It looks like Mesa Public Schools students might get their new air-conditioned buses and new computers in classrooms after all, as a bond issue reversed course last week from early returns and began building a narrow lead in the slow-motion general election count.
Although the $300-million bond issue has been trending toward approval, building a narrow 717-vote lead, the outcome will remain in doubt until thousands of ballots are tabulated by the Maricopa County Recorder’s Office.
Maricopa County Recorder Adrian Fontes has focused on counting as many ballots as possible, including early ballots that were dropped off at polling places on election day.
But as of the Tribune’s deadline Friday, more than 85,000 ballots remained uncounted and it was unclear when Fontes’ crew would finish. Throughout last week, the office was counting fewer each day after initially paring down some 375,000 ballots uncounted on Nov. 7 to about 266,000 on Nov. 9.
When early returns made it appear the bond issue was headed toward rejection by voters, MPS Superintendent Ember Conley adopted immediate austerity moves.
She implemented a hiring freeze and halted further capital improvements, trying to save every nickel remaining from a 2012 bond issue approved by voters.
But Helen Hollands, a district spokeswoman, said school officials would revert back to the original, much-needed plan for improvements if the final election count shows voters approving the bond issues.
In contrast, a related measure to increase the budget override from 10 percent to 15 percent, mostly to pay for salary increases required to comply with Arizona’s higher minimum, was headed toward almost a certain defeat, trailing by more than 2,500 votes.
“We took a prudent pause,’’ Holland said. “Obviously, the trends of the past few days are certainly positive for us. We hope it continues.’’
She said the tight bond election is a first – at least in recent memory – for the district since with past bond issues were easily approved by varying margins of victory.
“This would be the first time the results have reversed trends from a negative to a positive,’’ Hollands said.
If the bond issue is approved, the district will replace 300 buses during a six-year period, including 100 that do not have air conditioning.
Aging computers would be replaced to help students learn through technology and decades-old schools would receive much-needed and long-delayed maintenance that would make energy consumption more efficient.
And the district plans to use some money to increase security, an issue that has become more pressing in light of mass shootings on out of state campuses.
The slo-mo ballot counting also has delayed a final resolution in two district council races while there appears to be no sign of a change in early unofficial results in the four-way race for two MPS school board seats.
Incumbent Francisco Heredia has built a 468-vote lead in District Three, which includes west Mesa and Dobson Ranch, over challenger Mark Yarbrough.
Downtown activist Jen Duff also is leading by 436 votes over Jake Brown in District Four, which includes central Mesa. The race will fill the seat of outgoing council member Chris Glover.
Although Mesa has had female council members and even a female mayor in the past, Duff would join a previously all-male council if she is elected.
In the school board race, Marcie Hutchinson and Jenny Robinson remained well ahead of their two rivals.