Authors Articles byRaquel Hendrickson

Raquel Hendrickson

Raquel Hendrickson
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Raquel, a.k.a. Rocky, is a sixth-generation Arizonan who spent her formative years in the Missouri Ozarks. After attending Temple University in Philadelphia, she earned a bachelor’s degree from Brigham Young University and has been in the newspaper business since 1990. She has been a sports editor, general-assignment reporter, business editor, arts & entertainment editor, education reporter, government reporter and managing editor. After 16 years in the Verde Valley-Sedona, she moved to Maricopa in 2014. She loves the outdoors, the arts, great books and all kinds of animals.

Logan Harper introduces himself to parents and students as the new band teacher at Desert Wind Middle School. Photo by Raquel Hendrickson

Most schools in Maricopa start the New Year this week and prepared for opening day with Meet the Teacher nights. Maricopa Unified School District hosted a welcome-back gathering for certified and classified employees. Classes will be under way Monday. Watch for buses on the streets and children on foot near school zones.

Four years later, Jose Valenzuela is pleading guilty in the murders of Michael and Tina Careccia.

With his life on the line, the accused murderer of a Maricopa couple has signed a plea agreement rather than go to trial.

Jose Ignacio Valenzuela, now 42, has been behind bars since the summer of 2015, charged with the homicides of husband-and-wife Tina and Michael Careccia. It was being prosecuted as a capital case and would have gone to trial Sept. 10. Had a jury found him guilty, he could have faced the death penalty.

The plea agreement, filed Monday, has Valenzuela pleading guilty to the first-degree murder of Tina Careccia and the second-degree murder of Michael Careccia. Both were shot to death.

In the plea agreement, Valenzuela agreed to a sentence of natural life for the first-degree murder. He also agreed to pay restitution of up to $150,000.

There is no agreement on the sentence for the charge of second-degree murder, though Valenzuela agreed to pay another fine for restitution of up to $150,000. In Arizona, second-degree murder has a sentence of 10-25 years, with a presumptive sentence of 16 years.

The original charge in the death of Michael Careccia was first-degree murder.

Formal sentencing is set for Aug. 13. Special Prosecutor Gary Husk said he would have no comment until sentencing.

The Careccia disappeared from their Hidden Valley home the evening of Father’s Day 2015. The family, community members and law enforcement searched the area by ground and air for weeks. Valenzuela was arrested as a person of interest July 1, and the bodies were uncovered that night in Valenzuela’s backyard, where they had been buried with a backhoe. At the time Valenzuela lived in a house belonging to his parents on Papago Road.

The case developed to include drugs, an eye-witness and a hidden car containing a victim’s blood.

The prosecution of the case became complicated when Kent Volkmer was elected county attorney. As a private attorney he had been involved in the Valenzuela case, so he had the entire department recused from prosecuting the case upon taking office in 2017. Instead, the case was sent to Navajo County, which assigned Husk to be special prosecutor.

In the subsequent months and years, the case has gone through changes in defense attorneys and judges, as well.


Emilia Perez is one of the incoming first graders participating in a swim-safety course, a project between MUSD and the City of Maricopa. Photo by Victor Moreno

Some kids are water dogs. Others never get over their fear of the water, never learning to swim well enough to save themselves.

This school year, Maricopa Unified School District has agreed to be part of pilot program at Copper Sky Aquatic Center to teach young children to swim. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, participation in formal swim lessons can reduce the likelihood of a childhood drowning death by 88 percent.

“There are studies that say if you don’t learn to swim by third grade, you never will learn to swim,” said Nathan Ullyot, City of Maricopa Community Services director, who approached the school district with the idea. The initial program will be for first graders.

About 100 students each from Butterfield Elementary and Maricopa Elementary will be bused to Copper Sky to have lessons with the staff. The schools were chosen because they are the closest campuses to the facility, Ullyot said.

He went to MUSD this year and presented the idea to the administration. Superintendent Tracey Lopeman expressed her support of the concept and got the ball rolling.

During the pilot course, the program will be run as a series of field trips. If successful, it may be worked into the curriculum as a physical education course.

“I thought it was a great idea,” said Butterfield Principal Janel Hildick. “There are so many pools here.”

She said swimming safety is particularly poignant for Butterfield because a previous student died in a canal. The four-week course is not mandatory, and parents must sign a permission slip.

On the first day of the program, the first graders will be assessed in small groups. Those who show they are sufficiently adept at swimming will be taken to one area for a series of activities while their classmates prepare for swimming lessons.

