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IMMERSED IN LEARNING

Mia Ramirez sits in her fifth-grade class at Puente Wednesday morning. Her Spanish immersion class is one of several beneficiaries of desegregation funds, which FUSD collects through a special tax levy.

Voters will be asked to consider two local, school-related measures on the ballot in November, a school bond and the renewal of a budget override.

Together, the measures could provide the Flagstaff Unified School District continued and additional funding for the next five to six years, said FUSD superintendent Mike Penca.

The $75 million bond amounts to an increase in the annual tax levy of $16 per $100,000 of assessed value on a home, and allows the school district to fund repairs that were once covered by state funding.

The override, on the other hand, would not raise the current tax rate of $71.39 per $100,000 of assessed value on a home and would allow FUSD to continue operating with an additional 15 percent on the annual maintenance and operations budget.

This override has been passed by voters multiple times and Penca said the additional money ensures the district is able to provide the services and educational opportunities the community expects. This includes full-day kindergarten, art, music and physical education classes in elementary school, and class sizes that are smaller than the state average.

The state drastically reduced capital needs support for the school district after the 2008 financial crisis and funding from the state has never recovered. In 2007, the state gave FUSD almost $7 million for capital needs funding; in 2018, this funding was only $600,000.

Before 2008, the funding provided by the state was enough to keep buildings maintained and suitable for students and FUSD would only ask for a bond when they needed to construct a new school but recently, they have found themselves needing bond money simply to keep schools in an operational condition.

“Just to run the technology software, for kids, for staff, for payroll or whatever, that’s all over a million dollars,” Penca said.

Because of this, much of the bond passed by voters in 2012 went to funding the repair of parking lots, school roofs, safety improvements and technology rather than, for example, replacing an aging elementary school.

Penca said they have been told by the state that the district is likely to see more money next year, and that the district is appreciative of every state dollar they receive, but it will still be nowhere near the levels they received prior to the financial crisis.

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The state does have a five-year plan to start phasing capital funding back in.

The bond being asked for by FUSD this year contains much of the same, but, unlike the 2012 bond, it also includes two major capital works projects. These include a renovation of Mount Elden Middle School and the construction of a new school to replace either Killip Elementary or Lura Kinsey Elementary.

Both schools are two of the district's oldest buildings, but Penca said the issue of aging schools is something they will have to start paying more attention to in the future. Even the newest schools in the district were built in the 1980s, Penca said.

These aging facilities don’t just need to be maintained, but also updated. New regulations in place to support people with disabilities and the increased presence of technology in classrooms mean that often, it is more cost effective to simply build a new school rather than bringing older buildings into the 21st century.

According to a facilities report conducted by FUSD, the district has about $94 million in work to do on replacing, repairing, and updating old and outdated facilities in the next 10 years.

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