to keep growing the district in every way, to meeting the needs of the community and to providing the needs for quality district schools in north Peoria,” Ms. Knecht said.
The district is struggling to keep up with growth in the northern part of the city — More than 6,300 new homes and more than 2,700 new students are estimated for the area in the next five years, according to district projections.
Kacie Franklin, chair of the PAC that supported bond efforts this year, said the bond would have funded this growth in the form of two new schools, and those needs have not changed.
The bond failed by about a 6 percent margin in the general election, Nov. 6.
She said the district is lacking schools in the fastest growing portion of the district — the area north of Deer Valley Road has only one elementary school and one high school.
“Those students will need schools to attend, and as trends have shown, if we do not plan for them, others will,” Ms. Franklin said. “Our community has placed a high value on our fiscal responsibility. While the cost of property acquisition now may seem high, it pales in comparison to the millions the same plot will cost in a few years when we are desperately trying to keep up with the growth that is already happening.”
But Melissa Girmscheid, physics teacher at Centennial High School, cautioned that it seems foolish to spend $500,000 on land the district won’t be able to afford to build on, especially since the majority of the site-based improvements throughout the district included in the recently failed bond will still need to be funded.
“With strict budgeting needed to fund repairs, we don’t have money to invest elsewhere,” she said.
The district’s two high schools in the northern part of the city are at capacity — Liberty and Sunrise Mountain. At least two elementary schools are at or near capacity.
Peoria Unified owns one elementary school site — a 16-acre property at Rancho Cabrillo, at Happy Valley Road, west of Loop 303.
Additionally, the district has been in talks with a number of homebuilders developing within the district that may donate lands within their communities. There are four possible future locations approximating 15 acres in the northern part of the city.
To help pay for growth, developers may provide $1,000 per home at the close of escrow that may be used by the district for capital projects, such as new schools. But developers are not required to do this and many, including board President Monica Ceja Martinez say that amount does not compare with the benefits PUSD provides.
Christian Williams, an HOA president in the Camino A Lago area, said that if the district accepts the donation, it gives up an opportunity to get assistance from the Meadows development. Accepting the land donation is fiscally responsible, he said.
“Please prepare this district for tomorrow and help prepare our tax payers for the future,” Mr. Williams said.
Nearly one in two students in Maricopa County attend a charter or district school other than the one they were assigned, according to a 2017 study from the Arizona Charter Schools Association.
Some fear that if the board does not accept the donation it will be snatched up for use by a charter school which is not required to by law to provide an education for every student within a district.
Cory Underhill, governing board member-elect, said this would be another opportunity for a charter school to move in.
“Charter schools do not always provide the opportunities for all students like the district can, and they often leave our schools with stranded costs, which doesn’t help our overall budget,” she said. “We have a responsibility to provide these new families that are already there, mind you, with a neighborhood school that serves the needs of all students. Let’s capitalize on this energy of these growing and new families and do the right thing.”
The district must complete a study to determine the feasibility of having at school at Williams Road and 95th Avenue, which must be completed by Jan. 31, 2019. Here is what it will include:
- Land title survey
- Environmental survey
- Property appraisal
- Architect reasonable determination that an elementary school can be built on the donated site
- Status of adjacent ways work subject to reimbursement and excess soil above original buildable grade
Next month the Peoria Unified School District Governing Board will consider the acceptance a 15-acre land donation for a potential future elementary school site at the Meadows community within the Camino a Lago development at Williams Road and 95th Avenue. The following are two key deadlines.
Feasibility study: Completed by Jan. 31, 2019
Land sale: Completed by Feb. 28, 2019