During the months leading up to the November 2019 election, Apache Junction Unified School District came under fire for requesting a capital override and bond without, some said, due diligence toward obtaining grant funding from the Arizona School Facilities Board (SFB: the state agency put in place in 1994 in an attempt to equitably fund new school construction and building maintenance). Although the district had initiated an SFB grant application the previous June to cover the cost of roof repairs at Peralta Trail Elementary School (PTES), many of those who voted against the bond argued that it was too little, too late. The capital initiatives failed.
At the Jan. 28, 2020, AJUSD School Board meeting, Director of Maintenance Larry Hill confided, “The person who was [coordinating construction and maintenance requests with the SFB] in years past is gone… I’ll take the blame [for the lapse in SFB funding requests] in recent years, but the information just didn’t get passed down when that position went away. We know what we need; it’s just the process we’re unfamiliar with.”
Hill and his team, however, are working to rectify the situation. In the past 12 months, the district has gained SFB approval on two projects, with two more pending approval within the next month.
- Approved: Building Renewal Grant (BRG) for Desert Vista Elementary for two 30-gallon water heaters ($1,134)
- Approved: BRG for Apache Junction High School to replace carpeting in two classrooms ($9,452.77)
- Pending: BRG to carpet two classrooms at PTES, Building 300 ($7,599)
- Pending: BRG to carpet two classrooms at PTES, Building 100 ($8,157)
Hill explained that the SFB will not replace carpeting unless it has become a safety issue. “That’s what we’ve got at Peralta. Some of the rips and tears have become trip hazards.”
The application for PTES roofing that began last June is still pending, in part because the larger job cost triggers a mandatory bid process, as well as a “long list of hoops for applicants to jump through,” explained Hill.
Meanwhile, the AJUSD Facilities Department has instituted a new preventive maintenance routine. They will be working off a standardized checklist, with quarterly, annual and semi-annual categories. Hill will review the documents quarterly to make sure the district remains on track and coordinate with the district’s SFB liaison to identify any repair or replacement issues that qualify for Building Renewal Grant funding.
Even these efforts could be moot, however, as Arizona legislators recently introduced a bill to eliminate the agency, after a report from the Auditor General’s office (released last June) uncovered more than 100 facility repairs that took more than a year to complete, leaving students exposed to potential safety hazards. Additionally, the report pointed out lax procurement practices and undisclosed conflicts of interest among SFB board members.
The bill, proposed by Rep. Michelle Udall, would eliminate the agency, but keep the grant program for larger expenses. The bill would also create a funding formula to give money directly to schools for smaller repairs.