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FLORENCE — Taxpayers in Florence Unified School District will pay a $2 million special assessment for bus drop-off areas and fire lanes at Florence High School and Walker Butte K-8 School in San Tan Valley.

The school board approved a new annual budget, including a $2 million increase in the primary property tax levy, at its July 13 meeting. The owner of a home valued at $100,000 will pay $35 to cover this increase.

This special assessment will pay for areas traveled by school buses or fire lanes, known as “adjacent ways,” FUSD Finance Director Beverly Myers told the board.

When Walker Butte K-8 was built almost 20 years ago, the intended bus drop-off area and fire lane weren’t built due to lack of state funding. Completion of a bus lane around the back of the building will eliminate traffic congestion in front of the school, Myers said. Buses will be staged in the drop-off/loading area between the building and the athletic area. Estimated cost is $1.5 million.

At Florence High School, an additional bus drop-off and fire lane will include a turnaround area inside the secure perimeter for buses. This will eliminate unsafe congestion on Van Haren Street and control the flow of additional buses, Myers said. Estimated cost is $500,000.

The average FUSD teacher salary in the new fiscal year is $55,956, a 2% increase from the old year. It is an 18% increase from 2018, when the average salary was $47,348, FUSD Chief Financial Officer Denice Erickson told the board.

The board also approved establishing a new Early Childhood Learning Center near Walker Butte K-8. “As you know, reading by third grade is very important,” Superintendent Chris Knutsen said after the meeting. “Any work we can do in preschool and kindergarten to get our young people reading will set them up for success in life.”

To establish a new entity like this, the district must submit paperwork to the Arizona Department of Education and obtain a County/Type/District/School number for the purpose of reporting student and financial data, Myers told the board.

Board member Sherri Jones asked how soon the center could be up and running. Myers replied it’s immediate, and FUSD can immediately begin reporting attendance.

Erickson told the board the district’s Maintenance and Operations budget increases slightly, 1.1%, from the prior year. The classroom site fund increases 30% following a one-time increase at the state level. There was also an increase in unrestricted capital by 42%, for a total of almost $3 million in that fund.

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Mark Cowling is the county reporter for PinalCentral and covers the town of Florence, San Tan Valley and the surrounding area. He can be reached at mcowling@pinalcentral.com.

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