Gilbert, Higley Chandler get voter approval for bond, override measures

Voters in Gilbert approved all bond and override measures sought by the three school districts that cover the town, according to unofficial results posted today by the County Recorder’s office.

Only about a quarter of the ballots mailed out were returned in the bond and/or budget override measures for Gilbert Public Schools, Higley Unified and Chandler Unified school districts.

Gilbert Public Schools’ request for a $100 million bond issue won overwhelmingly by a 62 to 32 percent margin while its request to continue a budget override passed by a far narrower margin of 55 to 45 percent.

Higley voters meanwhile gave a whopping 63 to 37 percent approval to that district’s override request and a 65 to 35 percent approval for permission to reallocate capital dollars from an earlier approved bond issue.

"We are grateful for the community’s support of both these measures. We will now be able to address the many needs of the district with the existing bond dollars," said Higley Superintendent Dr. Mike Thomason. "I personally want to thank the community and district staff for your continued support.  We are grateful to have a Governing Board that is also very supportive."

And Chandler Unified won approval for its $290-million bond – the largest in that district’s history.

That vote okayed various construction, renovation and capital projects – including a new elementary school within Gilbert town limits since the district’s boundaries extend into western Gilbert and a new high school in the city’s eastern area that will partially serve Gilbert students.

Gilbert Public Schools’ bond issue will pay for capital projects such as new security camera systems districtwide, renovating and upgrading performing arts and athletic facilities at secondary schools and replacing buses.

GPS also got voter okay for a 15-percent maintenance-and-operations override.

 An override allows a district to increase spending for its day-to-day operations. Voters in 2015 passed a 10-percent override, which begins to expire in the 2021-22 school year.

The 15-percent override replaces a previous override and give an additional $10.6 million to the district – $2 million to reduce class size, $6.8 million to retain and attract teachers and $1.65 million to hire social workers and mental-health counselors.

Voters in 2015 approved a $98 million bond, of which $90 million has been spent as of September.

The 2015 bond monies went for projects such as remodeling student restroom, updating phone systems at campuses and the district office and new gym flooring. This past year alone, the district spent $11 million in upgrades and renovations at over 30 of its 40 campuses, according to officials.

Bond debt is generally paid off through an increase in the secondary property tax rate. But district officials say residents won’t see an increase in their property taxes because the 2015 bond debt will be paid off and the new bond debt will take its place.

Fourteen citizens – including former Town Councilman Ben Cooper, former school district governing board members and Gilbert Chamber President/CEO Kathy Tilque – wrote in favor of both measures in the informational pamphlets that went out to voters.

They argued the district needs the money to continue its outstanding educational system – a plus in building a strong community and attracting businesses.

Two arguments opposing the passage of the both the bond and override were submitted by former school board member Julie Smith and residents Christine and Aaron Accurso.

 Smith questioned the district’s need for more money when she claimed it is “wasting bond money on imprudent renovations and seemingly unnecessary busses.”

The Accursos asked why the district was asking for more money to improve buildings that are “half-empty” and pointed to district studies that showed a decline in student enrollment.

According to the district, the override would bring in about $31.8 million per year for five years and then decrease by a third in each of years six and seven unless renewed by taxpayers.

Property owners will see a secondary property tax increase. Currently, with the 10-percent override the average monthly tax is $8. It would be $12 with the new override.

Approval of the override averted a $21- million cut from the budget over three years.

Meanwhile, Higley won voter approval to continue a 15-percent override approved in 2015 and permission to repurpose unspent money from a $70.5 million bond passed in 2013.

The district, which oversees 13 campuses located in Gilbert and Queen Creek, used the 2015 override dollars to increase teacher compensations, hire more staff to reduce class sizes and buy educational resources for classrooms.

The override dollars will fund increased teacher compensation, maintain average class sizes and support gifted, special education and all-day kindergarten.

With the 2013 bond, Higley has $14.7 million remaining that it wants to redirect to ongoing student transportation and technology needs, according to officials.

At the time the bond went up for election, the district proposed spending for land purchase and a transportation-support facility, which are no longer needed.

Seven people, including Tilque and Gilbert Mayor Jenn Daniels, wrote in favor of the override. No arguments opposing the override were submitted.

In Mesa Public Schools, officials narrowly won voter approval – 54 to 46 percent– to increase the maintenance-and-operations override to 15 percent from 10 percent.

This was the second consecutive year that Mesa schools sought the override, which narrowly failed last year even though voters approved a $300 million bond issue for the district.