Originally Published: June 8, 2017 5:59 a.m.
The Prescott Unified School District Governing Board spent more than an hour Tuesday night debating a potential sale offer on the district’s downtown office building located at 146 S. Granite St.
The quorum of just three of the five board members didn’t reach a decision, but did direct Superintendent Joe Howard to continue negotiations with hopes of reaching a deal that could lead to a vote and purchase. Board members Tina Seeley and John Mackin were absent.
As for particulars on the offer, Howard said he cannot yet say much but it is from a legitimate new buyer and he has high hopes that with the board’s guidance a contract will be able to be prepared in the near future. If a prospective deal is reached prior to the next school board meeting scheduled for June 27, Howard said he would consider a special meeting for that purpose.
Ironline Partners in Phoenix originally contracted with the district in the fall to purchase three of the district’s building. The developer paid $1 million for the former Dexter elementary that is now leased to Northpoint Expeditionary Learning Academy and still has an option through August to buy the now-vacant Miller Valley Elementary School. Issues with what they might do with the district offices prompted the developers to step away from the district office purchase in March.
The district’s real estate firm, Commercial Properties Northern Arizona, is continuing to pursue offers, and two weeks ago brought forward a new proposed deal for the district offices. Howard said he remains optimistic that the building will sell, but certainly the board wants to be certain they fulfill their due diligence to the community that voted to sell off these properties.
Part of the negotiations on the district office sale will be the timeframe to relocate central office administrators to new quarters on the second floor of the former Washington Traditional School, Howard said. The first floor of that historic building on East Gurley Street is used by the Discovery Gardens preschool, and soon will also be the location of the district’s Family Resource Center.
“We’re not willing to commit to that monetary expense (of renovations) until the sale of this office closes,” Howard said.
Dealing with the real estate world requires diligence and patience, and Howard said he is trying to retain both. He said the board is certainly interested in selling the building as approved by the voters, but wishes to do so in a way that makes sense and achieves “the most realistic price possible.”
“It’s a process,” Howard said.
In other business, the board reviewed a new, color-coded budget format that members agreed was a much more user-friendly document that will benefit them as they move forward with budget deliberations on June 27. A final vote for the 2017-18 budget is scheduled for July 11.
The modified 2016-17 budget was $22.93 million. Chief Financial Officer Brian Moore said he expects the new budget to remain relatively flat beyond any increases approved by state lawmakers.
The PUSD budget process has been under way since January, and in April the board agreed to a reduction of five staff positions, ones acquired through attrition, so as to meet the board and administration’s highest priority: recruiting and retaining the best qualified classroom teachers.
The district intends to offer a 2 percent across-the-board staff increase for the coming year. That would be in addition to a just over 1 percent increase approved through the state Legislature for continuing staff, not any new staff.
The state is also offering a 1.31 percent per pupil increase, and for the district that expects to continue with an enrollment of about 4,000 students that will raise the base expenditure of $3,729.31 by $48.22, Moore explained.
As with any year, Howard and Moore said the district’s maintenance and operations budget is a fluid document rooted in priorities, primarily the district’s educators and support staff who constitute the bulk of the dollars and remain the heart of Prescott’s academic successes.
One issue Howard said he wishes to clarify is whether or not increased funds for salaries are actually getting to the teachers and staff for whom the state lawmakers wanted those dollars to go.
In Prescott, Howard assured salary increases above and beyond what the state has approved have been a priority, and will continue to be. Voters in 2015 approved an override that was used to finance 5 percent across-the-board salary increases last year.
The district’s commitment to its staff is unequivocal because “they are incredible and the most important thing we can do for our students is to retain those folks,” Howard said.
“Raises are a choice, a bold move that shows the value of our community and our board,” Howard said. “We want to get great teachers; we mean business.”