We commend state legislators for raising the square-footage funding formula to build schools. But it isn’t enough.
Arizona’s growth, albeit great for our economy, means more schools must be built despite skyrocketing costs of construction materials.
But because of inadequate funding by the Legislature, schools may be forced to forgo key features such as parking lot lights, playground equipment and landscaping. And the state may no longer pay for campus-style elementary schools.
That is not acceptable.
The state took over the responsibility of paying for school construction in the late 1990s after poorer school districts sued, claiming they were being shortchanged by low property tax revenue.
Since then, the amount paid for building schools has climbed. In the past two years alone, legislators have increased the square-footage funding by 14 percent.
But it isn’t enough.
While the state now provides $116 per square foot to build an elementary school, contractor bids come in the $130s, The Arizona Republic reported recently.
For a 100,000-square-foot school, a $10 square-foot difference means a $1 million shortfall.
Arizona’s School Facilities Board, which will spend $360 million in 2006-07, is required by law to build schools at minimum standards. That includes classroom temperature and air quality equipment but not playground equipment or parking lot lights.
Yet playground equipment is essential in an age of increasing childhood obesity. And parking lot lights reduce vandalism, assaults and other crimes.
To cut costs, the Schools Facilities Board also is considering forcing districts to erect elementary schools with only one or two buildings.
The campus-style design common in Arizona, with classroom doors opening to an outdoor courtyard, reduces the need for indoor hallways to heat and cool.
Amid Arizona’s efforts to increase use of renewable energy sources, the campus style takes optimum advantage of our abundant sunshine.
And although school design may seem to be a strictly aesthetic issue, it actually has a profound effect not only on energy costs, but also on how classrooms are organized and how students learn.
We concede that few could have foreseen the startling spike in prices for construction materials. Nonetheless, Arizona’s students must not be shortchanged because of that.
Indeed, the growth that necessitates construction of new schools is largely to thank for the budget surplus the state enjoyed this year.
Arizona leaders must, in turn, pay the attendant costs of that growth and build complete schools, not bare-bones facilities. That is especially important when it comes to our students’ achievement, safety, health and well-being.