2004 Bond Program supports smarter schools and stronger students

In a clear and unified voice, voters in 2004 charged Tucson Unified School District with the task of creating more vibrant, engaging and safer schools through a $235 million bond program.

Nine years later, TUSD celebrates the successful implementation of the 2004 Bond Program that gave voters exactly what they asked for.

Before putting the vote to taxpayers, committees surveyed every school in the district and compiled a highly detailed list of projects and upgrades required for successful 21st Century learning.

From new, state-of-the art schools to cutting-edge science classrooms and fine arts facilities that inspire collaboration and creativity, the program has impacted every student and school in southern Arizona's largest district, with 51,000 students in 90 schools. Bond dollars have brought improvements in transportation, performing arts facilities, school safety, athletic facilities, science classrooms, technology, facility upgrades, environmental/green upgrades and have also allowed for new construction.

"It's important to provide kids with the best facilities possible, and TUSD put their money in exactly the right place," said Lisa Preston, the mother of two sons at Catalina Magnet High School and a member of the Catalina Class of '93.

Impact on the Classroom

Lena Blackmon, a junior at University High School, takes her studies very seriously.

She said the expanded and upgraded science classrooms at UHS – paid for with $344,739 in bond money – inspired her to do her best in Honors Biology and Advanced Placement Chemistry last year.

"It shows me that the administration and the adults honestly care about what we are learning," said Blackmon, 15.

Photo of science student

Upgraded science classrooms foster exploration.

TUSD Board President Adelita Grijalva said every project was proposed, planned and carried out with students in mind.

"So many schools had renovations that were desperately needed to keep up with demand," Grijalva said. "There were safety issues, and these funds were allocated by the district to bring our facilities up to high standards."

She said the district was "very equitable across the board in making sure all schools were touched" by the bond program.

"I think we did a really good job of spending this money wisely," she said.

Critical in the process was stringent financial oversight to ensure that money was spent wisely and to the precise instructions of the voters.

Bond Fiscal Oversight Committee

To ensure that funds were spent in accordance with voters' wishes, a Bond Fiscal Oversight Committee was created, made up of volunteers who are not district employees. The citizen watchdog committee worked tirelessly to ensure that funds were properly spent.

"We have met the expectations of voters and stayed within budget," said Earl Mendenhall, a Tucson financial advisor who chairs the Bond Fiscal Oversight Committee.

"Out of the $235 million, we can account for every dollar," Mendenhall said. "We have proven the stewardship."

He said the bond was approved because taxpayers were told exactly what they would get for the money, and had confidence that money would be properly spent because of the oversight committee.

The committee met monthly during the past nine years to review projects and ensure funds were properly spent in 42 categories – everything from new roofs and air conditioners to new schools, the creation of the Westside Transportation Center, and upgrades to athletic facilities throughout the district.
 
Setting the Bond Fiscal Oversight Committee on the right course was Tucson CPA Jimmy Lovelace, who chaired the committee for four years.

"The TUSD accounting department had to put up with me," Lovelace said. "I worked with them diligently, making sure every dollar was accounted for and in accordance with the bond program. I put in an iron-clad reporting system and I made sure we were not going to go over budget. With every project I had them ensure the paper trail right down to the penny."

Fiscal transparency was critical at all stages of the bond program. All meetings were open to the public and all financial records are available online and in district offices. See the Bond Projects page for fiscal records, meeting minutes, audio files of meetings, and more.

"There was a high level of fiscal responsibility," said Lovelace. "This is what the voters approved and we did what they asked us to do. We all rolled up our sleeves and collaborated and got it done."

TUSD's Chief Financial Officer Yousef Awwad said the committee was "very tough, which is good. We don't want them to rubber-stamp anything. They are very picky in making sure this is exactly what the voters voted on."

Dan McDonald, an extension agent with Pima County Cooperative Extension, a program of the University of Arizona College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, has served on the committee since 2009.

"We wanted a game plan for how we would end on the dime," McDonald said. "We certainly didn't want to overspend and we didn't want to leave money unspent. The bond money was spent in accordance to the bond and what the voters wished."

He said the bond program "sent out a message that education is important to this community."

District-Wide Improvements

Overseeing the projects was TUSD Bonds & Architecture Supervisor Marcus Jones. Many of the projects helped bring schools up to standard, at a time when the state budget has failed to provide anticipated building-renewal funding, he said.

Photo of Catalina High Magnet School

Catalina High Magnet School received facilities upgrades.

Many schools were in desperate need of new roofs, air conditioners and other renovations.

"The average age of our schools is 60 years," Jones said. "TUSD has been building schools for a long time – before Arizona was a state."

Mendenhall, of the Bond Fiscal Oversight Committee, said the program kept construction companies in business and provided a boost to the local economy during the crash of 2008 and beyond.

"This bond money went farther because we got some very competitive bids on projects," Mendenhall said. "There were companies that were just trying to keep the doors open. We got tremendous bang for the buck."

TUSD's Awwad said the money went farther than expected due to a drop in interest rates.

"We took advantage of these lower interest rates to help our community because the local taxpayer is paying for this at the end of the day," Awwad said. "We refinanced about $40 million in bond money at the end of 2010 and we saved taxpayers about $1.5 million in interest. Last year we refinanced another $51 million and we saved another $2 million in interest, totaling $3.5 million in savings."

Photo of Westside Transportation Center

The Westside Transportation Center is hub to 80 buses.

Awwad said the $235 million was spent wisely. "A lot of good work was done and none of the funds were spent on anything other than what was voted on."

Taxpayer Rosie Gallegos, who lives next to the new Westside Transportation Center that was built with $5,219,900 in bond money, kept an eye on that project by attending all neighborhood meetings.

"It was a good use of taxpayer money," Gallegos said. "Anything that improves schools is a good use for our taxes."