July 10, 2008

Vail, Sahuarita Get No State Aid for New Schools

By Jamar Younger, The Arizona Daily Star, Tucson

Jul. 10--If the Sahuarita and Vail school districts want to build new schools this year, they will have to do it without help from the state.

The Legislature approved a budget about two weeks ago that does not allocate money for new school construction or land acquisitions for the new fiscal year, which began July 1.

As a result, Vail and Sahuarita will get no money from the state School Facilities Board to build a new middle and high school, respectively.

Vail will still build its new middle school, relying on bond money originally designated to help pay for elementary, middle and high school facilities.

Sahuarita, though, has no bond money allocated to cover the costs of building an entire high school, and its current high school is overcrowded.

The facilities board did receive $593 million from the state, but $344 million of that money will be used to recoup construction costs taken out of the state's general fund from the previous fiscal year, said Kerry Campbell, a spokeswoman for the facilities board.

The board also will use $8 million of the money to pay for more classroom space for full-day kindergarten classes, Campbell said.

The board did not receive any money for building renewal, however, which pays for repairs and renovations to existing buildings, she said.

"We're all feeling the crunch of the economy and the budget. No one is immune," she said. "We'll have to work together to get through this rough time."

Sahuarita will have to wait at least another year to build its second high school.

The district wanted to open the school in August 2009 but has not been able to settle on a site for the school.

"It will at least be two and a half years, and most likely three," said Superintendent Jay St. John, referring to how long it could take to build the high school.

District officials expect to have about 1,500 students when the school year begins next month.

The high school's capacity is 1,250.

Sahuarita officials are now considering options to deal with the overcrowded high school.

One would include moving to a year-round, multitrack schedule in which high school students would attend school during different months.

The school also could go to double sessions, which would allow half of its students to attend in the morning and half in the afternoon.

"We will have internal discussions about the advantages and disadvantages of year-round and double sessions," St. John said.

If one of those measures were approved, the district would not implement it until August 2009.

Vail will move forward with the construction of its middle school because the district cannot afford to wait, said Superintendent Calvin Baker.

The district governing board approved the use of bond money at its regular governing board meeting on Tuesday, he said.

The district will either seek reimbursement from the facilities board when the board receives money for construction or get money from the board to build another school in the future, he said.

"It's the main option we're looking at. We have to make sure everything is legal and works out financially," he said. "We have to have that middle school next year."

--Contact reporter Jamar Younger at 434-4076 or [email protected]


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