Copper Sky lifeguard Rebecca Montes plays with Emilia Perez. Photo by Victor Moreno

Michelle Perez is enrolling her daughter Emilia. “I’m going to have her join the swim program because I think water safety and water awareness is very important,” she said, “especially early on so they can be prepared for any type of emergency or any type of scenario that they may be in when it comes to water.”

Hildick said the aim is to have the course completed before the district’s fall break, which starts the last day of September.

“It’s to keep them safe, and its also a win-win because it gets the kids more involved in the city and the community,” Hildick said.

Funding comes from a Global Water Resources sponsorship.

If the water-safety course works as it is intended and earns parental support during the coming semester, Ullyot said the goal is to expand the program to second and third grades and then have it in each of the district’s schools by 2021.

Data from the American Academy of Pediatrics indicate children as young as 1 year old may be at a lower risk of drowning if they have had some formal swimming instruction. But AAP cautions parents that swim programs do not “drown proof” a child of any age.

This story appears in the July issue of InMaricopa.

Another hot weekend with increasing humidity is in store for Maricopa. Photo by Raquel Hendrickson


Heat remains above normal for Maricopa’s weekend weather, according to the National Weather Service. The average high temperature for this time of year is 106 degrees F.

Today is sunny with a high near 108. Tonight will remain mostly clear, with a low around 81.

Friday is forecast to be sunny and hot with a high near 110. The overnight low is expected to be around 80.

Saturday, the high will likely go back to around 108, followed by a partly cloudy night with a low again near 80.

Sunday will likely have increased winds after a mostly sunny day and a high near 107. The overnight low will be around 81 while 5-15 mph winds have gusts up to 20 mph.

That leads to a hot week with some opportunities for rain on Monday and Tuesday.

Residents walked and pedaled over the overpass Saturday morning. Photo by Raquel Hendrickson

As a freight train blasted its horn and rumbled under the new overpass, people standing above whooped in victory.

Vice Mayor Henry Wade put it into words: “You ain’t the boss of me no more.”

The City of Maricopa put together a ceremony Saturday with a ribbon-cutting atop the State Route 347 overpass ahead of the actual opening of the bridge to traffic planned for Monday at 5 a.m. Budgeted for $55 million, the overpass was given state funding in 2014. The City of Maricopa is paying $15 million, and so is the federal government (through a Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery grant).

The official groundbreaking was Nov. 20, 2017.

With traffic bottle-necked and even stopped dead at the junction of SR 347 and the Union Pacific Railroad tracks, the idea of an overpass had been floated before incorporation. The long stops of Amtrak trains and increasingly frequent appearances of freight trains have delayed years of Maricopa drivers.

Mayor Christian Price noted the amount of time it took to get funding for the project long before construction began. “You can say that we need something all day long,” Mayor Christian Price said. “We know the 347 has its challenges. I’ve been working on that for six and a half years, and it’s going to take another six and a half years. But, you know what? If you don’t start working on it now, when it gets to be a real problem – I mean a real problem – you won’t be ready for it.”

Former mayor and former chairman of the State Transportation Board Kelly Anderson worked on making an overpass a reality since he was mayor. He said the opening of the overpass was surreal.

“I don’t have a feeling because I’m numb,” he said.

On the State Transportation Board, he said he learned the compromises and negotiations necessary to get projects done, including getting an overpass over the UP tracks in the middle of Maricopa.

“There’s an ADOT saying now. It’s the ‘Maricopa model,’” Anderson said. “You bring your own money to the model to get something done, and that’s what we did here.”

Along with elected officials, city staff and invited guests, Saturday’s event drew several residents on foot, on bicycles and on scooters, despite the heat reaching over 110 degrees.

“We’ve been excited for the overpass to happen and figured we’d come up to see it,” said Steven Chaston, a Villages resident. “To be perfectly honest, we’re not going to use it much, but we’re really glad it’s here.”

Janee Jackson said the overpass was part of the big improvements that are creating a “new Maricopa.”

“It’s cool because I really don’t want to be here for the train anymore,” said Ridge Rieman, who was with his family on bicycles crossing the bridge.

Thirteen-year-old Eturnitie Henderson agreed. “People have to go to work in the morning and sometimes they get stopped by the train and that causes stress and everything. So, it’s good they have this now.”

