Linder agrees bond is needed, but wants more specifics
Queen Creek Unified School District is seeking voter approval in the Nov. 8 general election to authorize the district to sell $95 million in bonds in order to construct two new elementary schools and one new high school.
The new facilities requested under this bond election are meant to alleviate the potential overcrowding of classrooms due to rapid growth in the district.
“We know the district is expected to have 57 percent growth in the next five years,” QCUSD Board President Ken Brague said. “If we don’t pass the bond, what that unfortunately means is crowded classrooms.”
The student population is estimated to grow from 6,161 during the 2015-16 school year to 7,685 in 2017-18 and 9,102 in 2019-20, according to bond fact fliers prepared by the school district. They may be viewed online.
Proponents of the bond contend that the bond money is necessary because of the lack of state capital funding of primary and secondary education.
“The state has cut capital funding by about 85 percent,” QCUSD Chief Financial Officer Crystal Korpan said. “The growth will happen and without this bond to build facilities we would be forced to look into acquiring portable buildings or alternate places to lease for classroom space.”
Last year Queen Creek voters passed a budget override that increased the district’s operating budget by 15 percent. This allowed QCUSD to hire more staff, increase teacher salaries and improve other daily school functions.
The proposed $95 million bond is solely for capital costs. Of these monies, $57 million would be allocated to construct a second high school, $33.6 million to build two new elementary schools and $4.4 million for technology to supporting the new and existing schools, according to the flier.
A concern that the district has been made aware of is that some voters are worried the bond monies will not be spent on what it has been slated for. This concern is something the district continues to address.
“We are legally bound to only spend these dollars in the way that voters approve,” Ms. Korpan Said. “Some people think we have that flexibility, but we don’t. It is for a very specific need.”
Governing board member Mark Linder does not question the need for the bond, but feels more details need to be defined before the bond can go to a vote.
“I am not anti-bond. It is a very important thing. But I feel this is being presented as an all or nothing option,” Mr. Linder said during a phone interview. “This one is really lacking a good, clear, concise plan on when we are going to do things. Right now, three schools are proposed, but there is no proposal on when they will be built and where they will be built and what parts of the community will be affected and what the effects will be on those areas.”
He said the proposal has a major flaw in that the district has not found a site for the new high school, which would require about 60-70 acres. The district owns four-five smaller parcels that could be used for the two elementary schools, he said.
The smaller parcels were donated to the school district by area developers, he said.
Mr. Linder said some of the project timeline does not align with the schedule in which the district is allowed to incur debt.
“It’s one thing to have the bond approved but we have to abide by state statute limitations,” he said.
Some voters are not concerned the $95 million will be correctly appropriated, as they find this administration fit to allocate these bonds in an dutiful manner. Shane Leonard, a QCUSD parent of four, has been a bond skeptic in the past but is fully supporting the authorization of this bond in the November election.
“I was a proponent of the previous bond, but prior to that I was not in favor of the overrides and bond requests. I did not believe that the monies would be appropriately used,” Mr. Leonard said. “However, with this administration and the focus that they have put on doing what is right, I have no qualms with authorizing this bond.”
Other worries voiced to the district are the sheer magnitude of the request and the immediate costs on tax payers. According to a bond facts packet released by QCUSD, this bond would increase secondary taxes buy an estimated $0.16. The new bonds would cost the owner of a home with a $100,000 assessed valuation an average of $8.33 a month, according to the information fliers.
“This $95 million bond election approval does not mean we go out and sell that amount the next day, it just means that the voters have given us the authority to sell up to $95 million in bonds as needed,” Ms. Korpan said.
Proponents of this bond believe that it will benefit both Queen Creek residents and QCUSD students in the future.
“There is every indicator that we will have extreme growth. Queen Creek is an exciting place to be right now. There is affordable housing, an airport and a great school system. Homebuyers know this,” QCUSD Superintendent Dr. Perry Berry said during an interview. “They also know that when the school system is good this is good for home values.”
Currently Queen Creek is one of only nine districts given the “A” rating by the state four years in a row, but it will still need to depend on means other than state funding to build new facilities to help with population growth.
“Voters should remember the importance of a strong public school system,” Dr. Berry said. “When going to the polls in November, remember that this bond is instrumental to funding the facilities we need in order to stay a top school district.”
For more information on this bond election, visit http://www.qcusd.org/Election.
Editor’s note: Rilee Robinson is a student writer at the Arizona State University Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication. News editor Wendy Miller contributed to this story.