school board talks about land, consolidation | Local News

The Fountain Hills Unified School District Board of Trustees is considering selling three parcels of land worth approximately $20 million, as part of an ongoing discussion regarding the future of FHUSD and the operation of its various sites.

The board cannot actually sell the land that belongs to the school district, but members can vote to have the matter considered in a municipal election.

In a discussion at its January 12 meeting, council members decided that expansion of local schools was unlikely and that the time might finally be right to use the “rainy day fund.” provided by selling a trio of plots of land, an idea that has been circulating for many years now. The land, donated by Mccullough Properties, has been part of the school district since its formation in 1974, and the three plots are located adjacent to Aspen Drive, Cavern Drive and Arroyo Vista Drive.

The Board can only use funds from the sale of land for capital expenditures, such as repairing facilities, constructing new buildings, and paying down debt. According to board member Jill Reed, FHUSD’s only debt is its bond debt, which Reed says isn’t a bad thing. The board cannot use funds from the sale of the land for operating expenses, such as teacher increases.

The board also discussed the future of McDowell Mountain Elementary School and Fountain Hills Middle School at the Jan. 12 meeting. A similar conversation took place last spring, with a presentation on student population and facility usage projections offering some context.

According to this presentation, enrollment estimates showed that McDowell Mountain Elementary School could potentially close after the 2022-2023 school year and, in this scenario, elementary students would congregate on the college campus. Based on the information provided at the January 12 meeting, this estimate is still true.

According to these same projections, all FHUSD students would be grouped together on the high school campus by the start of the 2026-2027 school year.

In the event of consolidation, the presentation also offered examples of how unused school campuses could be utilized in years to come. McDowell Mountain could become the second dog park and playground in the town of Fountain Hills, for example, or a residence with assistance. Possibilities for the college campus included a second Sunshine Acres Children’s Home location or a college/university campus.

These projections can fluctuate, as a large number of factors can affect enrollments. The Board expects a steady decline in enrollment over the next seven years, which is the basis for considering combining campuses. However, the numbers were higher than expected for the current school year.

Last spring, the Council predicted that enrollment for the 2021-2022 school year would be 1,240 students. As of January 5, 2022, total enrollment in the district was 1,323, 83 more students than expected.

It was clarified that this is an ongoing conversation that will continue to evolve as new information/conditions become available. The board will continue to deliberate on the future of FHUSD, as well as how the money from a potential land sale could be put to good use.

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