School district seeks millions to manage growth |

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Queen Creek can’t build schools fast enough.

In a scramble to keep up with the breakneck pace of growth, QCUSD is seeking state funding to help build 2 new K-6 schools, ready for students in 2027 and 2028.

Student enrollment has soared 148% over the past decade.

The district has added a new school in each of the past five years. There are two more on the horizon, and no slowdown is in sight. The student population is expected to increase by another third over the next 5 years.

Nine of the district’s 14 schools will be close to or overcapacity by the 2023-24 school year.

Queen Creek needs classrooms for the children who are already there and those who will be arriving, and they are arriving almost overnight.

“The next time you walk past a cleared lot and see this sign for an incoming subdivision, you might think ‘there are a hundred families,'” district spokeswoman Jessica Bautista said. “There are children like a primary school.”

QCUSD is asking the School Facilities Supervisory Board for nearly $40 million, which it would combine with local money. That would be combined with a $198 million bond measure if voters approve it in November.

“This is one of the fastest growing school districts in Arizona. There are several projects that we need in the district to not only keep up with growth, but also to keep our spaces friendly. existing ones,” said QCUSD Operations and Construction Manager Jim Lamb.

In addition to helping pay for these new elementary schools, the bond money would be used to pay for improvements to existing schools, the completion of Eastmark High, major renovations for Queen Creek High, safety upgrades, new buses and renovations to Beaux-Arts buildings and sports facilities across the district.

The third leg of the fundraising stool — if SFOB allocation and voter-approved bond money don’t cover everything — would be local money.

Strictly formulated and based on projections, the funding puzzle is complex enough that the state is hiring social scientists to help put the pieces together.

“For this project, the primary role is to study changing trends in the number of children in relatively small geographic areas (school districts) to determine if and how many square feet of new learning space are needed for a district. given public school,” said David Swindell, an ASU demographer who works with the state board.

Using the past as a basis for planning future development, Swindell examines things like birth rates, year-to-year student retention, population growth, and whether a new town is opening or closing. charter school as factors in determining how to allocate funding requests.

“Projecting the number of children who will need learning space in several years to come is a challenge,” Swindell said.

These projections are made especially difficult by the proliferation of charter schools, which can siphon off students from traditional public schools — and which should see enrollment rise if the state’s school voucher program holds up to a possible referendum in 2024.

Supporters of blocking the program until then have until September 23 to submit enough petitions to win it in the November 2024 ballot.

With more than a dozen charter schools already in operation in Queen Creek, no one can say for sure how many students moving to the district will choose charter schools over traditional K-12 classrooms. year.

Republican Gov. Doug Ducey recently signed Empowerment Scholarship Account, or ESA, into law providing access to a $7,000 voucher to be used for private school tuition, if families choose.

This makes the funding puzzle pieces slightly coarser around the edges.

“We need to predict with some confidence and accuracy what those space needs will be in order to provide the best possible learning environment for thousands of Arizona children,” Swindell said.

“At the same time, we have an obligation to make sure we don’t provide too much space and waste taxpayers’ money on these capital expenditures.”

Perhaps no one feels the pressure of managing new resources like Lamb.

It ultimately falls to him to manage the growth, the shortage of classroom space, and the relentless demand on buildings.

“Everyone always needs something,” he said.

Lamb has his finger on the planning details of the district.

“There are a lot of homes coming in. We’re trying to prepare for that growth so it can be ready when it comes,” he said.

QCUSD is growing so rapidly that schools are considering adding portable classrooms at a cost of $5.5 million to both reduce overcrowding and keep student-teacher ratios lower, though Lamb says that’s not is not the best case scenario.

Portables are not built to the same standards as permanent buildings and, as such, are not as efficient, according to Lamb.

Thus, it costs more to cool and maintain a portable space than for the same amount of permanent space, for example.

“That money to run the air conditioning comes out of the same pot of money it takes for salaries and benefits,” Lamb said. “So we’d like to keep that in-house so we can use it for other things that are important…teacher salaries, staff salaries, program needs, that sort of thing.”

Staying ahead of the growth curve will be QCUSD’s challenge given rising enrollment, projected growth, and uncertainty surrounding charter and private schools.

With boundaries stretching from Warner Road south to Hunt Highway and from Gary Road west to Sossamon Road, the district is one of the fastest growing in the state.

Schools appear to continue to be at the forefront of Queen Creek for the foreseeable future.

The State School Facilities Board takes all of those census numbers into account when budgeting for schools and is able to predict with some level of accuracy, according to Swindell, when growth will peak and slow.

“If we do the projections right and take into account growth and housing development patterns correctly, we should see demand for new space stabilizing ahead of time,” he said.

“Districts will see this too and likely reduce their demands for new construction. One of the other tasks we perform these screenings for is to assist SFOB with recommendations regarding district requests for acreage reduction,” Swindell said.

For now at least, slowing down and reducing square footage isn’t even on Queen Creek’s radar for any of its infrastructure needs.

QCUSD is encouraging a “yes” vote on the bond project and has added a voter registration link to its website for new residents.

With all the best-laid plans, the fate of the schools in Queen Creek is in the hands of the residents, it all depends on the results of the November 8 election. If the bond is accepted, the decision and allocation plans will be transferred to the School Facilities Board.

“We will also analyze to determine if additional projects are needed,” said SFOB spokesperson Megan Rose. “We will complete our annual capital plan cycle by December 15.”

Until then, Queen Creek’s rampant growth appears to be continuing apace with new students arriving every day.

“It’s a challenge, but it’s the best challenge a school district can have,” Bautista said.

“We have some of the best people in the business planning.”

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