Kline: Support ballot initiatives that help local public education in Peoria

Siobhan Kline

We continue to see the announcements of new homes coming to the northern part of town on a monthly, even weekly basis, creating a dire need for new schools in the area.

The most recent example of this was Vistancia’s announcement that they will begin the development of a new community, Northpointe at Vistancia, which is planned for about 3,250 homes.

Unfortunately, for those of you concerned about overcrowding schools, the only way we will get additional schools is by successfully passing a Peoria Unified School District bond.

It has nothing to do with the city, developers, or anything else.

It is important to get the message out because the advertising and marketing Vistancia is doing by including an elementary school in the plan as a “proposed site” is counterproductive and in my opinion misleading to those who are looking. While the builder may set aside land, with no money to build the site, it will go undeveloped and/or go away if not developed within so many years.

It is frustrating.

And if anyone wants to know why the state will not fund it, it is due to the student count in the district. The state has an actual formula that is used to determine if a school district is eligible for building funds. Even with that, state funding will not totally cover the entire cost with the expectation the district will cover the rest. Additionally, that formula does not take into consideration natural migration of populations, growth, and life-cycles of communities. The Arizona Schools Facilities Board funded 219 schools from 1999 through 2007. Between 2007 and 2016, that number decreased to three.

Specifically addressing high schools, as many of you likely know, schools like Kellis and Cactus are not at capacity. The state expects a district to bus kids to those schools to equalize numbers. If then the schools are close to capacity, state funding will trigger. PUSD prefers a neighborhood concept and not busing kids further than necessary. With that said, after the bond failed last year, the district said there will be re-zoning.

And this downward spiral of more homes and failed bonds is only going to negatively impact our children. We need to start supporting the bonds if we want to see a change.

If you are looking for more factual information about how Arizona funds schools, I would encourage you to check out AZED101. They are a nonpartisan group who addresses funding and the why behind many measures, including bonds and overrides.

And splitting up the district, in my opinion, won’t help anything. To create a separate district, you would have to hire an entire district staff, transportation system, new governing board, etc., which would be fiscally difficult to swallow for many people, I would imagine, considering nothing related to schools has passed a local election in recent years. There is already a legislative push (and has been for a while) to do more merging of districts than create new.

Neighborhoods with schools that are overcrowded in communities that have shown a lack of support of public education as evidenced by continual failing  of  bonds and overrides is detrimental to home values.  Any family will tell you the first thing they look at when seeking out a new neighborhood are the neighborhood schools, school district, and community support.  It is time to value the education of the children who will be our future doctors, professors, welders, auto mechanics, lawyers…the future of Arizona.

My suggestion at this point is: 1) engage our legislators locally to reevaluate the current state funding especially if they ran on pro-public education platforms; 2) encourage change to the state formula for new builds that takes into consideration growth patterns/migration and the natural life-cycle of neighborhoods; 3) to engage the governing board concerning solutions; and the biggest, 4) support ballot initiatives that support public education on a local level.

Editor’s note: Siobhan Kline is a Peoria Unified School District parent and founder of Putting PUSD Kids First, a grassroots public education advocacy group.

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