The Education Action Network

Taking Back America By Taking Back Our Schools

Arizona Republic | azcentral.comWed Nov 14, 2012 1:56 PM

Despite the failure of both overrides in last week’s election, the Higley Unified School District governing board decided Tuesday to move ahead with the planned middle schools amid stinging questions by some residents and incoming board members over how officials will pay for them.

After an hour-long closed executive session, the board unanimously approved a ground lease and facility use agreement for middle schools on district-owned land in Elona Ranch and Sossaman Estates.

Although some parents and residents voiced concern about funding, the vote was greeted by a standing ovation and applause in the packed room from parents and district staff members who are excited about the district’s first middle schools for seventh and eighth graders. Both are expected to open in the fall.

“We have the ability to build two new schools with no new taxes,” said Superintendent Denise Birdwell. “The reality is we are growing, and we only have enough space for 400 new students.”

Higley voters approved a ballot question last week that allows the district to enter into leases longer than five years, which gives Higley the authority to enter into a lease/lease-back agreement for the buildings. It’s believed to be the first time a K-12 school district in Arizona has used this option.

Although Birdwell originally said Higley would enter into a 35-year lease with the non-profit that will finance construction, she announced that the district must extend the lease to 40 years and include fully-furnished buildings since the capital override failed. The logner lease will lower the district’s monthly payments, she added.

District officials had said last month that without voter approval of the continuation of the maintenance and operations and capital outlay budget overrides in the Nov. 6 election, Higley would not be able to pay for the middle schools’ teachers, furniture and lease payments.

However, Birdwell on Tuesday outlined an alternative approach, saying Higley would use general fund money to pay for the lease because it expects an extra $2.5 million in state payments from increased enrollment.

Because the district’s current maintenance and operations override doesn’t expire for another year, Birdwell said $1.98 million can be used to maintain class sizes and $2.66 million to keep competitive salaries for teachers so they won’t leave the district.

After next year, however, the override will start phasing out and the district will lose the $4.9 million annually unless voters approve continuing the override in another election. The board would have to decide whether to ask voters again to continue the overrides.

Revenue from the planned preschools at each of the middle schools, as well as field rentals at the schools, will also provide additional money, Birdwell said.

Despite the overrides’ failures, Birdwell said she is not looking at getting rid of any teachers, although she thinks class sizes will increase. She also said district office vacancies will not be filled.

Two principals were also named to start preparing for the schools. Nancy Diab is the principal of the yet unnamed Sossaman Estates middle school. Diab has worked in Higley for eight years, and has been assistant principal of Cortina Elementary and Higley High School.

Terri Wattawa will be the principal of Cooley Middle School in Elona Ranch. Wattawa has worked in Higley’s research and assessment department at the district office for a year. She moved from the Chandler Unified School District ,where she was assistant principal at Bashas’ High School.

Newly elected board member Kristina Reese, who will join the board in January, said that although she is in “complete support” of adding the middle school model to the district, she is “very concerned” about a 40-year lease.

She echoed what some parents spoke out against at the beginning of the board meeting. “I feel our children miss out on educational, social, and emotional experiences in the K-8 model,” Reese said in an email. However, “that is my grandkids kids that will be suffering this debt.”

Reese said she wonders what programs will be cut and what fees will be increased to pay for the new buildings. “I don’t see a way around that, especially with the loss of the Prop. 204 funds in May,” she said. “Our funding is decreasing and our debt is increasing. I am hoping once I review all the information, funding, and budgets (that) it’s not as bad as I am expecting.”

Board member Denise Standage, who was just re-elected to her third term, said she appreciated the “out-of-box” leadership and ideas to build the middle schools.

“When you have a challenge, you either meet it head-on or you fail,” said Standage, during an emotional speech at the meeting. “I’m passionate about respecting the rights of taxpayers. Public virtue is one of the top things why I ran for the board. My challenge to the community is, when have we done something hard for our grandkids? We have come up with a great plan that might just be better than a bond or an override. This is the way to build schools without new taxes.”

Board candidate Jake Hoffman, who was in the lead Wednesday for the third open board seat against Bob Steiger, also has concerns.

“The events that transpired last night clearly expose the disingenuous nature of the district's failed plea for millions more in taxpayer dollars and leave many significant, unanswered questions regarding what programs, teachers and in-classroom resources will be slashed from the general fund in order to pay these pricey new lease payments,” Hoffman said in an email Wednesday.

“Unfortunately, shortsighted leadership and lack of a strategic plan has caused Higley to pull out the metaphorical credit card,” he added. “

Because Higley has an open enrollment policy, Higley students are welcome to apply to attend any school in the district. The application deadline is March 1.

Opening the middle schools will free up space at the eight elementary schools, which will turn into K-6 schools, officials say. The plan is to align four elementary schools into each middle school, which would then feed into its own high school.

The recommendation is for Gateway Pointe, Higley, Chaparral and Coronado elementaries to feed into Cooley Middle School, which would feed into Williams Field High School.

Centennial, Cortina, Power Ranch and San Tan elementaries would feed into the Sossaman Estates middle school, and those students would go to Higley High School.

The proposed boundary plan was expected to be on the district website Wednesday, Birdwell said. Questions should be emailed to board members and district administration and answers will be posted on the website, she added.

A parent forum with additional information is also planned for 6 p.m. Monday at the district office for parents who weren’t able to attend Tuesday.

Views: 55


Harry Mathews created this Ning Network.

© 2023   Created by Harry Mathews.   Powered by

Badges  |  Report an Issue  |  Terms of Service