School Facilities are in Crisis and They Need Help Now.

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Red Rock Elementary in the Santa Cruz River Valley (in-between Phoenix and Tucson) is one of many examples of a school facility in urgent need of renovation and upgrades.

Poor engineering and water drainage pipe construction have led to many building defects. These include:

  • Cracks in the interior and exterior walling, especially in the expansion joints.

  • School Entrance Doors out of alignment and jammed.

  • Damaged Floors

The school staff has had to close off its gym for a year because of water flowing under the doors. Using sandbags to stop the flow of water was considered a fire code violation.

In some rooms, the moisture has elevated the wall off the floor to the point where a person could stick his or her hand under the wall into the other room.

Sadly, Red Rock is not an isolated incident of a school facility needing repair in Arizona.

More devastating is that there are school buildings across the state that have more urgent needs like replacing air conditioning systems or modern safety structures.

A recent report released by the Arizona Center for Economic Progress has shown that the state, despite the State Supreme Court ruling in 1998 that required legislators to appropriate state revenues towards equalizing the quality construction of school facilities across Arizona through the Students FIRST legislation, has largely let schools in low income and rural areas fester.

Largely ignoring the formula that provided guidance on how to fund school construction projects and improvements, the state failed to appropriate approximately three billion dollars in school infrastructure needs.

During the height of the recession from 2009 to 2011, the formula that guided school construction projects recommended approximately 700 million dollars for facility needs. Instead of following the formula, the state allocated 13 million dollars.

Even in this period of economic stability and expansion, the state legislature and Governor, while embracing more and more tax cuts, funded only about $270 million in school construction and renovation projects when the formula calculated that well over a billion dollars were needed.

The State has also not updated the guidelines, originally set in the 1990s, for what a proper modern school facility should have with regards to structure, modern safety features, and technologies, and code adherence.

They have also not inspected school facilities with one AZ Central Report revealing that “Arizona has only inspected one school for building deficiencies in three years.”

Commenting on the report, the head of the Arizona Center for Economic Progress, David Lujan, stated that:

“Whether our neighborhood public schools have the ability to keep children safe in buildings that are conducive to learning should not depend on the zip code where they are located.  It is the state’s responsibility to fund school facilities equitably and for more than two decades state lawmakers have failed in that responsibility.”

Other candidates for public office also offered their views on the neglected state of school facilities.

Legislative District 11 Senate Candidate JoAnna Mendoza (who lives in the Red Rock Elementary District and provided the pictures in this piece) wrote that:

“We must ensure that our schools are safe, which means that we have to address the backlog at the Arizona School Facilities Board (AZSFB). There are schools in the district that have been waiting years for the AZSFB to address the infrastructure issues that make school unsafe for our kids to attend…… for Red Rock Elementary School District this has been going on for about eight years. The Governor needs to fix existing schools before building new ones. We would not be able to protect roughly 400 children if an active shooter came to the school because the doors do not close properly. I think some legislators overlook funding our schools because they don’t have school-age children. They are so far removed from reality and the struggle that ”we” experience day in and day out. Additionally, some legislators could care less about what’s actually taking place in our district and our children are suffering because of it.”

The other Democratic Legislative District 11 Senate Candidate (and educator) Linda Patterson stated that:

“The Arizona State Constitution requires the Arizona State Legislature to provide the resources to fund “common schools”. “Public Education” is considered as the updated term for the notion of “common schools”.

“I am very concerned that the majority party in power of the Arizona State House of Representatives and the Arizona State Senate have been derelict in meeting their AZ Constitutional requirement to fully fund education to students, age 6 – 21.”

“For decades, members of the majority party have not stood up for classroom students. As a result, students in school today attend facilities designated as excellent or substandard, dependent on the Zip Code in which they live. Accordingly, large populations of students are placed in inadequate conditions every day they attend school.”

“State Senators and Representatives who have allowed this inequity to occur for so long by taking a “pass” on their constitutional duty must be held accountable by the voters in 2020. What has been occurring since the 1980s is a sign of the moral bankruptcy that is evident in some political circles in our state? And, our children and adolescents suffer while most in the legislature turn their backs on them.”

“Lately, and as a result of the fact that schools are underfunded, community voters who can afford to, pass bond measures that provide better school environments for their students. And, communities that cannot afford to pass these bond measures send students to schools that are wholly inadequate. It does not need to be this way!”

“Arizona can solve this dilemma without increasing your taxes. One way is by electing legislators who have the political courage to step up and intervene with the billions and billions of dollars of outdated tax breaks that are not updated and brought into the state coffers year after year.”

“It is imperative that we bring these incentives current in order to fund excellent school systems throughout Arizona. In return, excellent school systems attract strong and prosperous businesses to our state. This business model has been successfully implemented by the majority of states in our nation and has been doing so for decades. The AZ economy will strengthen as our state rebuilds the working middle class. It is past time to do so as it is a win-win for all of us!”

The Democratic State House and Senate candidates for Legislative District 23 also offered their views on this school facility crisis.

Eric Kurland, a Scottsdale area educator, offered that:

“It’s all so simple. As long as folks mindlessly vote for any candidate with an R after their name the ABC’s are going to be woefully underfunded. We not only have a moral imperative to do better but an economic one as well.” 

Senate Candidate Seth Blattman commented that:

“What has our legislature been doing for the past 20 years? This would seem to be one of the most basic functions of government. The Arizona we strive for is top in the nation for education, not fighting tooth and nail to go from 48th to 47th. If the current group of Senators and Representatives isn’t getting the job done then we need to vote in a group that will. We must remember our children don’t get to cast a ballot so we are the only ones who will give them a voice.”
What can be done going forward?
Arizona has a teaching recruitment and retention crisis.
Arizona has a counselor recruitment and retention crisis.
Arizona has a class size crisis.
Arizona has a school facilities crisis.
Arizona has an Education crisis.
The state has funded more monies to public education over the last two years and given $20 million in grants for more counselors and social workers but these amounts are nowhere near what is needed.
They do not even approach pre great recession 2008 funding levels.
2020 is less than three months away and all public (traditional and charter) have been waiting for over 11 years to finally receive the appropriations necessary to educate the vast majority of the state’s children.
While many districts across the state will ask voters to pass override elections this November with funds going towards some of these same facility improvements the state has neglected to support, more needs to be done.
The public servants elected to serve the people need to band together and finally appropriate ALL the needed resources necessary so the children of this state will finally get the world-class modern education they deserve.
Featured Image From AZ Central

 

 

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