Beset by decreased state dollars to maintain facilities, buy buses and replace computers, the Marana Unified School District is turning to its voters for help.
On Nov. 2, MUSD voters are being asked to approve issuance and sale of $43 million in general obligation bonds to renovate and improve school and athletic facilities, to buy school buses and vans, to upgrade school security and technology equipment, and to buy land for a future high school.
"While the requested bond will not meet all the district's capital needs, it will provide the means to respond to the most critical of these needs to provide a safe, efficient and educationally rewarding environment for students and staff," the district says in a "frequently asked questions" document.
"This doesn't fix everything," said Tamara Crawley, MUSD spokeswoman. "It will meet those most critical needs."
The district's last bond issue was in 1999, according to chief financial officer Dan Contorno.
"At that time, it was a different economic world," with MUSD needing money to accommodate student growth, he said. It built two new schools, made major renovations to high schools and middle schools, purchased modular buildings, buses and technology.
"It was really to help meet the growth," Contorno said.
This time, MUSD is trying to take care of what it has.
The district has deteriorating carpet, athletic surfaces that are worn, cafeterias that cannot accommodate school populations, and cracking asphalt in parking lots.
Then there is the bus fleet. Of MUSD's 133 total buses, 91 are between 12 and 16 years of age, requiring greater repair and maintenance costs. A number of buses do not have air conditioning. MUSD would like to cycle new buses into its fleet. "We don't have the dollars," Contorno said. The average cost of a bus is near $130,000.
MUSD's facility, transportation and safety needs are "critical," the district writes in a bond election statement.
"The district recognizes that the community makes a significant investment to ensure that our students have the best to meet their educational goals," the district writes. "In turn, the district takes its responsibility very seriously of ensuring our facilities, buses and equipment are maintained and function at optimal levels to provide a safe and healthy learning environment for students and staff, and to protect the public's investment."
Previously, school districts have received funds from the state of Arizona for "building renewal," specifically maintenance of buildings and facilities. Those dollars have been frozen for the past three years, equating to a $3.5 million budget reduction for MUSD, according to district literature.
State government has also reduced three-fourths of its funding for "soft capital," such as instructional aids and textbooks, computers, equipment and other capital items. For MUSD, that represents a loss of $4.6 million over the last two years.
In total, then, MUSD has experienced a reduction of more than $8.1 million in those capital funds. "That's specifically for these types of capital projects, which is exactly what the bond is asking for," Contorno said.
Contorno developed the total bond package three years ago. The district was ready to approach the voter two years ago.
"We realized the economy was where it was, and decided to wait as long as we could, and pared it down," he said. "The needs justify a $100 million bond. We pared it down to really only the most critical items."
The bonds could be issued and sold, and revenues utilized, over seven years. However, if the bonds pass, the district anticipates using the funds within five years. "It will take a few years to have architects and designers look at it," Contorno said. "We plan to implement all of these within five years."
The bond proceeds would not go toward any purpose other than what's specified in the voter pamphlet. None of the money would be used to pay staff or provide personnel benefits, Contorno said.
Public turnout was "very low" at two forums put on by the district about the bond issue, Crawley said. "We're hopeful other community outreaches are providing the information our parents or community are seeking."
Contorno cites a fundamental reason to maintain school facilities, equipment and technology.
"The education process is influenced negatively by a poor environment, and that's why we're really here," Contorno said.
Marana Unified School District has just under 13,000 students in 17 schools covering a district of 550 square miles.
For more info
Information on the Marana Unified School District bond issue is available in a voter information pamphlet published by the district in cooperation with the Pima County School Superintendent's Office. Copies can be found at the district office. Anyone with questions about the bond issue may contact Dan Contorno, chief financial officer, at 682-4756, or by e-mail at D.J.Contorno@maranausd.org.
If bonds pass, net tax effect should be 'zero,' MUSD says
If approved by voters Nov. 2, a $43 million bond issue in the Marana Unified School District should not raise property taxes for at least the first two years, according to literature from the district.
MUSD would use accumulated debt service funds, which are now more than $6 million and can only be used to service debt, in meeting its early bond payment obligations, according to chief financial officer Dan Contorno.
Meanwhile, the district is paying off its most recent bond issue, approved by voters in 1999. The district's tax rate for those bonds is declining annually as that debt is retired. MUSD expects to require $94 per $100,000 of secondary assessed valuation to pay on the 1999 bonds this year, decreasing to $25 per $100,000 when those bonds are paid off in 2016-'17. Meanwhile, obligations to pay on the new bonds would take effect.
"Our debt payments have decreased on those, allowing us to implement these bonds," Contorno said. "The net effect would be zero."
MUSD's projections do presume some growth in assessed valuation, at 3.3 percent per year through 2016, and 2.8 percent per year in subsequent years.
If debt service funds are not available, the projected average annual tax rate for the new bonds would be $39.44 annually per $100,000 of secondary assessed valuation.
Breakdown of MUSD bond plan in Prop 403
Athletic and school facilities, $16.1 million
Resurfacing of tennis courts and tracks, maintenance of roofs, carpets and parking lots, and renovation of school cafeterias and kitchens. The Tortolita Middle School cafeteria needs specific renovation. MUSD provides meals to nearly 12,000 students a day.
"It is imperative that all facilities continue to be maintained in order to prevent substantially greater repair costs in the future," the district writes in its bond election statement.
Student transportation, $12.3 million
Purchase of air-conditioned buses and vans to replace vehicles within MUSD's "aging" fleet. MUSD transports approximately 7,500 students more than 11,000 miles a day, equating to nearly 2 million miles a year. It has more than 120 buses, the majority of them 12 to 16 years old.
School security and technology systems, $11.1 million
School security systems to include video cameras, as well as district-wide purchase of computers, related network equipment and a data warehouse system. Of the sum, $8.1 million would go toward safety and technology items, beginning at the secondary schools and moving into the lower grades. A total of $3 million would pay for district-wide technology equipment and systems. Those dollars would allow MUSD to "continue the rollout plan" to replace computers throughout the district, Chief Financial Officer Dan Contorno said.
"The use of computers and their reliance on a reliable internet connection has changed the landscape by which students learn," the district writes. "For students to successfully and fully utilize these important tools, additional updates to the network infrastructure (are) necessary."
Land, $3.5 million
Land for a future high school to meet the district's needs. MUSD does not have land in its inventory for the next high school. "The purchase of a suitable site at the current market rate is fiscally responsible and provides the opportunity to plan for future growth within the community," the district writes.
"The key word is 'future,'" said Tamara Crawley, MUSD spokeswoman. "We are not building a high school. We have land for future elementaries and a middle school. We don't have the land for a future high school."
"Fifty-five to 60 acres is ideal," Contorno said.