Nov. 5 election: Apache Junction school district seeking $60M in bonds, $2M capital override

The $60 million in bonds contains $4.22 million for site improvements, which includes replacing track, bleachers and scoreboards at Apache Junction High school, above. During the 2018-19 school year, AJHS could not host a track meet because it was deemed unsafe. (Arianna Grainey, Independent Newsmedia)

Voters in a Nov. 5 election will consider authorizing Apache Junction Unified School District to issue and sell $60 million in school-improvement bonds and exceed its budget by the lesser of $2 million or 10% of its revenue control limit.

The district’s first override passed in 1999 and was renewed in 2003. Further votes failed in May 2007 and November 2007, 2009, 2010, 2014 and 2015.

At the last election, voters denied the proposed increase of up to 15% to the district’s maintenance and operations budget. The override would have raised approximately $3.2 million each year and allowed the district to prevent large class sizes, improve school safety and offer competitive salaries to teachers, officials said at the time.

In 2019 it will be a mailed-ballot-only election with no polling places provided. Ballots will be mailed to qualified electors residing within the district no earlier than 27 days prior to the election and no later than 15 days before the election.

The last day to register in order to be eligible to vote is Monday, Oct. 7. Go to pinalcountyaz.gov/ELECTIONS/Pages/RegisterToVote.aspx or recorder.maricopa.gov/elections/registrationform.aspx. Early voting materials may be obtained by calling the Pinal County Elections Department at 520-866-7550 or the Maricopa County Recorder’s Office at 602-506-1511.

Property tax increase

The estimated average annual tax rate is $1.13 per $100 for the bonds and $0.46 per $100 for the override of net assessed valuation used for secondary property tax purposes.

The average assessed value of a home in the district is $131,000. Based on this average assessed value, homeowners will see an increase of approximately $17 per month if both the bonds and capital override pass, according to AJUSD figures.

Pamela Niesl

It is money well-spent, for a district that has not had an override for more than a decade, Gold Canyon resident Pamela Niesl said.

“Not only has the system been doing its best to function without bond/override money for over 10 years, but the state extensively reduced funding during the recession and has never returned it to pre-recession levels,” she said.

“Ultimately, even if I did not give a darn about the kids, I believe that if I don’t invest in them, I’ll be paying in other ways in the future — financial assistance, behavioral health issues, crime and poor economy,” Ms. Niesl said.

Apache Junction resident Barry Goldstein does not support the passing of the two propositions.

“I do not support the bond and override election. It is unfortunate that the AJUSD seems unable or unwilling to live within its means but we taxpayers should not be expected to provide greater funding than that provided by our state government,” he said.

What is an override?

An override allows voters in a school district to approve additional funding for capital expenses, according to an AJUSD fact sheet.

The override would allow the district to exceed its budget by 10% for seven years.

AJUSD is requesting a $2 million capital override to fund capital needs specifically focused on curriculum adoptions that include updating grades K-12 math, English language arts, social studies and science; with additional materials and resources for elective and special area classes.

Override monies would also include the purchase of library books; science technology engineering and mathematics materials; fine arts equipment (e.g., band, orchestra, choir, and drama); athletic equipment (e.g., bats, balls, uniforms); and for extra-curricular activities.

What are bonds?

The $60 in bonds contains $1.885 million to improve safety measures, including security cameras, stronger fencing and gates. The exterior fencing at Peralta Trail Elementary School, above, is only 4 feet high. (Arianna Grainey, Independent Newsmedia)

Bonds are loans made to the school district. A bond provides additional funding to use for capital items such as renovating buildings, purchasing school buses, equipment and technology, building an addition or constructing new facilities, according to the AJUSD fact sheet.

