By Philip Haldiman, Independent Newsmedia
Students of Peoria Unified School District elementary schools in northern Peoria could find themselves attending different campuses next academic year due to overcrowding.
This has become one of the fallouts of last year’s failed $198 million bond that would have solved the problem of school overcrowding.
But PUSD, one of the largest public school districts in the state, is taking steps to deal with the issue.
The governing board will soon discuss a new bond to pay for growth and consider proposed new school boundaries in the northern part of the district that could impact up to eight elementary schools.
Two schools are at capacity and Superintendent Dr. Darwin Stiffler said by 2021 the district will be at capacity, based on projections.
“Now, this process is not complete, but the boundary committee has projected we can handle growth until 2021. After that, we would need more facilities,” he said. “There aren’t too many choices, and unfortunately, the district is unlikely to make everybody happy. Nobody wants to move. It’s very unsettling.”
PUSD will hold a public meeting to receive community input regarding the proposed boundaries 6 p.m. on March 28 in the auditorium at Sunrise Mountain High School, 21200 N. 83rd Ave.
The schools that could be affected are Apache, Coyote Hills, Frontier, Lake Pleasant, Parkridge, Sunset Heights, Vistancia and Zuni Hills.
Under the proposal, neither current high school students nor seventh- and eighth-grade students will be affected by the change.
The schools are located north of Bell Road, and the district boundary goes to the Yavapai County line, an area that has seen explosive growth in the last 10 years, which has led to overcrowding in some schools and accounted for the need to re-draw certain school boundaries.
Bigger boundary changes are proposed for Coyote Hills, Frontier, Parkridge, Sunset Heights and Zuni Hills.
If approved, the new boundaries would go into effect for the 2017-18 school year.
PUSD spokeswoman Erin Dunsey said based on the proposed boundaries and where students live, some Sunset Heights students could be assigned to Parkridge or Coyote Hills. Some Coyote Hills students could be assigned to Parkridge. And some Parkridge students could be assigned to Apache.
She said there are also some northeast areas of the current Zuni Hills boundary that will be divided among Sunset Heights, Coyote Hills, Frontier, and Vistancia elementary schools.
In Peoria, elementary schools are assigned to certain high schools. For example, Sunset Heights feeds into Liberty High School and Coyote Hills feeds into Sunrise Mountain High Schools. If a student is assigned to a different elementary school, then he or she will feed into the high school that is assigned to that elementary school.
Overcrowding in schools can affect student learning, and changing boundaries are often contested.
Peoria resident Jennifer Younathan bought a home one year ago in the Mountain Vistas development at 91st Avenue and Lake Pleasant Parkway specifically so her son could attend Sunset Heights, 9687 W. Adam Ave. Under the proposed boundaries, she said he will have to attend Coyote Hills, 21180 N. 87th Ave.
“My community was designed with walking trails and paved sidewalks that lead to Sunset Heights, not Coyote Hills,” Ms. Younathan said. “Without question, the proposed boundary line needs to be moved further east to include the students living west of 91st Avenue.”
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 — a region that has become one of the hottest housing markets in the Valley.
But the area is experiencing the consequences — Liberty High School, 9621 W. Speckled Gecko Drive, and Sunset Heights Elementary School are at capacity.
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.
So a month after the election, the PUSD Governing Board called for a boundary committee to review enrollment and expected growth in the northern portion of the district. The committee has met four times since the beginning of the year.
Ms. Dunsey said the committee was asked to seek outcomes that will sustain long-term enrollment projections within current school capacities and felt a new bond was needed.
“A bond authorization, if approved, could provide funding to build new schools in the northern portion of the district where we are experiencing significant growth,” she said.
The Governing Board has final approval on bringing a bond election to the ballot.
At the March 9 Governing Board meeting, members agreed to discuss the possibility of a new bond, but a specific date had not been set for the discussion.
Governing Board member Monica Ceja Martinez said the Governing Board and boundary committee are separate, with the district overseeing the mapping process.
The Board could consider the proposed boundaries in April.
“We will have to wait for a final recommendation from the boundary committee, after they receive input from the public on March 28,” she said. “Unfortunately the (2016) bond did not pass. If it had, we would not be in this position.”
The Governing Board also has final approval on changing school boundaries. The PUSD Governing Board and Peoria City Council are separate governing bodies, but some council members have children in the district and have been keeping an eye on the process.
Councilwoman Bridget Binsbacher, who represents the Mesquite District, the city’s northernmost district, had two children graduate from PUSD school and has two attending. She said Peoria cannot stop development, but it does have a hand in determining the standards by which development occurs, and encouraging a plan that will balance the city’s resources and service the inevitable growth.
“We have more than half a city to build and the north is where the growth is heading. New businesses are opening and new communities are taking shape, and with more families coming our way, the Peoria Unified School District’s boundaries become more critical,” she said. “Quality education is vital to building a strong economy and a vibrant city. I am confident that PUSD will make every effort to meet the demands ahead.”
Councilman Jon Edwards, who represents the Willow District, which is also affected by the proposed boundaries, also has children who attend PUSD schools.
Peoria has become a very attractive place to live, he said.
“As a parent and a representative of Peoria, I am very interested in any changes that may affect the school boundaries in Peoria, and I plan on attending the meeting at Sunrise Mountain High School to learn as much as I can,” he said.
If you go
What: Meeting on proposed boundaries
When: 6 p.m. on March 28
Where: In the auditorium at Sunrise Mountain High School, 21200 N. 83rd Ave.
More info: For questions regarding the boundary committee or the upcoming meeting, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 623-486-6010.