Higley school board approves asking voters for $70M bond package (updated) - East Valley Tribune: East Valley Education News

Higley school board approves asking voters for $70M bond package (updated)

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Posted: Tuesday, July 9, 2013 11:30 pm | Updated: 2:49 pm, Tue May 6, 2014.

The Higley Unified School District will ask voters to approve a $70.5 million bond question on the November ballot.

With a 3-1 vote Tuesday night, the school board placed the bond measure on the Nov. 5 ballot and cancelled a previously called capital override election.

Board member Jake Hoffman cast the dissenting vote. Board member Kim Anderson was present at the meeting via telephone. Kristina Reese was not at the meeting Tuesday.

The $70.5 million bond package will provide money to purchase land and build at least three schools, as well as purchase technology and buses.

“We would have more flexibility with the bond funds than an override. We would be able to buy land and construct buildings with a bond. Given our growth pattern, we think that would serve us much better,” Higley's CFO Kevin Hegarty told the Tribune prior to the meeting.

The district expects to keep adding 350 to 500 students a year for a while.

Board president Denise Standage said the bond question - and the maintenance and operations budget override question on the November ballot - are needed by the district.

"I hope it passes. We need the money, definitely the maintenance part of it. It's huge. We need the funds to build new schools and maintain the ones we have," Standage said.

Standage pointed to the fact that some of the chillers at schools and some roofs are getting older and the state is not providing building renewal money. That means the district has to use other funds to make repairs when they're needed.

"We've been really strapped for maintenance (funds) because we've been cut so far," she said.

State lawmakers cut millions from education during the recession. Funding was increased for the current fiscal year - which began July 1 - primarily because the court mandated that the state meet a voter obligation to give schools more money.

Higley voters approved a $120 million bond program in 2006 for the district to maintain and construct schools and purchase technology. But when the recession hit, home values in the district sunk. That meant the district no longer qualified for the bonds under the state-mandated bond limits and it had to halt plans to sell $70.5 million in bonds – the exact amount of the proposed election question.

The Legislature changed the bond limit during the recent session, doubling it and making it possible for Higley to again ask voters to approve a bond program.

Board member Jake Hoffman voted against placing the bond question before voters.

"My concern is that Higley has demonstrated and acknowledged an inability to live within the state funding levels," Hoffman said. "We are not even attempting to put that long-term strategy in place to not need the override."

Hoffman also expressed concern that the change from asking voters for a bond vs. a capital override is a political move designed to get more votes.

Hegarty told the Tribune prior to the meeting that by using bond funds, rather than capital override funds, taxpayers will get some relief.

“We hope to buy at least three parcels of land and build three new schools. It gives us more flexibility. It’s easier on the tax rate than an (capital) override. We’re going to be able to deliver a slight tax decrease with the bond instead of an (capital) override,” Hegarty said.

The override would have given the district $4.9 million a year for seven years, but the district could not have purchased land.

School districts in Arizona are funded on a per-student basis, but they can ask voters to approve overrides and bonds to tax themselves to provide additional money. Maintenance and operations budget overrides must be renewed every five years. Capital overrides are in place for seven years.

The November ballot already included a request to voters to renew a 10 percent maintenance and operations budget override. The district asked the board to approve that measure again Tuesday night because there has been a budget adjustment. Previously, the override provided about $4.9 million to the district annually. Now, it provides just more than $5 million, Hegarty said.

The measure was approved 3-1, with Hoffman voting against it.

Without voter renewal in November, the additional funds the district receives from the override will start to decrease in the 2014-2015 school year to zero over three years.

About 85 percent of a district’s maintenance and operations budget funds salaries and benefits for employees.

The Higley school board went to voters last fall to approve the maintenance and operations budget override renewal a year early, but it lost by a slight margin. Chandler Unified School District took the same step and also saw voters turn down the request. But like Higley, it was a year early so the district did not have to make any budget cuts for the fiscal year that began July 1.

Chandler voters will also be asked to approve a maintenance and budget override renewal in November.

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