May 5, 2017

Episode 314: Groups Take State to Court to Pay for Critical School Repairs

And the Sawmill Fire led to evacuations and a $7 million containment effort.

A group of school districts and education associations have come together to sue the state for facilities maintenance and construction.

At issue are investments to maintain minimum facilities standards, and the suit names $300 million in needed capital funds for the school districts that are plaintiffs.

Elfrida Elementary School District, north of Glendale, is named in the lawsuit. The school was built in the early 1950s, and the plumbing hasn’t been updated since then. With a current population of about 125 K-8 students and seven teachers, the size of the school means the front office functions as a staff lounge, and the secretary does double duty as the nurse.

The school is not alone in listing these problems and more, and Superintendent Judi King said the rural district faces difficult choices when deciding what to fix and when.

The plaintiffs say Arizona lawmakers have withheld critical funding for capital needs. Hear from those who brought the suit, its context as the state budget gets finalized and an initial response from Gov. Doug Ducey.

Wildfire season is in full swing in Arizona. This week, firefighters contained what came to be known as the Sawmill Fire, which burned for more than a week near the town of Sonoita. In the end, more than 47,000 acres were burned, some evacuations took place and no structures were lost, in an effort that cost nearly $7 million and involved the participation of more than 800 people.

An off-duty Border Patrol agent started the fire while target shooting on public lands, officials said.

State lawmakers have settled on a $9.8 billion budget for next fiscal year. Arizona Week takes a look at the major elements, which include pay raises for teachers, a plan to fund universities and a tax cut for individuals. Follow Arizona Public Media for updates on budget negotiations.

On the program

  • Timothy Ogle, Arizona School Boards Association
  • Bea Day, Sawmill Fire incident commander
  • Manny Cordova, spokesman for the Sawmill Fire containment efforts
  • Fire ecology expert Don Falk of the University of Arizona
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