Two newly elected Peoria Unified School District board members and the reelected board president will face a financial challenge. While voters approved a PUSD budget override, they rejected PUSD’s $125 million budget request.
Though the district expressed disappointment in the bond rejection, "The passing or failure of this bond initiative does not determine a school closure," said Danielle Airey, a PUSD spokewsoman. According to the district's website addressing bond questions, "If the critical needs bond does not pass, Peoria Unified School District will not be able to provide all of the required maintenance and facility updates that are needed at our school and operational facilities."
A competitive election season ended with the filling of three seats on the Peoria Unified school board. Nine were on the ballot for the three open board seats.
According to unofficial results, Rebecca Hill, a Peoria mother who home-schools her children, was the top vote getter, receiving 34,815 votes (15%) as of Nov. 10.
David Sandoval, the board president, was reelected with 33,927 votes (14%).
Though there may be some votes still to be tallied, as of the Nov. 10 count, William Sorensen will be the third member of the board elected with 32,032 votes (13%).
Linda Busam came in fourth, narrowly losing the election with 31,764 votes (13%). Kirk Hobbs was next with 30,526 votes (13%), followed by Davita Solter with 22,416 (9%). Kacie Franklin received 21,263 votes (9%). CJ Williams got 17,534 votes (7%) and Devon Updegraff-Day received 15,182 votes (6%).
Sorensen is a former PUSD teacher and principal at Centennial High School and current assistant principal of La Joya Community High School in the Tolleson Union High School District.
He said the district and the board will need to look into sites around the district.
“As far as the bond goes, we are going to have to repurpose some sites,” Sorensen said. “And that’s just reality.
“There are some elementary schools that are just dying.”
Thinking about closing schools “breaks my heart” Sorensen said. He said he is worried about what state funding will look like next year because of COVID-19 and the impacts it has had on in-person learning.
Sandoval said the board will consider asking the community to approve a bond in 2021.
As for being reelected, “I am feeling good,” Sandoval said, adding he was “grateful for the support that we realized from the community.”
But he noted financial challenges.
“We still need a bond,” Sandoval said. “Our priority isn’t to always have to knock on the door of the community to ask for money.”
The maintenance and operations override will continue providing $28 million in additional funding for PUSD, according to the district’s website.
Sorensen shared how he plans to make an impact as a board member with the aid of the bond.
“I want those overrides to go into the programs that create diverse learning experiences for everyone. Just like choice for parents, I want choice for kids,” he said. “I want them to be run by the people in the trenches, on the sites, the school administrators, the teachers, the people actually living it.”
He hopes to expand the class options to allow more opportunities for students to enrich their education.
One of the first things Sorensen wants to do as a board member is assess the financial situation at the district and figure out how the money can be used. The three things Sorensen hopes to focus on are “active listening, a system for COVID and financials.”
Listening to people’s concerns along with more opportunities for people to speak with board members are the emphasis of active listening for Sorensen.
Communication with the Peoria community and public was a topic that Sorensen and Sandoval both stressed.
“It is important for me to be informed. It is important for me to listen,” Sandoval said. “If I am not engaged and informed, then I am doing a disservice to the people we’re responsible for.”
Hill did not return an request for an interview in time for this story.
According to her campaign site, “Rebecca has been a home school parent / teacher for the past six years, a resident of Peoria for the past 20 years and has been happily married for the last 25 years. She volunteers at two senior group homes in the area and prior to home schooling full time, she served as a marketing director for assisted living communities in the Phoenix area.”