According to Dean Gray, the executive director of the Arizona School Facilities Board, a public high school in Somerton is not in the city's near future — at least not through 2022.
At a Yuma Union High School District study session Tuesday, the governing board met with the Somerton mayor and city council to discuss the possibility of building another district campus. State Sen. Lynne Pancrazi, D-Yuma, and Rep. Juan Carlos Escamilla, D-Yuma, both representing District 4, also attended.
Gray explained that the reasoning behind the decision to not grant a school included that the district is currently under capacity in terms of enrollment and there is a lack of funds from the state to build new schools. He added that the facilities board has been under a moratorium since 2008 to not build extra schools unless there is excess capacity within a district in the state.
While YUHSD had submitted an application for a school in 2007 that was approved by the facilities board to be built by 2011, when the recession hit, the funds were no longer available and there was also a decline in population around the state.
Gray said that even though populations may be currently increasing in the Somerton area, statute states that the facilities board must look at the district enrollment as a whole. He said that because what they fund is specifically called out in state statute, if the district has a certain number of seats, they have the same number of seats regardless of where the growth is in the community.
The facilities board demographer tracks students from birth through 12th grade, he said, and follows how the enrollment looks from grade level to grade level.
When projecting the growth of students in YUHSD, Gray said their numbers for 2013 show 11,667 seats available for students, but the district is projecting an enrollment of 10,864. Somerton Mayor Martin Porchas said he hoped that in upcoming years, the numbers will reflect the increasing growth in the area.
“Yuma County has been growing... with the new addition of the F-35 (fighter jet) to the military here, that's going to bring a lot of families here ... I think the growth is going to be higher (than projected),” Porchas said.
Gray responded, “I wouldn't disagree with that at all. But unfortunately we don't have, today... the numbers to indicate what that trend will be. When we start seeing growth... we will revise all these numbers. If we see a huge surge of growth, we can insert a school to open in fiscal year 2018 for example ... We'll move it to when you need it ... The only caveat to that is I have to have the money to build it, and I don't know what the Legislature is going to do year to year.”
YUHSD Superintendent Toni Badone said although the district has the option of going for a bond, that is not something it would consider at this time because of the current state of the property taxes in Yuma County.
Senior students from Kofa High School, both residents of Somerton and members of the Junior Statesmen of America club, attended the meeting and shared that they don't think the district should open a school in Somerton.
Yesinia Yepez and Priscila Ortiz said that while they love living in the city of Somerton, they also enjoy being able to come to Kofa because of the diversity of the campus. They said they want the district to shift its focus from the future to now as they said the schools are struggling with large class sizes and a lack of supplies.
Porchas added, however, if a charter school were to open in Somerton instead, as has been recently proposed to the city, it would take away students from the district, and thus continue the issues that YUHSD currently faces.
A Phoenix-area social service organization is currently negotiating to buy a site in Somerton for a charter high school it hopes to open in time for the 2013-14 school year.
Sarah Womer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 539-6858.