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Mon, Oct. 21

PUSD mulls asking for $10M bond

PRESCOTT – Prescott Unified School District (PUSD) officials are considering asking voters to approve a bond of about $10 million to finance renovations at all school sites and additions at some of them.

Superintendent Kevin J. Kapp said Thursday that a district committee is refining a list of capital needs at each location and identifying costs. Five new school buses are among items up for discussion.

Miller Valley Elementary School Interim Principal Jay Collier, who chairs the committee, and Kapp invite the public to attend its next meeting at 3:30 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 2, at 146 S. Granite St.

According to Kapp, the committee will conclude its work in the next couple of months and make a formal report to the Governing Board, which will then decide whether to seek a bond issue and the specific amount. If so, the proposal would appear on the 2004 general election ballot.

Some of the additions under consideration include a gym at Taylor Hicks Elementary, three classrooms at Abia Judd Elementary and a replacement for aging modular classrooms at Prescott High.

While the district got $9 million in state Students FIRST school deficiency revenue in the past couple of years, that source has dried up. Kapp maintained that it primarily replaced leaky roofs and installed air conditioning systems, leaving undone those repairs not qualifying for Students FIRST.

Increased enrollment also is propelling the bond discussion. As of Aug. 21, the district had 5,239 students – 176 (3.5 percent) more than one year ago. Most of that growth (89 students) is in elementary schools, especially kindergarten. The middle schools gained 24 students and Prescott High has 61 more students.

By school, this year's enrollments are: Abia Judd Elementary, 593; Lincoln, 325; Miller Valley, 409; Taylor Hicks, 482; Washington Traditional, 336; Granite Mountain Middle, 641; Prescott Mile High Middle, 620; Prescott High, 1,779; homebound, 5; and preschool, 49.

This is the second year of enrollment increases after several years of decreases. Officials are eager to maintain the small class sizes that, along with high student standardized test scores, are attracting families to the district.

Kapp noted a $35,000 marketing campaign, which the district pays for with non-maintenance and operation fund money, spread the word about the district's accomplishments and was a key factor in the turnaround.

Regarding the bond discussion, Kapp said the district's bonding capacity is $90 million. It has $5 million in principal and interest left to pay on earlier voter-approved bonds. The last was in 1991 and, at $11 million, was the largest that voters ever approved. It built the Ruth Street Theater and updated all school sites. A smaller bond about four years earlier built Abia Judd Elementary and added onto the high school. According to Kapp, the district has nearly paid them off.

"If we're going to ask the voters to do this, the timing as far as the tax rate impact is probably as good as it's going to be," Kapp said. "For the past three or four years, our impact has lowered the tax rate, because we've been declining in enrollment."

He said the tax rate stayed about the same this past year. By paying existing debt off two or three years from now, the tax rate theoretically could drop even more, Kapp maintained.

"It could be, if we pass a very reasonable amount of bond to fix these things up, we could pretty much keep the tax rate at about the same level," he said. "I think that's something the district would want to explore and be very accurate about."

According to Kapp, the average assessed value of a home in PUSD is $146,000, which he maintained bond company representatives said is high for a rural area.

"We're one of the four 'wealthiest' districts in the state, as far as assessed value," he said. "It's Scottsdale, Catalina Foothills, Dysart and Prescott Unified."

In other PUSD news, Assistant Superintendent Chris Reynolds announced that the district is about to issue this year's second employment contracts, with 3-percent salary increases, to all its estimated 600 employees.

"With everything happening at the state level and the Legislature working at glacial speed last spring, we didn't know what we'd get and decided to wait," Kapp said.

"After hiring 36 teachers this summer and the savings we were able to accrue, we're comfortable in saying that we'll be giving the raise," Reynolds said.

Staff will present final numbers at the Sept. 2 board meeting.

• Also, as part of PUSD's employee recognition program, Collier praised three Miller Valley Elementary employees. They are Sandy Spillman, who has taught in the district for about 10 years, and the office team of Nanci Riggle and Carolyn O'Reilly, who have a total of 48 years' service between them.

Collier said Spillman "zeroes in on the individual needs of every single kid" and that Riggle and O'Reilly provide excellent service to students, staff and parents. "They have all the answers where we, the principals, don't even have all the questions," he said.

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