Education Funding

Upkeep in Arizona Taking Budget Hit

By Katie Ash — September 16, 2008 1 min read
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School districts in Arizona hoping to give their classrooms a fresh coat of paint, repave their school parking lots, or take steps to become more energy-efficient will have to wait one more year to make those changes.

In the face of a projected shortfall in this year’s $9.2 billion budget and a slack state economy, Arizona legislators voted last spring not to appropriate money for the building-renewal fund, which goes toward preventive maintenance and general upkeep of school facilities.

Under a 10-year-old formula, that fund would have been in line to receive $216 million in the current fiscal year, though for the past five years districts have received only about half the amount recommended under the formula.

To offset this year’s more drastic cutback—driven by a statewide deficit projected to be at least $1.7 billion earlier this year—legislators set up a $20 million building-renewal grant fund for repairs to schools that have fallen below the minimum facility standards.

That fund is essentially “for when things break,” said John S. Arnold, the executive director of the Arizona School Facilities Board. “It’s really just a much less efficient way to maintain your buildings.”

At Porfirio H. Gonzales Elementary School in the 3,000-student Tolleson Elementary School District, officials will have to delay replacing a failing sewer system they were planning to fix with $153,000 from the building-renewal fund this school year.

“If [the sewer system fails] during the school year, we’ll have to remove those kids out of that classroom and shut [it] down” until emergency repairs can be made, Mr. Arnold said.

In the decade that the current formula has been in place, it has been fully funded only once.

“The one thing that really kills us is the inconsistency in funding,” said Marcus E. Jones, the director of engineering for the 57,600-student Tucson Unified School District. “We need funding to support the day-in and day-out upgrading and revitalizing of our existing schools.”

A version of this article appeared in the September 17, 2008 edition of Education Week

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