She was there as part of Library Initiative for Teens (LIFT). Along with the Maricopa High School Marching Rams and the MHS Air Force Junior ROTC, LIFT involved teenagers in the community event.

Micah Hannam, an ADOT engineer who became a familiar face at public meetings during the design process, reminded everyone the work is not done.

“This is a momentous thing for the community. I’ve only been down here about two years, and already I understand how big of a deal this overpass is,” he said. “There’s still several more months of construction going on. So, with all the traffic changes, please drive safely, drive carefully and enjoy the new overpass.”

Karla Petty of the Federal Highway Administration talked in even more detail about driving habits. “You’re going to want to just use it as a raceway. Please don’t. Be patient. Make the roadway safe, buckle up and be attentive.”

Chris Kane of Ames Construction said the overpass would have “an immediate, long-lasting, positive effect upon the community. You’ve got to be grateful any time you can be a part of something like that.”


Marcos Martinez is accused of the brutal murder of Vicky Ten Hoven. (photos PCSO/Facebook)

A man accused of killing his grandmother may have an insanity option.

Marcos Jarrell Martinez, 23, is charged with the 2018 first-degree murder of Vicky Ten Hoven, 62. Martinez appeared in court Friday morning in a brown jumpsuit and shackles, his long hair loose down his back.

Judge Jason Holmberg accepted Dr. Joel Parker as an independent expert in the possibility of a “guilty but insane” stance. Parker is a forensic psychiatrist.

Earlier in the case, Judge Lawrence Wharton found Martinez competent to stand trial based on an Arizona State Hospital evaluation, but the Parker examination would be making a judgment on the defendant’s mental state at the time of Ten Hoven’s murder.

Last week, Holmberg signed an order for additional defense funds for the case because of the volume of records involved.

Martinez has a history of mental-health issues. A year before his grandmother’s murder, Martinez had been “involuntarily committed” at behavioral health and substance abuse treatment facility in Mesa.

According to Arizona law, “A person may be found guilty except insane if at the time of the commission of the criminal act the person was afflicted with a mental disease or defect of such severity that the person did not know the criminal act was wrong… A guilty except insane verdict is not a criminal conviction for sentencing enhancement purposes.”

Jan. 18, 2018, Ten Hoven’s husband found her deceased in a pool of blood on their kitchen floor. Though she had been stabbed several times, the cause of death was determined to be blunt-force trauma.

Martinez’s next hearing was set for September.

If it’s July, school must be about to start.

That means a lot of changes, new faces, new programs and high expectations. Maricopa Unified School District and some charters start July 22. Here is a glimpse at what’s new at some of the campuses.

Maricopa Unified School District

Butterfield Elementary School. Photo by Kyle Norby

Butterfield Elementary School
43800 W. Honeycutt Road
School hours: 8:35 a.m.-3:35 p.m. (1:35 p.m. early release Wednesdays)
New teachers: 4

Butterfield comes into the new school year as an A-rated school, which is a new status for that campus. Now, Principal Janel Hildick has her school exploring the possibilities of becoming an A+ School of Excellence.

“We are also working to implement project-based learning, starting in kindergarten all the way up through fifth grade, that is aligned to the Arizona standards in all content areas,” she said.

While the Copa Kids program is leaving for the Santa Rosa campus, Butterfield will be one of two schools piloting a swimming-safety program with the City of Maricopa (see related story). The school will also have a new staff lounge with furniture donated by Desert Financial.

Besides four new teachers, students will also meet a new nurse in the health office.

Desert Wind Middle School. Photo by Kyle Norby

Desert Wind Middle School
35565 W. Honeycutt Road
School hours: 9:10 a.m.-4:05 p.m. (2:10 p.m. early release Wednesdays)
New teachers: 15

DWMS will have many new faces in the halls, not the least of which is Principal Carlos Alvarado. The school is working to elevate its testing scores after receiving a C rating from the state.

“I’m an every-student person,” he said. “We’re really going to make sure the kids really do their work. It’s going to be for their own good.”

One of the staff’s goals is to have more students ready to take Algebra II when they enter high school and to reach “the optimal level of student achievement.” The school is in the second year of implementing some curricula like Pearson Math and StudySync, and staff wants to explore other education opportunities like online CTE courses.

Alvarado is still catching up with staffing as some posts were vacated and new positions were created with money from the voter-approved budget override. He’s also hoping to add a couple of classified positions.

“It’s an awesome staff,” said Alvarado, who was previously at Marcos de Niza. “They are very dedicated professionals.”

