Piggy Bank With Graduation Cap

A crowded field of nine candidates are running for three openings on the Peoria Unified governing board.

Seven of the candidates answered questions from the public during a Sept. 21 online forum hosted by the Peoria United Parent Council.

While Linda Busam and Rebecca Hill did not attend, CJ Williams, Kirk Hobbs, Davita Solter, Kacie Franklin, Bill Sorensen, Devon Updegraff-Day and David Sandoval answered questions.

Three of the five PUSD board seats are on the ballot. Sandoval is seeking reelection. His fellow board members Beverly Pingerelli and Judy Doane will not be in the running for reelection.

A key topic at the forum was the bond and override on the Nov. 3 ballot.

In May, the Peoria Unified governing board voted to request a 13% maintenance and operations (M&O) budget override continuation election. A 2019 PUSD request for a 15% override narrowly failed.

The board also voted to put a $125 million bond on the ballot.

While Sorensen, Williams, Franklin, Sandoval and Solter supported the bond and override, Hobbs and Updegraff-Day expressed reservations.

“I believe in bonds and overrides. A few years ago, when I was on the first bond and override committee, I voted for a $149 million bond. But right now, when it comes to bonds and overrides, the district is in a vulnerable position,” Hobbs said.

“It doesn’t really matter what I support; the most important question is what the community will support. Seven out of 10 households don’t have school-aged kids. Historically, we have not done a good job of explaining to those households why we need an additional tax bond dollar,” Hobbs continued. 

Updegraff-Day said she supported the bond and override years ago but now wants to see transparency in financial decision making. 

“I think, like any voter and any taxpayer, we want accountability and we want action and effort to show that there are being responsible financial decisions that are being made,” said Updegraff-Day.

“For example, you know that art center from the Challenger and Sunrise high school, yes, it’s fabulous—but with that $1.6 million, when you look at the significant deficits that need to be done in building renovations, that could have covered one of those schools. So, was that necessary? No,” Updegraff-Day continued.

Sorensen, former principal of Centennial High, explained why he supports the bond and override.

“I am a fiscal conservative, Dave Ramsey, ‘financial peace’ person, so I am not into thinking that increased revenue is automatically going to solve an issue. However, as a leader, I know what our facilities look like. I know that we still have chalkboards,” said Sorensen. “We need additional resources to ensure we are optimizing success.”

Williams supported both the bond and override and outlined his perspective.

“I do support the bond and override measures. Our state hasn’t fully funded public education to the constitutionally legislatively required levels in decades. They’ve really counted on that burden being shifted to local taxpayers through bonds and overrides. So, I struggle with that, but we have to take that into our hands. This is our community that we’re talking about and these are our schools we’re talking about, and I think that’s an important investment worth making,” said Williams.

“As we think about what that investment will allow us to maintain, we look at people and programs, the positions that allow us to invest in those support services and those wraparound services for our students that help to keep class sizes down. I think they could and should be smaller. I think research supports that.”

Franklin mentioned people and programs in her thoughts on the school funding request.

“I absolutely support the bond and override. I was lucky enough to be in a position to chair the political action committee that supported the bond in 2018. We had needs then, and those needs have continued to today,” Franklin said.

“Then you add in the override. The people and programs that our override supports, things like full-day kindergarten, school nurse, assistant principals, and those needs are so vital to taking care of our kids and taking care of our teachers and community as a whole. If we don’t continue that override where it’s at right now—this is not a tax increase—then our community is going to feel that pain and feel that suffering as we start to lose those funds next year.”  

Sandoval outlined thoughts on the bond and override spanning back four years. 

“I’ve supported the bond and override since I was elected on the board back in 2016. We needed them then and we desperately need them now, without question. We’re the only district of our size and unified that moves with a 13% override,” Sandoval said.

“One of things that I am proud of is that we did listen to the community before going out and accessing the needs of our bonds and the override percentage to understand what their priorities are and even from a point of what their potential financial exposure would be,” Sandoval continued.

Solter raised the idea of teachers leaving the district in supporting the funding requests. 

“I do support the bond and override and have my sign proudly displayed in my front yard and post about it on my Facebook page. ... I believe that one of the things we have to look at is the salary and benefits schedule for our employees,” Solter said.

“We used to be the school district that everybody wanted to be in because of our salary and benefits, and that’s no longer the case. Teachers are leaving and going to other school districts and making $5,000 to $10,000 more than they’re making at PUSD,” Solter continued.