CUSD OKs election on biggest bond in district history - SanTan Sun News SanTan Sun News

CUSD OKs election on biggest bond in district history

July 9th, 2019 SanTan Sun News
CUSD OKs election on biggest bond in district history

By Kayla Rutledge

Staff Writer

Chandler Unified officials want voters in November to pass a $290.25 million bond issue — the largest in the school district’s history.

While school districts in Mesa and Gilbert are doing the same this fall to maintain existing facilities, CUSD wants to use the bond proceeds to open two new schools to accommodate an influx of students on the city’s east side near the Val Vista Corridor.

If the bond is approved, the $1.28-per-$100,000-assessed-valutation tax rate used to pay off a $196 million bond from 2015 will remain consistent.

CUSD Chief Financial Officer Lana Berry said the need for another bond election results from insufficient state funding for education.

Over the last 11 years, the district has seen a net loss of nearly $127 million in state funds, Berry said.

“In our elementary area we have to be able to meet the needs of our community down the Val Vista Corridor. It’s ultimately going to grow…and the parents ultimately want their kids to go [to school] in their neighborhood,” Berry said at a June board meeting.

“We know we need new schools and one of the reasons we know that is because our secondary arena is growing, and our promise has always been to keep class sizes low and to pay our staff well,” Berry added.

Along with a $70 million tab for the new schools, the bond will cover a plethora of capital improvement projects.

After meeting with the bond committee, parents, the Chamber and others, CUSD officials said one of the largest concerns among district stakeholders is safety within the schools.

The concerns prompted the district to direct $25.5 million of the bond money toward safety upgrades such as fencing, security cameras and access control.

“These are the security pieces that just their appearance feels good to parents and just lets them know their children are safe when they come to our facilities,” said Berry.

Associate Superintendent for Support Services Frank Fletcher said the upgrades to CUSD’s software protection is one of the most pressing purchases for the district at this time.

“Our battle right now is we are under attack by hackers. We have spent a significant amount of money in the last 12 to 24 months to protect all of our users — all of our information,” said Fletcher.

“Greater than 60 percent [of technology funds] is going into the classroom but if we can’t protect the classroom there’s no point in having them. So, we’re spending a lot of money on defense,” Fletcher said.

Another $31.25 million will be directed toward classroom additions, renovations, playground surfaces and more at the elementary level. Secondary schools will see $29 million improvements to general renovations, band uniforms, pool renovations and weight rooms.

Technology, which includes network hardware, printers, servers and teaching tools will have a $28 million facelift under the bond, and the transportation department will receive another $25 million.

The bond will also be used to relieve pressure from general upkeep and maintenance costs.

Being the second largest district in the valley and the second largest employer in the city, CUSD shells out millions per year on upkeep. Maintaining the facilities costs the district anywhere from $30 to $35 million annually.

“Just on our basic maintenance we will use at least half of this bond — for just keeping up the status quo rather than doing any upgrades or technology or other things we see as a need in this district,” said board President Barb Mozdzen.

The 15-year anniversary on many of the schools’ HVAC units is quickly approaching. Along with many other key structures like roofing and lighting, Fletcher said the district is due for some upgrades.

“If you start in 1998 and go to today, out of 5 million square feet under roof you’ve built 74 percent of the district in the last 20 years,” said Fletcher. “We do know we have some things aging,” he added.

The last approved bond of $196 million from 2015 still has $17 million left to spend, some of which will be used to purchase the land for the district’s new elementary school.

The bond has supported $81.5 million worth of construction, acquisition and improvements to schools. $53.8 million improved security or site improvements and building renovations. $39 million upgraded buses, technology, furniture, equipment and school furnishings. The rest has gone toward heating and air conditioning and support facilities.

While meeting with stakeholders to discuss the current bond election, Lana said the district gained valuable insight on what is most important to community members regarding public education in Chandler.

The bond committee gathered feedback both from community meetings regarding the bond as well as through only survey questions.

About 300 stakeholders were in attendance at the meetings and 91 people completed the online survey. At the various meetings those who attended included business owners, administrators and CUSD staff, parents, students, council members, board members and PTO and Boosters.

Berry said although the online survey only received 91 responses, a wide variety of opinions from all sectors of the community was represented.

The surveys reflected safety as the major concern and a close second was district textbooks, furniture and software while energy management ranked third.

The community also said the next bond election should not include furniture or textbooks.