Maricopa Elementary School. Photo by Kyle Norby

Maricopa Elementary School
18150 N. Alterra Parkway
School hours: 8:10 a.m.-3:10 p.m. (1:10 p.m. early release Wednesdays)
New teachers: 5

MES begins its first full year as a Leader in Me Lighthouse School, a designation it worked years to achieve. It aligns PBIS with the Leader in Me process and will continue to focus on the eight habits of highly effective people.

New programs include the swimming-safety program for first graders that is a partnership with Copper Sky and sponsored by Global Water. There will also be calming corners, a benefit from a grant awarded through Ak-Chin’s State-Shared Revenue Program (Prop 202) to Maricopa Police Department.

“The grant will provide a high level of service from crisis intervention and support in the education system for victims of crime and children with adverse experiences in Maricopa,” Principal Jennifer Robinson said. “This opportunity will provide training to elementary school staff at Maricopa Elementary on mindfulness and trauma-informed classrooms through a professor at ASU School of Social Work.”

Boosted by improved academic achievement and AzMerit growth, MES missed an A rating by just half a point last year. Staff will continue to implement Pearson Math and Wonders reading curriculum. Robinson said MES’s “wildly important goals” include having 80 percent of its students proficient in reading and math and 95 percent present and on time for school.

Besides five new certified teachers, the campus will have four new paraprofessionals and new part-time receptionist.

Maricopa High School Ram Stadium.

Maricopa High School
45012 W. Honeycutt Ave.
School hours: 7:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m.
New teachers: 30

The district’s growth and use of override funds may be most visible to the community at MHS. It has 12 new teaching positions, plus 18 new hires to replace exiting staff, and will have more than 100 certified teachers.

Eight portable buildings will accommodate 16 classrooms as an interim measure for the over-capacity campus as the district plans a second high school.

Principal Brian Winter said there will be options for classes before and after the regular daily schedule. Students who want to take an early-morning class will have a “0-hour” option at 6:30 a.m. For a credit-recovery option, they can attend eighth hour at 2:30 p.m.

New classes are varied. The AP Capstone Diploma courses start with AP Seminar. Mandarin (foreign language) and lifetime fitness (PE) have also been added. The dance program will have an additional teacher, so the course may be offered as 0-hour or eighth hour. There are now added electives in English – creative writing and advanced journalism.

Winter said there has been a lot to be proud of during the past year among students and teachers. “I’m very proud of Chandler Chang being named a Flinn Scholar. I’m proud of the selflessness of our students as exemplified by Jake Marr and Mathew Sabetta’s video earlier in the year. I’m proud of the three newly named National Board Certified Teachers at MHS. I’m proud of the work our students are doing inside and outside of the classrooms.”

He said the goal is to raise the academic bar to prepare them for their after-graduation life.

“Our culture is growing, our staff and students are challenged, and greatness is happening at MHS,” Winter said.

Maricopa Wells Middle School. Photo by Kyle Norby

Maricopa Wells Middle School
45725 W. Honeycutt Ave.
School hours: 9:10 a.m.-4:10 p.m. (2:10 p.m. early release Wednesdays)
New teachers: 5

MWMS is using several tools to improve behavior and socialization. That includes the Positive Behavioral Intervention Strategy program that came to the district last year, the Panther Ambassador program and Assets of the Week.

“Academics are always the focus,” Principal Thad Miller said, “but we want our students to use the positive assets to continue to be a respectful community member of Maricopa Wells and the community they live in.”

The Panther Ambassador program sponsored by Treva Jenkins teaches leadership skills. Assets helps build character and behavioral expectations. PBIS sets school-wide expectations to encourage positive decisions.

Last year, the school saw its 20+1 blended-learning program continue to shine, winning the state Future City competition again and going to Washington, D.C.

The school earned a C from the state last fall, but Miller sees opportunity ahead. “The state has updated our middle school history and science standards, so our teachers will be adjusting the curriculum to fit those standards in 2019-2020,” he said. “We have some strong, experienced teachers in those areas here at Wells, so they will do a great job with that.”

Miller is upbeat about his entire staff and even more so about the kids. “Our overall purpose is our students, and I love the students at Maricopa Wells,” he said. “They truly are a great group of kids, and their success and accomplishments are what this is all about. I know 2019-2020 is going to be a great year.”

