City, Mesa schools both consider bond votes for November - East Valley Tribune: East Valley Local News

City, Mesa schools both consider bond votes for November

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Posted: Saturday, May 26, 2012 9:14 am | Updated: 9:24 am, Thu May 31, 2012.

Mesa school and city leaders considering bond votes in November are moving closer to those decisions.

But it’s still unclear how much they’ll be asking businesses and homeowners to give them.

The Mesa Unified School District governing board considered a bond question last year, but yanked that decision amid concern about the economy.

Now, with recommendations from a facilities planning committee and district leaders and the consensus that facilities need drastic repairs, the board is considering a $275 million question for the Nov. 6 ballot.

The city of Mesa is also considering a bond package this fall, but no specific amounts have been identified so far. The City Council will take up the issue for the first time Thursday as it reviews public reaction to park improvement scenarios identified through the iMesa initiative for community improvement.

Mesa school staff identified $130 million in essential repairs and renovations that are needed over the next five years. Last week, a governing board study session focused on another piece of the recommended bond question — transportation.

School leaders, looking at the age of buses and when they need to be replaced, recommended lowering the amount of funds needed for that task, from $19 million to $9 million. That would bring the recommended full-bond package down from $285 million that the committee suggested to $275 million.

Board members said in a meeting following the study session that they will continue to see if the bond question can be trimmed more.

“We’re going to look at everything we can to reduce the bond where we can, but one thing is very clear, and I think this committee enforced that, and that is the need that we have to be able to have quality, good schools. At the same time we have to look at technology. We have to do the things to keep Mesa schools on top,” board member Mike Hughes said.

The governing board must tell the county by June 9 how much the bond question will be for on Nov. 6, but it has time after that to break down where the funds will be spent.

Another piece for transportation in the proposal includes $9 million to make repairs at three transportation yards, or hubs for school buses.

The board was shown photos of leaking toilets, water damaged roofs and decaying walls. Members were told that in some areas where mechanics work, the cooling system is so insufficient that it reaches 144 degrees. A photo was shown to demonstrate that.

The problem, school leaders say, is that the state has failed to fund building renewal dollars that were supposed to be earmarked for school upkeep.

The last Mesa school district bond election was in 2005, when voters approved $212.5 million.

Superintendent Mike Cowan told the board that a $275 million bond is “viable and sustainable” for the community. He also noted the need for the $130 million in repairs around the 220-square-mile district.

“That’s not to make schools look prettier, bigger or aesthetically pleasing, that’s literally getting down to nuts and bolts,” Cowan said.

Board members asked Cowan and the district’s business staff to come back with information about the district’s bonding capacity at a future meeting.

Arizona school districts can vote to tax themselves to provide additional dollars to public districts. However, there is a limit, based on the value of home properties.

And in recent years, property values have plummeted. Districts can only have so much debt on their hands at one time.

As of June 30, 2011, the district had $271 million in outstanding debt that included the sale of the voter-approved 2005 bonds, as well as other items.

As Mesa school district considers what to do with the November election, the City Council has discussed iMesa initiatives for months while anticipating any park bonds that would be on the ballot at the same time as a substantial school bond package. City Manager Chris Brady said the school bond — and the final dollar amount asked for — would affect what the city considers.

“We’re not going to be anywhere near that number,” Brady said. “We’ll be much more modest than that, I’m sure.”

The city must reach a bond decision by July 2.

Tribune reporter Garin Groff contributed to this story.

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