Future middle school

This architect’s rendering shows a future middle school campus near Florence High School.

FLORENCE — With an estimated 1,300 new students coming into Florence Unified School District in the next five years, administrators want to build middle schools adjacent to its three existing high school campuses.

Voters will be asked to approve a $75 million bond issue in Tuesday’s election to help make it happen as an addition to state money and pay for other capital needs, officials said.

Middle schools will be a new concept for FUSD, which has built K-8 schools for the last 18 years. High-achieving middle schoolers, who now visit the high schools to study advanced science and math, will have easier access to honors programs such as pre-Advanced Placement, STEM and the International Baccalaureate Middle Years program.

“These are tremendous wins for our students,” Edward Callahan, who coordinates the International Baccalaureate degree program at Florence High School, commented by email.

Of course, it also frees up more space in the district’s grade schools, which will become K-6 buildings. Superintendent Chris Knutsen said district officials hope to build one middle school per year, with the first one ready to open for the 2022-23 school year.

The bond issue, on Tuesday’s ballot as Proposition 449, will also help the district stay current on technology, reliable buses and other capital needs. Callahan, a FHS teacher since 2007, said since FUSD began providing laptop computers to each high school student, they have learned skills that transfer easily to career settings. “All of this is possible through bond money.”

The district has also replaced old school buses, giving students a safer and more efficient trip to school. “Again, this is possible through bond money,” Callahan said.

He continued that fine arts also stand to benefit. He said the arts too often take a back seat as students must demonstrate proficiency in English, math and science. But when the arts thrive, “they enable band, orchestra and choir students to discover how mathematical principles underpin music theory.

“By applying the insights of physical sciences, dance students explore the roles which measurement, motion and even symmetry can play in their performances. Bond money will make that possible for our students in FUSD,” Callahan said.

By law, school bonds in Arizona may be used to buy or lease school property; for supplying schools with furniture, equipment and technology; for improving school grounds; for buying buses and other vehicles for transporting students; and for paying off debt already incurred for these purposes.

The bond issue would cost the owner of a $250,000 home in FUSD about $202 per year. The bonds would be paid off over a 24-year period so that future taxpayers would share in the cost.

FUSD voters last approved a $25 million bond issue in 2017, and that money paid for new school buses, student computers and other technology upgrades, security cameras and other security equipment on school campuses, track repairs and upgrades at the high schools, updated playgrounds at K-8 schools, an enlargement of the Fernando Ortega Multipurpose Building at Florence K-8 and other repairs and improvements.

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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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