The $60 million in bonds, according to the sheet, would be used for:

  • Campus improvements, for a total of $14,243,877: Phone system, interior/exterior paint, carpet, tile, sidewalks, landscaping, playground equipment, sound systems, art room/music rooms, classroom remodeling, front office remodeling — for safety concerns, kitchen equipment and remodeling, reseal parking lots, window coverings and marquees.
  • Technology updates, for a total of $9,1 million: Chromebooks/carts, iPads/carts, laptops and workstations, document cameras, projectors, SmartBoards/televisions, printers/3-D printers, network and core switches, email archive system, servers, mobile device management, wireless access points, firewall, web content filtering, wireless controller and other tech equipment as needed.
  • Transportation/bus replacement, costing $6.4 million: New buses to replace an aging fleet, with the average AJUSD pupil transportation vehicle in July 2019 having around 162,000 miles and 14.5 years old.
  • Safety and security, costing $1,885,000: Improve safety measures with security cameras, stronger fencing and gates. The exterior fencing at Peralta Trail Elementary School is only 4 feet high. Re-key the district to provide better access for the police department when searching campuses in an emergency.
  • Site improvements, costing $4,220,000: Provide necessary school and campus repairs and renovations. Replace track, bleachers and scoreboards — during the 2018-19 school year, Apache Junction High School could not host a track meet because the track was deemed unsafe.
  • Energy and utility cost control, costing $15,256,286: Update and replace HVAC units and provide more cost-efficient systems, repair and/or replace roofing and improve lighting at many schools to ensure the safety of staff and the community during evening events.
  • Other: Replace worn fixtures, furniture and equipment, costing $2 million; and establish a contingency/escalation fund for unexpected costs and/or emergencies, for $6,894,837.

Committee formed

“Yes. Yes. Our Kids. Our Community,” a political action committee, has been formed to promote the Apache Junction Unified School District’s Propositions 432 and 433 bond and override Nov. 5 election.

Shirley Ooley

Shirley Ooley of Apache Junction is heading the Voter Outreach Subcommittee. She can be reached at sjooley@netscape.net or 480-868-6584.

Apache Junction resident Tess Nesser, a member of the PAC, urges voters to fill out and mail back their ballots.

“As a member of the PAC and as a member of the AJ community, we must stop failing our kids and our community. The state of Arizona has failed us miserably…they have not spent any money on our schools since 2004, even though by state law they must do so,” she said.

“As a community, we must stop the downfall of our education system and our school facilities that are in deplorable conditions. An oversight committee will be formed to track all bond and capital campaign monies spent. Join me in voting ‘yes’ on Propositions 432 and 433 in November. Remember, it is a mail-in only election. When you receive your ballot…please complete it and mail it back to Pinal County. From the bottom of my heart, thank you for helping our kids and our community,” Ms. Nesser said.

Gold Canyon resident Pam Burks is helping promote a community forum that will explain to voters what is on their ballots for the Nov. 5 election.

“Gold Canyon needs the facts and with those facts they can make an educated vote. Sometimes people decide not to vote on a proposition because they don’t understand it,” she said.

The community education forum on AJUSD’s capital improvement bond Proposition 432 and the override Proposition 433 will be held 6-8 p.m. Sept. 26 at the Gold Canyon Community Church, 5810 S. Alameda Road.

Roberto Reveles

Gold Canyon resident Roberto Reveles supports passage of both the bond and override.

“The last time our schools received approval for a bond was in 2004 — 15 years ago. Our schools need help and they need it now,” he said.

As a member of the AJUSD Superintendent’s Advisory Council, over several months he visited AJUSD facilities and observed the need for funding to improve safety and academic materials at the schools, he said.

“I don’t have children in school, I’m retired and on fixed income, but I know that our district’s school children deserve funding for safer facilities and up-to-date academic materials and technology,” Mr. Reveles said.

“Good schools are the anchor for healthy communities. They attract families seeking a place to call home. Families attract entrepreneurs to provide goods and services, which lead to vibrant communities that promote improved quality of life for all. At a time when our economy is facing increased global competition we must ensure that all students have access to a learning environment where children gain skill sets they can use to pursue higher education or training for entry into the world of work. Schools provide the basic foundation for everyone to become productive members of society,” he said.

“Parents of school children, civic-minded citizens and retirees — all of us are beneficiaries of public schools and all of us should support our schools at this time of need. Please vote for our children and for our community. Vote ‘yes’ for the bond. Vote ‘yes’ for the override,” Mr. Reveles said.

AJUSD officials didn’t respond to a request to comment.

Editor Richard Dyer can be reached at rdyer@newszap.com

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