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Sun, Feb. 23

PUSD using bond money for work at Prescott High School

Prescott Unified School District Facilities Director Jay Collier said the community has noticed the work happening at Prescott High School.

"While these enhancements have added value and life to our facilities, there have been some perceptions that need clarification," Collier noted.

The director said contractors and members of his family indicated to him some members of the public may be confused as to how the district is paying for the improvements. Although district officials have not received any direct inquiries, Collier thought it would be best to clarify where the money is coming from for the projects.

According to Collier, some community members think the district is using the recently approved 1-cent state sales tax to pay for building and ground improvements at PHS.

"That is not the case," Collier reported. "This tax went to offset what would have otherwise been a devastating 'cut' to local schools."

PUSD Chief Financial Officer Renee Raskin indicated that the 1-cent state sales tax did not create an additional revenue source for school districts.

"Districts are not receiving additional money to spend," Raskin said. "Because of the shortfall in the state budget, the 1-cent state sales tax allows the state to pay school districts. The 1-cent money comes to districts as part of state equalization that is paid monthly."

Raskin said the district uses state equalization money to pay for maintenance and operations, soft capital and unrestricted capital.

Without the 1-cent state sales tax, Raskin noted that PUSD would have had to cut its M&O budget by an additional $1.9 million, on top of the $1.8 million it cut from its 2010-11 M&O budget.

"The state would have required additional cuts," she noted.

If the money for school improvements does not come from the 1-cent state sales tax, where does it come from?

In 2004, voters in the Prescott school district approved an $18.7 million bond election. Immediately after the election, the district began work on improvements to school infrastructures.

"These projects included additional classrooms, restroom renovations, painting, paving and lighting improvements," Collier reported. "Upgrades were made to electrical, gas and plumbing at specific locations. Fire sprinkler systems were upgraded in certain locations where needed. The transportation department replaced part of its fleet ... 15 new passenger buses, four new special- needs buses, six new lower-occupancy buses and one bus with a special-needs lift."

While crews worked on projects at the elementary and middle schools, the PUSD Governing Board decided to place a hold on $5.7 million designated by the Bond Committee for improvements at PHS.

The reason for the hold was the possibility that the district would build a new high school.

The school board conducted several public forums to hear what parents and community members thought about a new high school.

Collier indicated that the issue was no longer viable when the economy took a downturn and officials realized voters would not approve a bond for a new high school.

With a new high school off the table, the board decided to release the $5.7 million in bond money to make improvements to PHS.

During the 2009-10 school year, the district used the bond money to expand the PHS cafeteria and bookstore, renovate four science classrooms, restore the cement stadium bleachers, improve computer infrastructure, replace doors, lockers and flooring and paint the entire school.

This past year, work at PHS included renovating the JROTC room, HVAC improvements, renovating 10 student restrooms, replacing the roof and indoor ceiling at the main gym, renovating the weight and wrestling rooms, and redesigning the main office.

This year, district officials used bond money to renovate the outdoor track.

"Currently, the Fine Arts building is undergoing a band room expansion. Stadium restrooms are being added. Security lighting and cameras will be added. Fencing and gates are on the schedule to be completed around the end of first semester," Collier reported.

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