By Philip Haldiman
There is support for a Peoria Unified School District bond and override should one and/or the other make it to the ballot later this year, according to a public opinion survey performed by consultant High Ground.
The governing board will review a proposal that could make it to the ballot, 8 a.m., May 21, at the Peoria Unified Administrative Building, 6330 W. Thunderbird Road.
Subsequently, the board will make a final decision, May 30, which would be placed on the ballot for the November election.
The district commissioned the survey, which included a field of more than 400 likely 2019 off-cycle election voters, to help the committee tasked with researching a bond and/or override better understand community priorities before making a recommendation to the board.
The survey found that people in the area were split on the direction K-12 education is heading — 46% in the total right direction, 34.3% in the total wrong direction and 19.7% didn’t know or refused.
In general, 60.8% of respondents said the amount of funding K-12 schools in the area receive is too low.
About 66% said they would support a bond and about 55% would support an override.
Paul Bentz, senior vice president research and strategy for High Ground, said there was a positive response for both a bond and override, however there is risk of running both at the same time.
Just under 50% said they would likely vote for a bond and an override, according to the survey.
Mr. Bentz said polling is a snapshot in time but running both items at the same time does not guarantee both of them will be approved by voters.
“Both an override and bond have a chance to pass,” he said. “But you have to think of the size of the proposal, the needs, and how they are communicated so people understand them.”
PUSD is considering placing both items on the ballot this year. Mesa Public Schools requested a $300 million bond and a 15% override in the 2018 November election, in which the former passed, while the later failed.
Helen Hollands, director of communications and marketing for the district, said there were certainly demonstrated needs for a bond, which covers capital projects, and an override, which covers things such as employee wages and benefits.
She said the district needed to replace a very old bus fleet and improve technology. The override would have would have supported a budget increase to fund non-teaching and classified staff due to rises in the minimum wage.
She said there were a number of reasons the override may had failed, ranging from the confusing nature of an override and other tax-related ballot measures causing ballot fatigue, to anecdotal data stating that some voters did not see the override measure on the ballot because it was listed as a budget increase and not specifically as an override.
The Mesa school board has approved an override for the November 2019 election.
“Hindsight is always 20/20,” she said.
With rising concern about overcrowded schools in PUSD, the call for new school construction has risen above the din. About 27% of respondents stated new high school construction was very important and about 23% stated new elementary school construction was very important.
The survey also covered the viability of putting a measure on the ballot in 2020.
Mr. Bentz said several school districts say they are shying away from 2020, with a likely lengthy ballot and an election for president at the top.
“I don’t agree with that,” he said. “That election will have a very high voter turnout. It will be a younger, more Democratic electorate with more unaffiliated parties, all more likely to vote for school issues. While, 2019 will not have as high a voter turnout because it is an off-year cycle. ”
About 73% stated student safety and well-being are a top priority for PUSD, according to the study.
Melissa Girmscheid, Centennial High School physics teacher and public education advocate, said she is happy to see safety is a major concern for the community.
She said mental health support structures are needed to improve safety — research has shown that social and emotional needs must be met before academic achievement can occur, so bringing back behavior interventionists and elementary counselors would be an excellent step.
Arizona’s student to school counselor ratio is the highest in the country, according to the American School Counselor Association.
“Physical safety can be tied to building improvements and repairs and we’d love to see improvements made, especially at our older campuses,” she said. “The modernization of facilities to ensure student safety would mean fixing bathrooms, floors, windows, etc., in addition to upgrading locks, security systems and entry points. Our temporary classrooms, i.e. portables, are personally a major safety concern and I’d like to see the district come up with a solution for the campuses that need to employ these.”
Philip Haldiman can be reached at 623-876-3697 or email@example.com.
Peoria Unified voter’s rejected a $189 million bond in 2018 and a $198 bond in 2016 to fund technology, school improvements and new schools, among others. The governing board will review a
proposal for the November 2019 election.
When: 8 a.m., May 21
Where: Peoria Unified Administrative Building, 6330 W. Thunderbird Road
More info: peoriaunified.org