LOS ANGELES - The Maricopa County Community College District in Arizona may seek voter authorization for a $400 million-plus bond package later this year, or otherwise impose more limits on enrollment growth.
District board members plan on Tuesday to discuss whether it makes sense to pursue a bond election on the November ballot.
In June 1992, voters defeated a $340 million bond proposal by the district. As a result, the district has reached the point of capping enrollment at its 10-college system until expansion money is approved.
The decision to move forward on another bond referendum will hinge partly on the district's perception of the political climate. The 1992 vote took place a the tail end of a sharp economic slowdown that plagued the Phoenix metropolitan area since the late 1980s.
Recently, however, the state's economy has picked up. District officials believe that could improve their chances for voters to approve a bond issue.
The strategy of holding a November referendum also could work in the district's favor. Classes are in session then,, which can help generate more support among both faculty and students.
By contrast, district officials believe a June referendum could fail to capture some of these prospective supporters. The June 1992 bond proposal was rejected by slightly more than 5,000 votes.
District officials said bond proceeds would fund construction of new classrooms and also rehabilitate older facilities. Proceeds also would be used to equip classrooms with new technology, including computer-related upgrades.
The proposed general obligation bonds would be secured by property taxes in Maricopa County.
Although the exact amount of the ballot proposal remains undecided, district officials recognize the need to gauge voter support. "This one will be larger" than the $340 million proposed two years ago, said Dan Whittemore, vice chancellor of administration.
According to a district spokeswoman, top officials of the college system want to meet with various taxpayer groups to tout the need for capital improvements.
Paul Elsner, chancellor of the system, also is trying to drum up support among community leaders. In a recent memorandum, Elsner said that the overall quality of the system will slip without a show of financial backing from the community.
Major growth in the district's territory, which includes Phoenix, is fueling the need for capital construction. The failure of the 1992 bond proposal forced the district to postpone developing a new campus in the eastern part of Mesa, Ariz.
The latest bond proposal is viewed as a critical component in meeting future enrollment growth. Without the improvements, district officials expect to implement a cap on enrollment.
"That's the problem - our facilities are right at maximum" in many places, Whittemore said.
Year-round enrollment at the college system is already 170,000. It is expected to grow by 50% over the next 10 years, Whittemore said.
The bond issue is part of a plan "to anticipate growth and be ready for it," Whittemore said.