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$16 mil tech school could be on CdS air-quality ballot

By: Mark Moorehead

April 5, 2008   

Funding for a $16 million engineering technical school could end up on the November ballot as part of a $42 million bond issue being considered to resolve air-quality problems at Corona del Sol High School.

Discussion regarding such a specialty campus came up at a March 27 meeting of the Citizens High School Financial Advisory Committee, which was formed to advise the Tempe Union High School Districtís governing board on approaches to win voter approval of a proposed bond measure.

In its final report, the committee will recommend the amount of the bonds and identify projects that would justify any attendant tax increase.

Pressure from staff and parents within the Corona boundary, who have attributed health problems to the faulty system, has been so great that the stateís High School Facilities Board agreed last week to reconsider its previous refusal to fund the project.

Among officials attending the March 27 meeting were Steve Adolph, district superintendent; Diane Meulemanís, TUHSD chief financial officer; Robin Arredondo-Savage, TUHSD board member; Susan Edwards, principal at Corona; Dr. Anna Battle, principal at Desert Vista High School; and Kim Hilgers, principal at McClintock.

Janis Merrill, in-house legal counsel for the district, outlined legal limitations that would be faced by committee members, public officials and PTO members in promoting the November bond issue under the stateís Open Meeting Law.

Merrill cautioned that any violations of the applicable statute could jeopardize the outcome of the bond vote.

The group also heard results of a recent survey of voters within the district by Paul Ulan of Primary Consultants. Of 28,000 parents of children registered to vote, only 8 percent turned out in the last election, the results showed.

Ulan also noted that 43,000 early ballots will be mailed, with an expected return of 80-85 percent.

Clearly, parents with children have not been among the majority of early-ballot voters, a population which often decides whether a bond proposal succeeds or fails.

Meulemans, the districtís financial expert, answered two of the groupís biggest questions:

How much will the bond cost and what will it pay for?

The $42 million estimate so far remains unchanged, according to Meulemans. As to how the proceeds would be spent, the answer is more controversial based on reactions from audience members at the meeting.

Of the total, part would also be set aside for a new roof at Desert Vista High School; $16 million would be earmarked for the proposed engineering school.

Harry Short, a Corona parent and member of the Kyrene Corridor Rotary Club, questioned why such an important bond would include so large an amount for an engineering school.

Superintendent Adolph responded that the districtís preliminary research indicates a need for such a school in the Valley, and that it would attract 500 local and out-of-district students, providing additional income the district desperately needs.

Adolph cited demographics projecting declining enrollment in the Tempe district in the near future, along with a corresponding decline in revenue from the state to pay teacher salaries, hire staff and support school programs.

Meulemans was quick to point out that any decision regarding which projects will be included in the bonds will not be finalized until the next meeting of the committee.

No one in the audience questioned the seriousness of the budget crunch or the districtís need for additional funding, illustrated in part by a recent decision to cut $1.3 million in benefits for retiring teachers.

Virtually all agreed that the district needs approval of the November bonds merely to keep up with basic maintenance of existing facilities; otherwise, they said, the cost to taxpayers would only increase as building costs go up, foul air continues to circulate at Corona and the roof  keeps on leaking at Desert Vista.

Committee members are scheduled to present their recommendations to the governing board within the next few weeks.


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