MUSD Board Members Patti Coutre and Ben Owens disagreed with Board President AnnaMarie Knorr and Torri Anderson about the size of a proposed bond.

 

With governing board members divided on the issue, Maricopa Unified School District is taking a tortuous route toward a bond election this fall.

Estimated costs of a second high school combined with capital costs for aging buildings total $140 million.

As the high school is over-capacity by more than 200 students, all board members agree a bond is needed. However, the four attending Wednesday’s meeting split down the middle on the amount for which they should ask voters. Joshua Judd was out of state, but Board President AnnaMarie Knorr attended via phone.

Over the past months, the district has looked at capital-improvement bonds of $50 million, $65 million and $75 million.

“I would rather be conservative and go for the sure thing,” Board Member Torri Anderson said.

She initially supported the $50 million proposal but moved to the $65 million bond. She said she had talked to community members who told her they would not vote for anything that added more than $100 per year to their tax bill.

“I want to be respectful of those community members that are here now,” she said.

But Board Member Patti Coutré said asking for $75 million was not being disrespectful. She said asking for the top amount was respecting future generations of students.

Coutré and Board Vice President Ben Owens pushed for $75 million while Anderson and Knorr voted for $65 million.

Knorr said it was important for the board to be in unanimous agreement on an amount. The board requested a special meeting be arranged July 3 for another vote on the issue after they are all able to gather more community information. The deadline is July 8.

If the board seeks a bond election, it will be held Nov. 5 this year.

A second high school is only part of the capital-improvements challenge.

Estimated costs of a second high school combined with capital costs for aging buildings such as new roofs and HVAC total $140 million. The district will receive about $26 million from the state’s School Facilities Board.

The district conservatively is expected to grow 5 percent over the next few years, a number that is forecast to be closer to 8 percent to spread the tax burden to more properties.

Previous meetings, including a stakeholders’ forum Thursday, showed various scenarios of funding the first phase of a new school plus top-priority capital improvements.


Scenario 1
High school Phase 1          $57,500,000
Top priorities                     $40,700,000
Minus SFB funds               $72,000,000 total

Scenario 2
High school Phase 1          $57,500,000
Top priorities                     $32,200,000 (deleting solar with battery storage)
Minus SFB funds               $63,500,000 total

Scenario 3
High school Phase 1          $57,500,000
Top priorities                     $24,700,000 (deleting energy- and water-saving initiatives)
Minus SFB funds               $56,000,000 total


“It’s a good idea to have energy projects at the front of the line, but you have such a capacity issue right now at the high school, that it’s probably going to push those kinds of things aside,” said Mark Rafferty, a partner at Facility Management Group, who made a presentation Thursday on the district’s lifecycle forecast.

He said all MUSD school are 12 to 16 years old, a time when most building systems “begin to go out of service.” That includes heating/cooling, roofing and interior finishes.

“At 12 years, they begin to go out of service. They begin to be a maintenance issue,” he said. “By 16 years, they are all out of service. All of your schools except the high school are between 12 and 16 years old.”

At last week’s forum, financial advisor Mike LaVallee, a managing director of Stifel, Nicolaus & Company, reiterated the discrepancy between what is legislatively mandated to go in the voter pamphlet and what is the economic reality. Numbers presented to voters, he said, must include the 10-year average growth, a time period that included the great recession.

For MUSD, that would be a growth rate of 0.82 percent. Some districts, he said, had negative growth for the decade. During the past three years, however, the growth rate at MUSD has been at a 5-percent clip.

Tax value is usually 82-85 percent of the market value of a home. The average assessed value of homes in the borders of MUSD is $117,000.

But Anderson said there are several homes in Maricopa with assessed values of $240,000, “and those are our voters.”

LaVallee said there is a $12 difference for every addition $100,000 of assessed value.

Owens said the math indicates a $65 million bond would be $7 per month for the owner of a home assessed at $100,000. On a bond of $75 million, that moves to $7.5 or $8 per month.

“That’ not how people think,” Anderson said. “They think about the tax bill at the end of the year that says $240 or $260.”

Knorr said asking for a $65 million bond would pick up those voters who are on the fence about the full $75 million.

At the same time, she said, a “starter” high school is not workable because it would inherently involve inequality of opportunity between the two high schools. A starter school, for instance, would not have sports or arts programs.

Owens said $75 million would give the district “the capability to do what is right and what we need to do.”

Superintendent Tracey Lopeman said if the district successfully has a bond approved that provides less money than the necessary capital improvements demand, MUSD may have to seek a capital-improvement budget override.

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