FUSD

FLORENCE — Voters in the Florence Unified School District will be asked to approve $75 million in bond funding for upgrades and repairs to schools in Florence and San Tan Valley in the Nov. 3 general election.

The school board approved a resolution calling for a special bond election last week. State taxpayers already provide capital funding for buildings and other durable purchases, but many Arizona school districts find it’s not enough.

“There’s a lawsuit going on right now because of the massive capital underfunding that’s going on, in addition to the SFB (state School Facilities Board) not providing enough money for building construction and renovation of existing facilities,” FUSD Assistant Superintendent Adam Leckie said. “All the districts are underfunded unless they have bonds and overrides in place to shore up existing capital funds they get from the state.”

A newspaper column earlier this year, written by the Arizona Center for Law in the Public Interest and attorneys arguing the capital funding lawsuit, said school districts all over the state are challenged by aging buildings and inadequate funds to repair or replace them. The authors said the Arizona Constitution requires the state to maintain a “general and uniform” system of public schools.

The column continued that: the state provides only half of what it costs to build a new school; the state’s facilities, security and technology standards haven’t been meaningfully updated since 1998; and funding for repairs is inadequate and unavailable until after a responsible district would have already fixed the problem.

In Florence, FUSD staff are hoping to receive about $5 million in state capital funding but have already identified $17 million in air conditioners and other building repairs and upgrades needed in the next five years, Denice Erickson, FUSD chief financial officer, said. Leckie said the district had a “life cycle audit” done to identify its long-term capital needs.

The district hopes to replace a few buses each year to keep the fleet in good condition, Erickson said. She and Leckie said the district must also keep its educational technology up to date. According to the sample ballot accompanying the board’s resolution, bond funding may also be used for construction-related costs, to buy or lease school lots, to improve school grounds and adjacent ways, and buy furniture, equipment and technology.

This 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, Erickson said.

Aug. 5 is the last day to submit arguments for or against the bonds to the Pinal County school superintendent, to be included in the voter information pamphlet.

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 campuses, track repairs and upgrades at the high schools, updated playgrounds at K-8 schools, an enlargement of the Fernando Ortega multipurpose room 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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