CASA GRANDE — Now that the finishing touches are being applied to the new Casa Grande Middle School/Saguaro Elementary School, the bond money that voters approved two years ago is being shifted to other areas.
Tom Wohlleber, chief financial officer for the Casa Grande Elementary School District, gave Governing Board members a report on the expenditure of budget override and bond funds during Tuesday’s regular board meeting.
Wohlleber said the district is beginning the second phase of about $8 million that will focus on four key areas including safety and security, the next round of new buses, technology and infrastructure, and facility improvements.
“The voter-approved (bond) in 2016 was for $44.6 million, of which we have issued $24 million,” Wohlleber said. “That was the initial issue that we had a year ago and we just approved another issue for about $8 million for the second phase. Of the initial issue, a vast majority of it went to school construction.”
The district recently completed construction of the replacement for two schools, the oldest having been built in the early 1950s. The cost of that project is expected to top out at around $25 million, according to Wohlleber.
But the next phase, Wohlleber said, will include better security for the district’s schools — including creating a secure lobby and secure entry where visitors will have to be buzzed in, and securing the perimeter with fencing.
It’s a necessary evil, especially with the threats schools face with active shooters and lockdowns — things that were not imaginable 20 or 30 years ago.
“We know from reading the papers, this is happening all over the United States, and we’re not immune from it happening here,” Wohlleber said. “Part of it is replacing classroom locks so they can be locked from the inside and teachers don’t have to go outside and turn their key, to electrifying doors so we can compartmentalize. So if someone does breach one of our buildings, they don’t have access to the whole building.”
Another big issue Wohlleber addressed for the board was the purchase of new school buses. Currently the district has three types of buses: the conventional school buses, special education buses and 84-passenger buses that are used to transport students to activities.
Wohlleber said that each bus costs around $125,000 and added the need is there because the district fell behind in replacing its fleet after funding dried up with state budget cuts caused by the Great Recession.
However, he was quick to say student safety is not an issue with the aging fleet and the reason for the need for replacements is increased maintenance costs.
“Now that we are infusing more newer vehicles into our fleet, our operational costs will begin to come down,” Wohlleber said, “because these newer vehicles are more fuel efficient and they have a warranty for two years.”
Originally $4.6 million of the bonds was suppose to go to replacing school buses, but Wohlleber told board members that the district could be in line to receive some money from a recent Volkswagen settlement.
In June, Gov. Doug Ducey announced a $38 million plan for low-income communities across the state to purchase more than 280 new school buses.
The money comes from a settlement with the German automaker over allegations of cheating on emissions tests and deceiving customers. The automaker has agreed to spend up to $14.73 billion, with $10.03 billion going to compensate consumers and $4.7 billion to mitigate the pollution from the Volkswagen cars, and invest in clean vehicle technology.
Of that $4.7 billion, Arizona is expected to receive nearly $57 million over the next 10 years.
“We look to the VW settlement as a way to actually get ahead of the game,” Wohlleber said of replacing the aging bus fleet.