Students at Rio Rico schools, as well as members of the community at large, could soon have access to a new swimming pool and tennis courts after voters in the Santa Cruz Valley Unified School District approved a $22.55-million bond sale during a special vote-by-mail election that culminated on Tuesday.

At the same time, unofficial results released Thursday evening by the County Elections Office after provisional ballots were counted showed a parallel budget override measure going down in defeat by a razor-thin margin.

Passage of the bond measure – which received “yes” votes on 52.6 percent of ballots, according to the unofficial results – means the district can raise the funding it said it needs to make improvements at all five SCVUSD school campuses, as well as pay for new playground equipment at Mountain View Elementary School, field lights at Calabasas School and a remodeled fine arts facility at Rio Rico High School.

Plans at RRHS also call for a new football stadium, synthetic field and track, in addition to a pool and tennis courts for shared school-community use.

“The facilities that we have, the bond will help provide for those because some of the facilities are getting into bad shape,” RRHS teacher Chris Peters, who voted in favor of the bond, told the NI on Tuesday afternoon, adding that he was also looking forward to “the swimming pool and the new things that are going to be built that everybody will use.”

school elections

Rio Rico High School teacher Chris Peters said he voted in favor of the SCVUSD bond and override.

The unofficial results showed 1,476 people voting “yes” for the bond and 1,331 voting “no” – a margin of 145 votes.

Meanwhile, a second measure on the SCVUSD ballot, which would have let the district override its budget limit by 9 percent for seven years beginning in fiscal year 2020-2021, appeared to have gone down to a narrow defeat. Thursday’s unofficial results showed 1,348 votes in favor (49.8 percent) to 1,361 votes against (50.2 percent) – a margin of just 13 votes.

“We were optimistic because everywhere we had presented – close to 40 presentations just educating our constituents – we had a lot of positive feedback,” Superintendent David Verdugo told the NI on Wednesday afternoon, adding that not many had expressed any negativity regarding the two measures. Still, he said, “we definitely knew that it’s always a close (election).”

Carmen Ojeda, who has grandchildren at SCVUSD schools, said she voted against the bond and the override. “They’re going to increase the taxes,” she said.

But SCVUSD voter Larkin Rossitter said that while he wasn’t sure that the bond was especially critical, he still voted in favor of both measures.

“The override is just absolutely necessary. We got to keep things going. I was a school teacher in Nogales for 12 years, so I know the importance of having a good education system here in Rio Rico,” Rossitter said.

The County Recorder’s Office said it sent out 12,772 ballots to eligible SCVUSD voters as part of the all-mail election, and the unofficial results showed at least 2,709 ballots counted, a participation rate of just over 21 percent.

Several community members said they weren’t aware that there was a school election, while others decided to not exercise their right to vote.

“Voting has never caught my attention,” said retiree Rafael Jimenez.

Financial implications

Including interest, the bond sale is expected to cost just under $35.9 million over 19 years.

According to a pre-election voter information packet produced by the County Superintendent of Schools Office, the owner of a home in SCVUSD assessed at $109,050 – the average value of a home in the district – can expect to pay $133 in secondary taxes per year as the debt is paid back over 19 years. The owner of a home assessed at $250,000 can expect to pay an estimated $306 per year for the bond and interest.

The budget override measure sought to replace an existing 7-percent override with a mandate allowing SCVUSD to exceed its budget limit by 9 percent for seven years beginning in fiscal year 2020-2021.

The estimated cost of the 9-percent override to the owner of a residential property assessed at $109,050 would have been approximately $131 per year, while the owner of a home assessed at $218,100 would have paid an estimated $262 per year.

But if the results hold up and that proposal is defeated, the existing 7-percent override will be phased out by one-third in the 2022-2023 fiscal year and another one-third in 2023-2024 before it’s eliminated in 2024-2025.

The district said it needed the 9-percent override to continue funding for existing efforts such as full-day kindergarten, fine arts programs, and attracting and retaining qualified teachers. It would also have been used to pay for additional personnel and operations expenses for the athletic facilities the district had hoped to build with the bond money.

“The positive thing is that we have our 7-percent (override)… so that will still be in place and those programs will not be affected,” Verdugo said when asked if SCVUSD would have to cut programs as a result of a finalized “no” vote on the 9-percent override.

As for the district’s plans for implementing the bond-funded projects without the 9-percent override and extension, he added that SCVUSD would first move forward with “anything that would not necessarily incur additional costs,” to allow more time for planning the construction of new facilities.

The first bond-funded projects on tap include parking lot, playground and fine arts renovations, as well as the removal of unwanted buildings, Verdugo said.

Without the new override, district leadership would also seek ways to make its available maintenance and operation funding meet all its needs, he said.

In addition, SCVUSD could potentially put a new override measure on the ballot in 2020.

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