August 16, 2006 - The Marana Unified School District on Aug. 14 welcomed back more than 13,000 students and anticipates opening the door for more in the coming weeks.

Officials project enrollment to reach 13,461, almost 500 more students than last year. The district hired 97 new teachers, bringing the total to 808. The growth has led the district to consider an override budget, which voters would have to approve.

The district's elementary schools will see most of the growth, as developments in and around the town of Marana continue to sprout houses.

Last week, 569 students had enrolled at Estes Elementary School, almost 200 more students than last year. To handle the growth, the district installed three new modular units at the school. Each of the structures have four classrooms.

Almost all of the district's 15 schools use modular classrooms. The district has installed about 70 modular classrooms in all, MUSD Maintenance Director Bob Thomas estimated.

Each classroom costs an average of $75,000.

"We need to take care of the growth and anticipated growth," Thomas said.

Mountain View High School also will use four additional modular classrooms this year. The district replaced a faulty modular building at Butterfield Elementary School in preparation for the school year.

Estes Elementary's student population increase comes almost directly from more people moving into the still-growing Gladden Farms residential developments in northern Marana. The district last week received a donation of 10 acres for a school site in the development.

Next to Estes, the largest influx of students will attend Coyote Trail Elementary School on Silverbell Road. Officials estimate the school's enrollment will reach 919 this year, compared to last year's 796.

Growth in Continental Ranch and Reserve has put stress on both Coyote Trail and Twin Peaks Elementary School. The latter expects to have 800 students this year, a slight increase from last year.

The district this week planned to break ground on a 58,000-square-foot elementary school in Continental Reserve to relieve the populations of the previously mentioned schools. The estimated $10-million school will hold 650 students.

This year, more than 100 bus drivers will travel about 11,000 miles a day to take almost 7,000 students to school and back. Like usual, several bus drivers quit over the summer.

But officials quickly hired 12 new drivers and have eight more that will begin work in September.

The district will operate for the second year under the leadership of Superintendent Denny Dearden, who arrived in July 2005 from Virginia.

In his first year, Dearden oversaw the implementation of a strategic planning process, which already has resulted in changes right down to the district's motto and mission statement. The governing board last year also made the decision to pursue the formation of a Joint Technology Education District, which could bring thousands of more dollars to the two high school's vocational programs, officials say.

Voters in November will decide which school districts take part in the superdistrict.

"There's nobody more excited than me right now," Dearden said last week.

Under Dearden, the district also might seek an override of its maintenance and operations budget. MUSD has operated without override money, while others - including Sunnyside, Amphitheater, Flowing Wells, Catalina Foothills, Vail and Tucson school districts - have gotten millions of dollars more through voter approval.

The district will form a committee to study the issue. An override budget could add between $6 million and $13 million to the district's $65 million budget, officials estimate.

Additional last-minute state funds gave MUSD teachers and staff - excluding administrators - a 1.7-percent raise, on top of previous increases approved by the governing board.

Teachers and other certified staff already received a 3-percent raise, while support staff previously got 5 percent.

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