Public school administrators say they need hundreds of millions of dollars in additional funding to take care of critical maintenance and repair problems at their schools. The revelation comes from a questionnaire CBS 5 Investigates sent to 40 Arizona school districts, asking about capital funding needs.
“The oldest bus that we have in operation was built in the 1980s,” said Victoria Farrar, who is the executive director of business services at the Wickenburg Unified School District.
Last year, Wickenburg was forced to borrow nine buses from a neighboring district, but the real concerns for Farrar come from old, leaky roofs. One of them covers the Hassayampa Elementary School gym, which was built in the 1930s. Farrar estimates it would cost $4 million to get the schools and buses up to what she would consider a “good” condition. But the district does not have the money.
“It is unfair,” said Farrar.
Wickenburg is one of 12 districts that responded to the CBS 5 Investigates questionnaire. In total, those 12 districts require $280 million for critical infrastructure needs, according to their administrators.
The responses include: Paradise Valley Roofs Fire alarms $50 million to upgrade facilities Casa Grande Elementary New curriculum Seven school buses Computers HVAC systems $20 million Yuma Elementary Roofs HVAC systems Student restroom repairs $50 million Scottsdale Unified Roofs Power plants Electrical systems Fire alarms $20+ million Laveen Elementary One roof One fire alarm One HVAC unit $470,000 Marana Unified New textbooks $4.9 million Washington Elementary Electrical mains HVAC systems Technology infrastructure $30 million Buckeye Elementary Two new schools HVAC systems Flooring Roofing IT infrastructure $39 million Pendergast Elementary HVAC systems Roofs Painting $12 million Crane Elementary Roofing Restrooms Parking lots Security systems $50 million Somerton Roofing HVAC Repairs to 11 classrooms that flooded $1.2 million According to a settlement between the state Legislature and several Arizona school districts back in 1998, the state was obligated to spend as much as $400 million each year to ensure every district met a minimum standard of building.
“It was clear the Legislature was never fully committed to this program,” said Tim Hogan from the Arizona Center for Law in the Public Interest. He filed the case that led to the settlement more than 20 years ago. During the litigation, the Arizona Supreme Court ruled that the former system, which relied heavily on property taxes and bond elections to build and maintain schools, was unconstitutional because it favored schools from wealthy areas.
The Legislature has cut the funding for building and maintenance to just $20 million per year, citing tight budgets. Hogan says that violates the settlement.
“When there are obligations in our state Constitution when it comes to education, it’s not a good answer to say we don’t have the money,” Hogan said.
Gov. Doug Ducey told CBS 5 News that his plan to use state trust land to fund education may free up money for maintenance and repairs. The governor says his plan would add $2 billion over the next decade, but critics say the schools’ immediate maintenance and repair needs easily top $1 billion, and could reach $2 billion.
Hogan tells CBS 5 Investigates that he is preparing to file a new lawsuit against the state legislature.
Meantime, school administrators say they are forced to divert precious dollars away from the classrooms in order pay for the worst of the problems.
"So you have a choice. Are you going to employ people? Are you going to employ teachers, or fix the leaking roof?" Farrar said.
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