Cave Creek

Cave Creek Unified School District will have a special election Nov. 2 so voters can decide on a $40 million bond.

“I believe that one of the primary responsibilities each of us have as adults is to provide for a quality education for our young people,” said Carefree Mayor Les Peterson. “A school district functioning at its best can have a dramatic, long-term impact upon both the happiness and success of students attending… I fully support this bond issue and would encourage others in the district to vote yes as well.”

The cost to the average homeowner would be $42 a year. The total estimated cost of the bond would be $59,077,000 including principal and interest. The funds will be split up with $4.8 million for new technology, $1 million for safety and security, $3 million for sports facility upgrades, $27.4 million for general facility upgrades and maintenance, $3.8 million for buses and $11 million to pay off debt from a solar and energy saving project.

Marcie Rodriguez, the district’s chief financial officer, said the bond will produce additional revenue stream to provide more opportunities for students which will, hopefully, increase enrollment. Currently, only 52% of students in Cave Creek attend Cave Creek Unified schools.

“We compete with all the (surrounding) districts,” Rodriguez said. “Parents have choices, and they can take their children anywhere they want to in Arizona. So, if we don’t have the high-quality technology, safe facilities and reliable buses, that hurts us, and parents will choose to go somewhere else where their students have more opportunities.”

While everyone agrees that education is a priority and the schools could use a bit of a boost, some parents say they are against the bond because of the timing and previous bad financial decisions.

“I don’t deny that they could (use some improvements) and that the money could be used,” said Nate Weddle, parent of CCUSD students. “It’s the question of if this is the right use of this money. Money has been given for the purposes that they’re asking, it just hasn’t been able to be used properly because they’ve made bad financial decisions. So why make another bad financial decision to fix a bad financial decision that exists and was already made years ago? At some point you need to start making correct decisions.”

Weddle is referring to an increase in administrative spending while cutting back or getting rid of some of the school’s programs. He also pointed out that while it’s great to pay off the debt from the solar project, the district is just incurring more debt to do that which, long-term, doesn’t help.

In addition, Weddle and other parents said the problems with the district’s enrollment can’t be fixed with money alone. Upgrades might be nice, but students have left the district for better programs.

“This bond is for tangible items,” he said. “It’s not going to add programs or pay teachers more. It’s all tangible items, and people aren’t leaving the district because they don’t have computers or they don’t have textbooks, they’re leaving because the programs aren’t there. So, this is not really going to solve the enrollment issue.”

As for the timing of this bond, some parents have spoken out about CCUSD Superintendent Cort Monroe, who started in January and immediately made several changes as far as administrative staffing, pay, funding and programs.

“I think the bond is a bad idea,” said Heather Maldonado, parent of CCUSD students. “The new superintendent has only been in office for nine months and, rather than making do with what he has, his first inclination has been to cut programs and ask for more money. The school district should start looking at how they are spending their money rather than asking for more.”

Weddle also mentioned the school’s COVID-19 relief funds. He said this has been a turbulent time for schools so it’s hard to really gauge the situation. Maldonado said she is not entirely opposed to the idea of a bond, but wants to make sure all the options are considered before taking on a $40 million debt.

Rodriguez said she understands the hesitation, but this is something that has been discussed and planned since January. It was not an easy, overnight decision, but was ultimately in the best interest of the district. She also said that a citizens oversight committee will be formed to review spending and ensure the funds are spent as promised.

“I think that it was very, very well thought out. I think there’s a plan in place that is much needed for this district.”

The special election on Nov. 2 will be mail-in only for residents who live within the district. Ballots and an informational pamphlet were mailed in early October. For more information about the bond, how the funds will be spent and the impact to residents, visit ccusd93.org/Page/12141.