Pima Butte Elementary School. Photo by Kyle Norby

Pima Butte Elementary School
42202 W. Rancho El Dorado Parkway
School hours: 8:35 a.m.-3:35 p.m. (1:35 p.m. early release Wednesdays)
New teachers: 1

The first MUSD school to receive an A rating, Pima Butte excelled again last year and achieved the status of A+ School of Excellence, a first for the campus, and it is good for the next three years.

“We want to continue on the path that we’ve been on of high expectations academically, behaviorally, socially,” Principal Randy Lazar said. “We want to continue getting as much parent support in all the activities we conduct throughout the year and at PTO functions.”

The district’s Gifted program will operate from the PBES campus this year through the leadership of Zoe Redfern. There will be a new library aide, and the academic coach position will now be an interventionist to meet the requirements of a Title 1 grant.

New to campus will be calming corner kits, including a bin to relieve stress. They were purchased by the counseling department and allow students time for reflection and to “get back on track,” Lazar said. Their use will be based on teacher discretion.

Most faces on campus will be very familiar. With the exception of one newcomer, all other teachers are returning, with many in place for the last decade or so. Lazar said that consistency is one of the reasons for the school’s success.

Santa Cruz Elementary School. Photo by Kyle Norby

Santa Cruz Elementary School
19845 N. Costa del Sol Blvd.
School hours: 8:35 a.m.-3:35 p.m. (1:35 a.m. early release Wednesdays)
New teachers: 4

Benefiting from override funds, SCES is booming and now has 21 classroom teachers, a preschool and district special needs classrooms. That has caused the school to move back into space that was previously vacant or occupied by senior citizen programs.

“We are growing rapidly and as such we’ve added more classes,” Principal Loraine Conley said.

The school was less than 2 points from an A letter grade last year, and Conley said that continues to be the staff goal.

“We are excited about using the newly board-adopted English Language Arts program for the second year,” she said. “We are expecting great gains in student achievement as a result of consistent use this school year.”

The preschool for ages 3-4 will accept up to 17 students taught by a certified teacher and an aid. It is a paid program with registration through the district office.

Santa Cruz drew community notice as a salsa winner for the second year in a row at the Salsa Festival this year.

Santa Rosa Elementary School. Photo by Kyle Norby

Santa Rosa Elementary School
21400 N. Santa Rosa Drive
School hours: 8:35 a.m.-3:35 p.m. (1:35 p.m. early release Wednesdays)
New teachers: 3

The SRES campus is buzzing as it prepares to host the district’s full-day preschool program. That brings two of the school’s three new teachers, who will be supported by two new paraprofessionals. SRES will also be the new site for the Copa Kids before- and after-school program.

Last year, Santa Rosa was less than a point from achieving an A rating. It was a year in which it introduced the new language arts curriculum Wonders, the PBIS program and the community program Watch D.O.G.S., which had 86 volunteers providing positive male role models.

“This year we are looking to continue to implement our current curriculum in both language arts and math,” Principal Eva Safranek said. “Research shows that it takes three to five years to fully implement a new program, so we have some more work to do.”

Safranek said staff will be adding depth to PBIS with calming corners and trauma-informed practices. Kagan Structures will continue to be used to improve cooperation and engagement.

“To support evidence-based writing, we will be training our staff in Write from the Beginning Response to Text process,” Safranek said. “We have several teachers that have gone through the training this past year and are ready to share with all of our teachers.”

Charter schools

Leading Edge Academy. Photo by Kyle Norby

Leading Edge Academy – Maricopa
18700 N. Porter Road
School hours: K & 1st Grade – 8 a.m.-2:45 p.m. (M-Th) and 8-11:45 a.m. (F)
2nd-5th Grade – 8 a.m.-3 p.m. (M-Th) and 8 a.m.-noon (F)
6th-8th Grade – 8 a.m.-3:15 p.m. (M-Th) and 8 a.m.-12:15 p.m. (F)
New teachers: 5

LEAM, which starts school Aug. 5, is adding two classes this school year in fourth and eighth grade, bringing the school to capacity. The school is constructing an additional building for eight classrooms, including two for special education and four for online high school classes.

Along with five new teachers, the school will have a new assistant principal, Amy Sundeen, who was previously principal at Legacy Traditional School.

A reading garden is also new this year, offering space to grow fruits and vegetables as well as a space for students to read. The writing curriculum “Step Up to Writing” may also be part of the new school year. LEAM added a Diversity Committee and a Peer Mediation elective for middle school. The school will also receive a school safety grant through Maricopa Police Department.

