Virus not stopping Chandler school building projects - SanTan Sun News SanTan Sun News

Virus not stopping Chandler school building projects

April 27th, 2020 development
Virus not stopping Chandler school building projects

Santan sun NEWS STAFF

The COVID-19 pandemic has not stopped Chandler Unified School District officials from moving ahead with using bond money to finance several new construction projects.

During a meeting April 8, the district’s Governing Board authorized spending about $5.3 million in funding from a 2019 voter-approved bond meant to finance a number of capital improvements on Chandler Unified’s 42 school campuses.

Though the ongoing public health crisis has been generating much uncertainty about the future financing of cities and schools, CUSD is finding a way to move forward with a number of projects already budgeted in a $291-million bond passed overwhelmingly by voters last November.

Grant Hamill, a financial advisor for Stifel Nicolaus, recently told the Governing Board the national bond market has been plagued by a lack of liquidity that’s resulted in fewer investments and a supply-demand imbalance.

But a recent injection of liquidity by the Federal Reserve should improve market conditions in the coming weeks, he added, and restore the confidence of investors.

“We do think the market is starting to thaw out a little bit and it’s becoming a little less volatile,” Hamill said.

Chandler Unified already has a history of good bond ratings, he added, which will be appealing to investors looking to buy municipal bonds after the market stabilizes again.

To better offset any economic repercussions caused by the coronavirus, the district passed a resolution this month that adds some flexibility to how Chandler Unified sells its bonds.

It allows some to be placed privately with a commercial bank or sold to the Maricopa County Treasurer.

Chandler Unified indicated it was not expecting the COVID-19 pandemic to impact the property taxes CUSD uses to pay the interest of its bonds.

The pandemic would essentially have to cause a large number of taxpayers to not pay their bills before the district was affected.

“Such an increase in the delinquency rate could negatively affect the District’s ability to pay debt service on the Bonds,” district records state.

The statewide pandemic has afforded Chandler Unified more time to begin work on a number of renovation projects that would have otherwise been started during the summer break.

With all its schools closed until the end of May, Chandler Unified plans to take advantage of the current situation by having contractors start revamping campuses while they remain empty.

The school board’s recently authorized spending $423,000 on repainting Andersen Junior High’s classrooms, $758,000 on replacing Hamilton High’s flooring, $445,000 on new carpeting at Santan Elementary, and $189,000 on fixing Galveston Elementary’s roof.

An additional $3.5 million of the district’s 2019 bond money was authorized for transforming the old Weinberg Elementary campus into a new gifted school scheduled to open in July.

Weinberg is expected to move over to a new campus currently being built near Ocotillo Road and Val Vista Drive.

Superintendent Camille Casteel said the COVID-19 pandemic has inadvertently given CUSD more time to work on the old Weinberg campus and prepare more classrooms that will accomodate a greater number of students than originally planned.

“Normally we do these projects during a six or seven-week summer (break),” Casteel said. “This time gives us an opportunity to whip it out.”

In addition to the several renovations, Chandler Unified is building a new high school near Gilbert and Brooks Farm roads, which is projected to be open by 2021.

Associate Superintendent Frank Fletcher said none of the district’s capital projects have been interrupted or delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Contractors are having crews follow health guidelines set by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, he said, and don’t anticipate having to abruptly postpone construction work.

Despite all the chaos unleashed by COVID-19, Chandler Unified feels secure enough with its finances to grant a 5-percent salary raise to all certified and classified staff for the upcoming school year. Teachers can expect to see at least $1,183 added to their base salary.

Administrators say the district’s continuous growth in enrollment and extra funding distributed through Proposition 123 permitted CUSD to comfortably award the salary increases at this time.

But there’s still some funding sources that will undoubtedly be impacted by the lack of economic activity that’s taken place during the statewide shutdown.

Some district officials worry Proposition 301, a voter-approved sales tax that generates millions for teacher salaries, will see its revenues deplete due to residents spending less during the pandemic.

“My fear is that we’re going to see precipice drops like we did during the 2008 recession,” said Governing Board President Barbara Mozdzen.   

The district said earlier this month it’s not been given projections yet from the Arizona Legislature as to how Prop. 301 funds may change in the next fiscal year.