15 April 1998 Students FIRST p. 2
10 Tb Artoaa RrpyMk UediMJv, April 15, IW8 School leaders unsure about state finance plan SCtCOt, from Page I El- $19 million; and Litchfield emcntary, $25 million. Litchfield Superintendent Thomas Heck said, "Some people might think the state fixed it, but I think the majority of people will say they can't count on the state (because) they don't have a proven track record and we're going to vote for this and let the cards fall where they may be." Heck believes that local con- trol is better than going before a state committee to request funding. "I just think it's another bureaucratic committee that you're going to have to stand in line with a cup and beg for money." Heck said. "The state hasn't had a good record of supporting public schools." Agua Fria Superintendent James Howard also said he didn't think the state plan would work for his district because the plan would not provide enough money to pay for needed facilities. "Overcrowded classrooms and improper facilities are wrong for kids and education," Howard said. "We need to provide them whatever avenue we use, but it's got to be effective and work, and we don't see that this (state plan) works." In the Dysart Unified School District, where retirees have repeatedly rejected bonds, the news of the legislation drew mixed reactions. Dysart school board President Robert Koch said, "Getting rid of the bonding is essential. The new ' system is much preferable in a district like Dysart, where bonding is such a problematic thing." Koch is a former leader of Citizens for Tax Equity, a group of Sun City West expansion area residents who have led efforts to defeat Dysart bond proposals in the past three years. The legislation, however, is not what Dysart board members en dorsed April 7. They supported the original House bill that didn't include the opt-out provision. Dysart is one of the school districts that successfully challenged the current system of financing school construction with property taxes. Dysart Superintendent Jesus de la Garza said he believed the opt-out provision creates a "two-tiered system" that wouldn't hold ' up in court If the law withstands a court challenge, Dysart wants to be ready to request state funding to make improvements to existing schools as well as build new facilities. Last week, the district hired a consultant to estimate how many new students would move into the district. De la Garza said the board w ill be asked to hire an architect to determine building needs, which would be presented to the state for funding. Districts are weighing their options. It will take a vote of the governing boards to seek the opt-out provision, and then voters would decide. Verle Naber, Glendale Elemen tary board president, is concerned that the minimum square footage per student set by the state is too low, and he worries about over crowding. Gene Dudo, assistant superin tendent in the Glendale Union High School District, said his district used its bond money approved by voters in 1991 to renovate school buildings, but there wasn't enough money avail able to install technology as planned. "We'll probably have to look at going back to taxpayers to improve beyond minimum standards," Dudo said. Other districts think the new plan could work for them. Kim Sharp, spokeswoman for the Deer Valley Unified, School District, said, "Because we're a growing district, the state legislation will be to our advantage because it will give us money to build without raising taxes." The state program won't affect Deer Valley's plan to use 1996 bond money to build two elementary schools and a middle school during the next couple years, Sharp added. Yolanda Strayhand, the Washington Elementary School District's board president, thinks it's good that the state plan gives voters a choice. "But until the state gives us our figures, we don't know exactly how it will affect us directly and whether it would be more advantageous to be in the state system or opt out," she said. In the Paradise Valley district, six new schools have popped up in the past five years, and officials say there's not enough money set aside to keep up with the pace. Jim DiCello.. Paradise Valley's assistant superintendent for business services, said the district will need a new middle school in three years. According to the new plan, however, he estimates it may take until 2006 to get money for elementary and middle schools, and it may not be until 2010 or 2011 before the district gets a new high school. Arizona Republic writers Rachel Ochoa, Hal Mattem and Jefrry Nelson contributed to ttiis article. Lori Baker can be reached at 444-7120 or at lori.oakendpni.com via e-mail.