The school, which was B-rated last year, continues to build its Character Counts program at the elementary level and Positivity Project for middle school. Staff has daily drawings for good character and monthly assemblies for awards.

They hope to build on last year’s successes. Two LEAM students, Saili Fuiava and Abigail Panter, received Citizenship Awards from the American Legion Auxiliary, and Nia Lewis was named CAA Female Wrestler of the Year.

Sequoia Pathway K-6. Photo by Kyle Norby

Sequoia Pathway Academy (K-6)
19265 N. Porter Road
School hours: 8 a.m.-3 p.m.
New teachers: 6

Pathway, starting school July 22, now has an Enrichment/Intervention block built into the fourth- through sixth-grade classes.

“This is going to allow for the teachers to support the individual student at their learning levels,” Principal Rachael Lay said.

She said the school is also re-introducing Thinking Maps, first implemented eight years ago, and updating the staff on the curriculum.

Besides six new teachers, the students will get to know new Assistant Principal Taylor Stanton from ASU Prep. Lay said staff will continue to work to increase the number of students passing AzMerit, helped by the approval of new Title 1 positions.

“Not all of AzMerit scores have been released,” she said, “but the proudest moment was when we learned that we had 25 percent of our third graders score Highly Proficient, and that was up from 7 percent the previous year.”

NOTE: Some Maricopa schools did not respond by deadline, including Saddleback Elementary, Legacy Traditional School and Sequoia Pathway Academy’s middle/high school.

This story appears in the July issue of InMaricopa.

Four areas in Pinal and Maricopa counties are being scoped out by the federal government as possible sites for a recreational shooting sports pilot project. One is Box Canyon, which is already an informal shooting range on Hidden Valley Road and part of a proposed regional park.

Its status is causing a little confusion.

The new proposal, introduced by the Department of the Interior through the Bureau of Land Management, makes no mention of Pinal County Open Space & Trails and its creation of Palo Verde Regional Park through Hidden Valley. That plan includes further developing the existing shooting range.

Kent Taylor, director of Open Space & Trails, was not given notice about the BLM plan until it was announced for public feedback. He is waiting to hear if his county department can be a “cooperating agency.”

The master plan for Palo Verde Regional Park, which is in its 2016 version, shows parkland running between State Route 238 to the north and Interstate 8 the south and between Hidden Valley Road to the east and the county line to the west. Several years in the making, the plan incorporates feedback from residents, who wanted only light management if any at all.

Areas were marked for hiking, horseback riding, camping and other outdoor recreation along with shooting. BLM was an important part of the creation of the proposed park.

The shooting range pilot project put forth by BLM this year, with cooperation from Arizona Game & Fish Department, proposes a “semi-developed site” with parking improvements, portable toilets and target structures. As stated in the proposal, “future development could include shade structures, permanent restrooms, overnight camping area, picnic tables and ‘projectile zone.’”

Kent and his advisory commission are hoping to evaluate the proposal and “how that impacts our future plan.”

“It’s unclear as to what level of management it will have,” he said.

The proposal may fold into the Palo Verde plan and enhance it, or it may ignore it or even conflict with it.

BLM sought public feedback on the scoping project through the month of June and held public meetings in Buckeye and Phoenix.

“We’re excited to learn from this pilot program to identify ways that we can provide greater recreational shooting opportunities while ensuring that other activities and public uses can continue to the greatest degree possible,” said Casey Hammond, principal deputy assistant secretary for Land and Minerals Management, exercising the authority of the BLM director.

According to BLM Phoenix District Manager Leon Thomas, the pilot program offers a framework for enhanced access to public lands for recreational shooting.

“We are seeking public input as we prepare an environmental assessment of the proposal,” he said.

The three other areas proposed for the pilot project are in Maricopa County – Saddleback Mountain, Church Camp Road and Narramore Road.

This story appears in the July issue of InMaricopa.

This map shows concepts of a shooting range in Box Canyon as proposed by Open Space & Trails’ Palo Verde Regional Park master plan.
This map shows concepts of a shooting range in Box Canyon as proposed by Bureau of Land Management’s pilot program.

Photos by Raquel Hendrickson

Maricopa’s VFW Post hosted a brief flag-raising ceremony Thursday morning for Independence Day. Ray Propst, Bruce Boenning and David Hixon raised the stars-and-stripes, and Kirk Lane delivered a message of freedom at the Maricopa Veterans Center.

