Mesa asks voters to approve bonds for school, city improvements - East Valley Tribune: Mesa

Mesa asks voters to approve bonds for school, city improvements

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Posted: Saturday, October 27, 2012 12:25 pm | Updated: 8:32 am, Wed Oct 31, 2012.

Mesa voters will cast ballots Nov. 6 for two bond issues – one for the schools and one for the city.

The city is asking for approval of a $70 million bond to help improve aging parks and add new parks and trails. Old playgrounds would be replaced, irrigation improved and shade structures added.

According to earlier reports, the city bonds would cost the owner of an average Mesa home $28.84 a year.

Of the bond funds, $8.7 million has been earmarked to convert former public school sites in west Mesa into parks. That includes the former Mesa Junior High School site, which now sits mostly vacant. The district closed the school in May 2012 as part of its “defining the future” program to address low enrollment and lower funding.

With funds from the bond, the city also hopes to purchase Buckhorn Baths, convert vacant land into parks in east Mesa and build pedestrian paths.

The city’s bond question could have been larger, but with the school district’s $230 million bond question on the ballot, elected officials decided to address the most pressing needs first.

Mesa Unified School District is seeking bond money to repair aging buildings, address transportation issues and improve technology in classrooms.

That last piece — $68 million for technology — is needed to help bring the district up to speed and provide blended and individualized education for students, said Bobette Sylvester, assistant superintendent of business and support services for the district.

The district used to provide four computers to a classroom, but in today’s world — where student can access a vast amount of information at the push of a button — that simply is too outdated.

Now, students can work together in small groups around a laptop or other device, while another student receives individualized instruction on a computer, while yet another group works with a teacher at an interactive white board.

With all that in place, the biggest need is to have more switches to provide Web access for all those devices and the right software to make sure students are accessing appropriate material.

“We have the struggle that the switches at many, many, many sites are not sized to be able to handle multiple devices,” Sylvester said. “We know interactive white boards are important and having laptops or devices is important. What we’re also seeing is an emerging of iPads and Kindles and other devices.”

Though some federal funds have been used to provide devices at Title I, or low-income, elementary schools, other schools are woefully behind, she said. To try and fill the gap, the district did take some of the computers, increased the memory and gave them to junior highs and high schools.

“As we go down the path to purchase equipment, we have to have the end result in the mind, on how do we use this to do better and as it’s a supplement to the teacher,” she said.

One deadline looming is the new Common Core assessment that will begin in 2014, she said. The Common Core Standards, adopted nationally by more than 40 states including Arizona, have been developed to provide a benchmark for learning. A test will be designed to go along with it and plans are to make it available only electronically.

With the old standard of four computers in a classroom, that would never work, Sylvester pointed out.

“We don’t know what device is going to be selected to offer those programs, but what we do know is we’ll have 62,000 students that will need some type of device to take the test,” she said.

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