MUSD Superintendent Tracey Lopeman takes questions during a town hall on the bond election. Photo by Raquel Hendrickson

Resident JoAnne Miller said it was still all about the money.

Suspicious of Maricopa Unified School District and against Prop 437, the bond to build a second high school, she stayed through most of Tuesday’s town hall at MUSD to hear the presentation on the district’s needs. She remained unconvinced.

She said her taxes were already going up $50 next year for the school district.

“That’s a lot of freaking money because everybody else wants their two cents also,” Miller said. “The water department does, the electric does, [etc.]. So, giving it to the schools when I don’t see good management of the schools, it makes it very hard to say yes.”

She was one of a handful of residents amid several teachers and MUSD staff and elected officials at the town hall session. Superintendent Tracey Lopeman said she wished for a bigger turnout.

Lopeman explained the difference between an override and a bond election. In 2016 voters approved a seven-year override to lower class sizes and improve technology. The proposed bond for $68 million is primarily to construct a second high school, purchase land if needed and for capital projects like HVAC, buses and roofing.

Dan Cerkoney is a military veteran who moved to Maricopa in August. He said he is likely to vote no.

Cerkoney said he’s been catching up on the facts of the situation and the history of the district.

“We moved to Maricopa because it was a low-tax area,” he said. “I agree, I’ve looked at the schools and, yes, you need to do something. But I’ve also come from a district that they kept raising the tax. ‘We need it for better schools, better schools.’ And they went from $2,000, $3,000, $4,000 to $5,000 for my parents in their case.”

Cerkoney also warned the supporters against surrounding themselves with like-minded people to “feel good.”

“So, when you come across a guy like me, and I’m gonna ask you tough questions, you haven’t been prepared for it,” he said.

Ed Michael said he came from a school district in Wisconsin with the same issues of overcrowding that exist at Maricopa High School, which is 600 students overcapacity. A military veteran on a fixed income, he said he and his wife discussed the problem and the possible tax rates.

“I looked at her and I said, ‘Is Grace worth it?’” he said. “Grace is my granddaughter. She goes to school here in Maricopa. She’s worth it. Every one of my grandchildren is worth it.”

City Councilmember Rich Vitiello said it is also a matter of economic development. “We can’t bring businesses here if our school district isn’t at top-notch,” he said.

Lopeman said the $26 million the district received from SFB for the project is about a third of what is necessary for a “comprehensive” high school rather than a starter, “bare minimum” high school.

Cerkoney suggested the district reach out for more public-private relationships with major companies in the area like Nissan and Volkswagen.

Miller confronted Lopeman over the district’s past spending habits and future plans, including to improve the administration building. “When they built this, you didn’t consider maintenance, putting in new roofs down the road, insurance for that, whatever. That wasn’t considered?”

Lopeman said capital spending is limited by the School Facilities Board.

“We don’t have top-of-the-line HVAC units. We have what could be purchased with that SFB money,” Lopeman said.

Current enrollment in the district is around 7,200. It is projected to grow to at least 11,000 in eight years. When asked why the district didn’t recognize the population issue sooner and begun saving for bigger facility, Lopeman said the process of the state Legislature is to fund a year at a time and it would take 40 years to build up that kind of fund.

She said the high school would be able to manage for three years but the problem would only increase with time. If the bond does not pass this year, she said, a high school would still be built. “The scale in the first year will be impacted by whether this passes.”

See the full town hall

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