MARICOPA — The biggest challenge facing the Maricopa Unified School District over the next few years is how to address overcrowded classrooms.
It’s a challenge that hasn’t gone overlooked at the state level, which recently identified Maricopa as needing a second high school.
But with a projected increase of 1,600 students over the next six years on top of the 2,334 students already at Maricopa High School, the question becomes how to pay for a new school that is estimated to cost about $83 million.
On Feb. 27 school board members heard of a likely scenario from Mike LaVallee — financial adviser and managing director of Stifel, Nicolaus & Company. He gave a report on the district’s revenue, tax implications and a possible bond election.
“You had a huge upswing before the recession and then you had a downswing. Then the last five years, you have had pretty solid growth,” LaVallee reported to the board. “That’s what we are seeing all over from the East Valley to the West Valley, all of Pinal County and some parts of Pima County.”
LaVallee reported to the board that over the past five years, the district has grown by more than 5 percent, but its 10-year average is at 0.82 percent, which could hurt any potential bond election.
“We are seeing this now because we have blocked off the previously fast growing amounts, and even though you are adding growth now, it’s not what we blocked off,” LaValle said. “Your 10-year average is what will restrict you. It’s really about what this 10-year average is. One will restrict growth of what the tax impact is.”
According to LaVallee, the district currently has $31 million in outstanding principal bonds and its current bond capacity is just under $40 million.
However, he said the bond capacity is expected to grow as the assessed value of property continues to increase, while at the same time the district continues to pay off debt.
He added that over a 10-year period, with the continued projections, the district’s bond capacity could be more than $100 million, which would be enough to cover a potential new high school.
“Bond elections have a history of being passed between 85 and 90 percent,” LaValle said. “In November '18 it was about 60 percent. It was a rough election cycle. Last year there was the #RedforEd and the governor’s initiatives.”
Board member Torri Anderson mentioned the last bond election was around 2004 or 2005 and remembers it was a tough sell then.
LaVallee said the figures for the district’s revenue and tax implications are about two years old and don’t reflect what’s happening now.
“It’s overwhelming, but it’s nice to have this discussion instead of what school we are going to need to close,” Anderson said.