MUSD Board Vice President Ben Owens convinced two other members to vote for a $68 million bond. Photo by Raquel Hendrickson

A Nov. 5 election ballot won’t be asking voters for a $50 million, $65 million or $75 million bond for Maricopa Unified School District. Instead, three of the five members of the governing board opted to compromise for $68 million.

The two dissenting members, Patti Coutré and Joshua Judd, pushed for $75 million.

The bond is for construction of a second high school to mitigate overcrowding and for capital projects for aging buildings, like replacing heating/cooling units and roofs.

Superintendent Tracey Lopeman said a second high school alone will cost around $67-$75 million. The district received $26 million for construction plus funding for land from the state’s School Facilities Board. Under questioning from Coutré, she said a $68 million high school would be a small but comprehensive school that might serve 2,600 students but without some of the programs of the current high school.

Board Vice President Ben Owens proposed the compromise. He said he talked to several people who had signed petitions to put him on the board, and all but one favored the $68 million idea.

Coutré said her constituents stressed the fact they did not like the district continually coming back to them for funds. A $68 million bond, she said, will likely lead to another bond request or capital override in a few years.

Judd, who attended via telephone, warned the board that interest rates will likely rise from the current 3.25 percent to the average 5 percent. He asked for the $75 million with the rate locked in.

“Currently we are at record lows for interest rates,” he said. “The further and further we go out from putting this on the ballot next year, the more we increase the risk of looking at the interest rates which were presented to us when we were given information earlier.”

He said it could cost voters money by not being aggressive now. “I think that’s the most responsible choice. Someone could be conservative now, but it ends up becoming the bad choice two or three years from now when interest rates increase.”

Lopeman said $68 million could result in $20 million left over but not enough to meet all the capital needs.

“We could be at capacity in, say, five years and still have needs,” she said.

“We’re always going to have needs. That’s the nature of the beast, which is great because we’re an awesome district and this is where everybody wants to be,” Anderson said. “But we’re always going to have to keep going back to the voters.”

Anderson said she thinks the state will come through with more capital funding that might help with repairs.

Board President AnnaMarie Knorr said she could see the day in the next five to six years when the district will need another middle school or another elementary school. Though she implored the board to reach a unanimous choice, Coutré and Judd could not agree to do so.

MUSD is currently under an M&O bond that paid for more teachers, smaller class sizes and technology. The district may ask for a renewal in 2020 or 2021. If this year’s bond passes but there is not enough money for major capital expenditures like rooftops, HVAC and safety measures, the district may ask for a capital override or another bond.

Construction is continuing rapidly on the academic building at Heritage Academy. Photo by Raquel Hendrickson

With construction of its campus behind schedule, the new Heritage Academy will start the school year with classes off-site, according to information released to parents by Principal Kimberly Ellsworth.

The plan is to have classes at Elements Event Center, a conference facility at UltraStar Multi-tainment Center. School starts July 24.

The charter school is a middle school and high school campus. Elements, a property of Ak-Chin Indian Community, has made space available for up to eight weeks if necessary.

Elements has four main rooms with a total capacity of about 395 people. The largest room can be divided into smaller spaces.

“After speaking with Elements at UltraStar, we are confident in the facilities, set up, staff support and safety of this temporary location,” Ellsworth wrote. “We are excited to work with them, and we think the scholars will enjoy the learning experience at this facility.”

Classes will be moved to the new campus as soon as it has a certificate of occupancy.

Heritage will host a Meet the Teacher Night July 18 from 6 to 8 p.m. at Elements, 16000 N. Maricopa Road.

The school broke ground in March. The campus is being constructed at 41001 W. Lucera Lane off Adams Way at Porter Road, not far from Saddleback Elementary and Leading Edge Academy – Maricopa to the west, Legacy Traditional School to the south and Sequoia Pathway Academy to the north.

Heritage Academy construction on June 27
Heritage Academy construction on June 11. Photo by Kyle Norby

As part of its Memorial Day ceremonies, Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 12043 dedicated a flag receptacle in which people can properly dispose of the Stars and Stripes.

The VFW had been using boxes to encourage people to turn in their worn flags, but Mike Kemery said people kept throwing trash in them. Vet Dave Hixon started looking for donations, and his company, Can Do Home Repair Inc., donated the red, white and blue, metal container.

It is bolted down in front of the Maricopa Veterans Center.

