Arizona schools desperate for repairs - WTVM.com-Columbus, GA News Weather & Sports

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Arizona schools desperate for repairs

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(Source: CBS 5 News) (Source: CBS 5 News)
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PHOENIX (CBS5) -

It's been more than 10 years since the state of Arizona spent $1.2 billion repairing the state's crumbling schools, and administrators across the state say they're nearing the breaking point again.

Leaking roofs, plumbing problems, bad air conditioners and outdated electrical systems are the most common complaints submitted to CBS 5 Investigates by school administrators from 130 Arizona public school districts.

"I would say in varying parts of the state we are in a crisis mode and in some places we are approaching it," said David Peterson, who is the superintendent of the Scottsdale Unified School District.

Peterson has spent $330 million from the district's accounts over the past six years to keep its elementary schools' roofs patched, air conditioners repaired and classrooms safe for the students. But that money has run out, and the superintendent said if a roof or air conditioning system fails this fall, he may have to close a school.

"To fully redo a roof at one of our elementary schools, tear off and redo the roof, approaches $800,000. That's the equivalent of 16 teachers," said Peterson.

One look at the roof on Tonalea Elementary and you'll see why Peterson is worried. The school was built in 1958, and although the roof has been replaced since then, it is in dire need of replacement. Patchwork pattern of patches says more than words can.

"It's more patch than roof up here," said Brett Holliday, whose job it is to keep the water from leaking into the classrooms and onto the children learning below.

"That's what I'm worried about. There's kids down there," said Holliday.

According to the Arizona Constitution and the state Supreme Court, it is the responsibility of the state government to make sure the school facilities are maintained to a minimum standard.

"This is a constitutional requirement," said Tim Hogan, an attorney who took the state to court in the early 1990s over the disparity in the condition of school facilities across Arizona.

Hogan won, and the state was forced to spend more than $1 billion to update and upgrade the schools. But since then, the state has tapered off its funding for school maintenance. This year, legislators eliminated the maintenance fund altogether.

"I don't think they understand their obligation," said Hogan, who said he's preparing another lawsuit.

According to state records and funding projections reviewed by CBS 5 Investigates, lawmakers were supposed to add between $100,000 and $250,000 to the Building Renewal Fund since 2003. But since that year, the lawmakers have funded anywhere from zero to a little more than $80 million. In five of those years, the number was zero.

"In our defense, we're still not out of the dog house as far as the economy in our state," said Rep. Doug Coleman, a Republican from Apache Junction.

Coleman is a retired teacher and the vice chairman of the House Education Committee. He said he'd like to pay more for school maintenance but can't find the money or the political support.

Gov. Jan Brewer's office issued the following statement to CBS 5 Investigates:

"Governor Brewer has always been committed to ensuring that students have school environments that are safe and conducive to learning. The budget the Governor recently signed takes steps in the right direction by increasing funding to the School Facilities Board. The budget also includes a provision that gives school districts an additional avenue to secure funding by raising the bonding limits that apply to school districts. So with approval of the local electorate, schools may bond to better maintain their facilities.

"About a decade ago, it cost the state almost $1 billion to bring schools statewide up to standard. If the state does not do more to ensure that our school facilities are maintained, our students could be put at risk and we could face huge deferred maintenance costs in the future. Although there is some funding available through the School Facilities Board to address these critical needs, the Governor would like to see the Legislature do more going forward."

Copyright 2013 CBS 5 (KPHO Broadcasting Corporation). All rights reserved.

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