July 20, 2005 - Weighted by a town that's experiencing rapid growth, the Marana
Unified School District is still planning how it will deal with the increasing number of
students that will fill its schools in the coming years.
With new rooftops coming in by the thousands, new students - the district
estimates about one per four homes - will enter the district, quickly increasing the
need for more schools in an area that already has several elementary schools over
The district's governing board gave a final nod of approval July 12 to a 2005-06
budget that does not yet address the need for new schools, but this could be the
last year the district's budget remains stagnant as Marana gears up for a population
The budget that board members approved last week brings the district's
maintenance and operations expenditures up to $61.9 million, a modest 3.6 percent
increase from last year.
"The budget itself doesn't address new schools. No money has been put aside for
that yet," Board President Bill Kuhn said, indicating that's something that district
officials and new Superintendent Denny Dearden will sit down to discuss soon.
Maintenance Director Bob Thomas, along with Finance Director Dan Contorno, have
spent much of their time, in recent days, figuring out how the district will keep up with
Thomas said the district has applied for funding from the Arizona School Facilities
Board for two new elementary schools - one off of Silverbell Road in Continental
Reserve and another along Thornydale Road, south of Tangerine Road and north of
Linda Vista Boulevard. Diamond Ventures already has reserved a 10-acre site in
Continental Reserve for the first school, but the district still is trying to convince the
state to buy land along Thornydale Road for the other.
If funding is approved, Thomas expects construction will start on a new school in
Continental Reserve next May to open for the 2007-08 school year. The other
school would open the following year.
According to district records, Ironwood Elementary School is already over capacity,
with 879 students, while Coyote Trail and Twin Peaks elementary schools continue
to grow rapidly, with 789 and 765 students, respectively. Thomas said the standard
maximum capacity for an elementary school is about 600 to 650 students,
depending on its square footage, so the two new schools should relieve
overcrowding. Coyote Trail opened in 1996 and Twin Peaks opened in 2001 to
accommodate Continental Ranch-area students.
About 250 students from both Coyote Trail and Twin Peaks would funnel into the
new school in Continental Reserve next year, leaving all three schools in the area
with an enrollment of about 500 students. Meanwhile, Ironwood's enrollment could
surpass 1,000 within the next two years, making it logical to divide those students
equally among two schools, as well.
In the meantime, the district has kept up with growth by installing modular buildings
for additional classroom space at several schools and is adding new buildings at
Coyote Trail, Ironwood and Mountain View High School this summer.
Large stacks of files pertaining to more than 30 major residential developments
amounting to more than 20,000 homes in Marana are piled high inside Thomas'
With more than 10,000 homes planned in northern Marana in the next five years,
Thomas said a new elementary school in Gladden Farms, where developers have
reserved a 10-acre site for a new school, will be considered. Students in Gladden
Farms currently attend Estes Elementary School, which has an enrollment of 354
The district has several other sites that are planned for future schools as well.
Last April, the district accepted a 15-acre site along Camino de Oeste north of
Tangerine Road from Cottonwood Properties, developers of Dove Mountain.
Developers of Sagauro Springs have donated a 10-acre site as part of their 2,500-
home development on Twin Peaks Road west of the Tucson Mountains. Marana
also has convinced developers to contribute $1,200 per unit toward the school
district when building homes north of Tangerine Road.
Board President Bill Kuhn said he envisions several schools in the district's near
future, including a middle school in Continental Ranch that will serve as a feeder
school for Marana High School and a new high school in northern Marana that will pair
up with Marana Middle School. The district already owns 43 acres of property at the
of Continental Ranch that has been earmarked for a middle school.
"Ten years from now, I see a need for a new middle school, a new high school and
five more elementary schools, either up and running or about to be open, based on
the population growth we see in the town limits of Marana," Kuhn said.
Kuhn admitted those are his own personal views and there may be others with a
different vision, but the fact remains that the town is changing and the district needs to
"The town of Marana, the farming community that was, is changing right now and it
won't be that many days before the kids will go outside and there won't be any
more cotton fields," he said.
Thomas said the district is about one year behind schedule in terms of new school
construction and added that the original goal was to have a new school in Continental
Reserve ready for the 2006-07 school year.
Thomas said he didn't have accurate growth projections to submit to the School
Facilities Board last October and the district will have to wait until the state's next
reporting period this October to get approval for any new school construction.
While the district sees a need for several schools in the coming years, Thomas said
he thinks the state underestimates the growth projected in Marana and he's uncertain
whether the district's wishes will be granted.
"It's going to be really hard to tell until they receive our new growth figures," he said.
As part of a 1999 bond election that raised district taxes almost $50 per year,
several projects totaling $38.8 million, including construction of three elementary
schools, were approved by MUSD voters. As a result, Twin Peaks was constructed
and Estes was given a massive renovation, but the third school has yet to be seen.
Kuhn said the district has several million dollars in bonds left over that it could sell to
help construct a new school but that's not a route he wants to go.
"If the state's building the schools, my feeling is that we don't spend the taxpayers'
money here," he said.
In 1994, Arizona's system of school capital finance was declared unconstitutional and
the state was ordered to develop a constitutional system or risk closure of K-12
public schools. In 1998, legislation was passed to create the School Facilities Board,
which now distributes state money for new school construction.
An added bonus to the district for constructing Twin Peaks with bond money is that
it's considered "invisible" by the state, Thomas said. That means its square footage
isn't included in formulas that determine the district's need for new schools, yet its
population counts are.
Because the state allocates about $105 per square foot to construct and furnish a
school, the district will have to kick in some of its own money when the time comes to
start building, he said. He estimated that it costs closer to $140 per square foot to
build a decent school.
After having spent the first six months of the year dealing with personnel
controversies, Kuhn reiterated that planning for the district's future is something the
district's three new board members and Dearden will start focusing on soon.
"We're visiting things they haven't visited before," he said. "With the new
superintendent, now we go back to some planning and have everybody sit down
and look at it, and look at the sources of money, what we have, and we'll get some
direction from the board."