By Philip Haldiman, Independent Newsmedia
Peoria Unified School District students in the northern part of the city now know what elementary school they will attend next academic year.
In response to explosive growth in the area and overcrowding in some schools, the PUSD Governing Board unanimously approved a new boundary map that will determine if some students will have to attend different schools April 13.
Seeing the approval of the new map as only a short-term solution to the growth, the governing board also approved the creation of a Citizens’ Advisory Committee to explore a bond election for November to fund future schools, with the expectation the committee will bring forward a recommendation in less than two months.
PUSD CFO Ken Hicks said the committee will be formed immediately to ready the ballot measure for the election. Cost to the district will be about $250,000.
“Our timeline is tight. In the past, we have started this process in January,” he said. “We are starting now so that we can get a recommendation ready for the governing board in May.”
The population of Peoria has grown by almost 50 percent since 2000, much of it in the northern part of the city. New homes under construction north of Bell Road and as far north as Lake Pleasant have been a familiar sight in a region that has become one of the hottest housing markets in the Valley.
The fallout has been two schools at capacity and others soon to follow if the strain isn’t alleviated.
The 2016 bond would have funded a new high school and elementary school to the north to deal with the growth, but residents denied the measure by about 19 percent.
Board member Monica Ceja Martinez said the 2016 bond was crushed by the very people who are now dealing with their children being uprooted and forced to move to different schools.
The board needs to review variances, district policies and the district’s relationship with the planning commission and city council, she said.
“We heard the message that the tax payers didn’t want to pay for new schools, so it has to come back to educating the community so they can make the informed decision because ultimately they are gong to have to pay,” she said.
“Parents know their area like the back of their hands, so you know where to put the signs (during election time). Welcome to the discussion because its not going away.”
K-12 administrator Steve Savoy said staff and governing board members responded to scores of questions and concerns about the new boundaries over the last four months.
The boundaries are expected to need additional adjustments in three to four years, Mr. Savoy said.
“We have tried to be transparent and involve as many people as possible during this process,” Mr. Savoy said.
The elementary schools affected are Apache, Coyote Hills, Frontier, Lake Pleasant, Parkridge, Sunset Heights, Vistancia and Zuni Hills.
An initial proposal affected 1,334 students over three years, but after revisions the boundary committee was able to get that number down to 746.
Committee member Julie Garitson said the committee took the job of creating the boundary map very seriously. She had participated in past district adjustments.
“This process doesn’t get any easier even though this was my third time,” she said. “We looked at many maps, many numbers and many scenarios. Not everyone will be happy, but with all this growth and continued growth, this will continue. As long as you see barren land we will continue with this.”
Parent Brandon Price said he lives in the Tierra del Rio neighborhood, near Happy Valley Road and 107th Avenue, and has two daughters attending Zuni Hills Elementary, 10851 W. Williams Road, that will be forced to go to Lake Pleasant Elementary School, 31501 N. Westland Road, under the new map.
Tierra del Rio got the short end of the stick, he said.
“Their school will be 7.5 miles away from our house. That is not our neighborhood school. I could choose from six other Peoria Unified schools that are closer,” Mr. Price said. “I am within the boundaries of charter schools, private schools and Deer Valley Unified schools. What this map has done has given me what our legislature and governor like to call school choice. Lake Pleasant is at the far corner of the Valley. It is not a neighborhood school to the Tierra del Rio neighborhood. We’re the odd man out on this.”
Parent Thomas Fife said moving to a new school is not something any household wants to go through, but after witnessing the boundary process and attending a number of meetings, has a new respect for the district.
“After witnessing the barrage of questions and harsh attitudes toward the panel, if I were one of them, I would say, ‘I’m doing what I’m doing and not dealing with this.’ Why am I saying that? I take my hat off to the committee. I truly saw the way everybody cared about the community and tried to accommodate every family, realizing they’re not going to take care of everyone,” he said. “For me, it showed that Peoria isn’t just about going behind closed doors and making solutions that meet only their own agendas. It has inspired me to get involved in my own community.”
Here are the stipulations under the new boundary map, as approved by the Peoria Unified School District Governing Board.
• Seventh-graders will remain in their current school through the 8th-grade.
• Siblings may remain with their 8th-grade brother/sister, including kindergarten enrollment, for one year.
• Transportation will be provided for one year for students impacted by the change.
• Special education students will be provided levels of service as determined by their IEP team.
• No high school student will be reassigned from their current school due to elementary school boundary changes, including incoming freshman.