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Get to know the Peoria Unified candidates: school overcrowding

Daily Independent
Daily Independent
 2022-08-08

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Now that the candidates for the Peoria Unified School District Governing Board have been firmly established, it’s time to get to know them better.

The candidates are Melissa Ewing, Heather Rooks and Devon Updegraff-Day.

Leading up to the Nov. 8 general election, residents can gain some insight as to who the candidates are through a series of questionnaires the Peoria Independent is publishing.

In this installment of the Independent's candidate Q&A series, we ask the three Peoria Unified governing board candidates about overcrowding in district schools and possible solutions.

Liberty, Sunrise Mountain, Centennial and Ironwood high schools are at or above capapcity.

Lake Pleasant, Parkridge, Sunset Heights and Vistancia elementary schools are at or above capacity.

Here are the candidates' responses.

Devon Updegraff-Day

Some schools are at capacity in the north. What can you do to curtail overcrowding?

I think it is important to first mention that every time the district decides to ask Peoria taxpayers to pay for a bond or override, the district pays between $105,000 to $130,000 for each measure to appear on the ballot. If one were to add up the total number of times a bond or override has appeared on a ballot, they will be approaching the amount needed to buy land for a new school.

The district’s lack of planning or inability to address a growing problem has left them in a difficult situation. Tough decisions will have to be made to keep campuses safe and productive. Student variances need to be examined, cutting wasteful spending, and researching various grants to help cover the cost of new school construction are all required tasks.

Editor's note: Land cost estimates for a new high range from $7 to $8 million.

Melissa Ewing


Some schools are at capacity in the north. What can you do to curtail overcrowding?

PUSD is experiencing overcrowding in schools and classrooms due to community growth outweighing available space in our northern schools and creating critical staffing shortages. The southern schools in our district are facing enrollment decline and older facilities need updating and repairs. However, the challenge is that Peoria still does not meet the student per seat requirement to qualify for state funds to build a new school and the lack of a bond to help pay for needed repairs or new schools. The result is the district is going to have to do redistricting and repurposing and close schools. There is no ideal solution to this problem, however being a board member requires that you make difficult decisions. Involving, and collaborating with community stakeholders to consider all options given the district’s financial constraints, is important in maintaining community support and trust. I will advocate with legislators to provide funding to PUSD to address these issues and involve and collaborate with PUSD families to make the best decision.


Heather Rooks


Some schools are at capacity in the north. What can you do to curtail overcrowding?

I will sit down with the Peoria administration and review the factors impacting capacity in the north. The board must address not only the overcrowding in the north but also the underutilized schools in the south, it’s seeing the total picture.

Many Peoria parents have questions on how many students in Peoria are actually residents of Peoria Unified. The board must look at the current open enrollment policy and determine if it is resulting in overcrowding.

I have been and will continue to follow the Peoria board discussions regarding the overcrowding with the administration recommending trading land for a new north high school.

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