“We thought, ‘Wow, that old building never looked so good,’” said Kemery, who is now judge advocate with the VFW Department of Arizona.

U.S. flags can be deposited in the receptacle at any time. Veterans will collect the flags and dispose of them according to flag etiquette, which is to burn them.

Per the VFW:

  1. The flag should be folded in its customary manner.
  2. It is important that the fire be fairly large and of sufficient intensity to ensure complete burning of the flag.
  3. Place the flag on the fire.
  4. The individual(s) can come to attention, salute the flag, recite the Pledge of Allegiance and have a brief period of silent reflection.
  5. After the flag is completely consumed, the fire should then be safely extinguished, and the ashes buried.
  6. Please make sure you are conforming to local/state fire codes or ordinances.

Since the new box has been installed, the number of flags being brought to the center has increased.

“When we move to our new building, that’s coming with us,” Kemery said, referring to the veterans’ future center at what is now the city library.

The U.S. flag was established by the Flag Act, passed by the Second Continental Congress in 1777. It established the 13 stripes and the blue field bearing 13 stars. Subsequent flag acts dealt with changing numbers over time. Text in the Flag Act of 1818 established the tradition of adding a star to the flag on the next July 4 after a new state joined the union.

“The Mysterious Origins of the American Flag”

This story appears in the July issue of InMaricopa.

Tailgate cookouts, flying motorbikes, waterslides, fireworks – it’s all part of the plan for the Fourth of July.

The City of Maricopa’s annual Great American 4th is on Independence Day at Copper Sky. This year, there will be some additions to the festivities.

That includes the “Great American Tailgate,” allowing attendees to grill up food and enjoy their own beer at their vehicles before the traditional fireworks display. At past events, Community Services Director Nathan Ullyot said, beer-drinkers had been segregated into a beer garden.

“This way, more people can be in our fields just possibly using our facilities,” he said.

A $30 ticket for the tailgating includes a beer-and-wine permit. The tailgating area is the south parking lot by the ballfields. Those with tailgating tickets can show up as early as 1 p.m. to pick their prime parking spot for viewing the fireworks that evening.

The tailgating area is first-come, first-served. Tents, tables, chairs and grills are all allowed in the parking spaces and on the nearby soccer fields. It is a 21-and-over event, and staff will be checking IDs. Tailgate Passes must be pre-purchased in person from Becky Squires at the Copper Sky front desk.

At 5 p.m., a VIP Pool Party gets started in the Aquatics Center. Advance tickets are $15. Copper Sky annual members get five bucks off.

: Great American 4th
When: July 4, 5-10 p.m.
Where: Copper Sky Regional Park
How much: Free (fees for parking, Tailgate, VIP Pool Party, waterslides)

Electric Blue DJ Eric Chudzik gets revved up at 5 p.m. That is also when kids and adults are invited to enjoy the bounce house waterslides with a $5 wristband. For annual members, it’s free.

Recreation Coordinator Matthew Reiter said there would be a limited number of vendors, and few selling food items. Attendees are encouraged to bring in their own food.

“There won’t be a vendors row out there,” he said.

That leaves more room for family fun and games, starting at 5:30 p.m.

Vince Morgan of Brigade FMX will put on a freestyle motocross show starting at 7:45 p.m. Reiter said that exhibition will be near the fireworks area on the south side of the park.

The fireworks show gets started at 9 p.m.

Those who are not tailgating can park in other parking lots for $5. Free parking with a free shuttle to and from the event will again be available at Butterfield Elementary, 43800 W. Honeycutt Road, Santa Rosa Elementary, 21400 N. Santa Rosa Avenue and Maricopa Ace Hardware, 21542 N. John Wayne Parkway.

This story is in the July issue of InMaricopa.

Newly reopened Native Grill & Wings was among food establishments earning excellent scores. last month.

The 20 establishments inspected by Pinal County Environmental Health Department in the Maricopa area from May 16 through June 15 all received excellent marks.

EXCELLENT [No violations found]
Circle K (Honeycutt Road)
Circle K Made to Go (Honeycutt Road)
Circle K (south)
Dickey’s Barbecue Pit
Domino’s Pizza (twice)
Good 2 Go Store
Helen’s Kitchen
Honeycutt Coffee
JB Farmer’s Convenience Store
KFC/Long John Silver’s
Li’s Garden
Maricopa Shell – Dairy Queen
Native Grill and Wings
Raceway Bar & Grill
Rob’s Convenience
Sunrise Cafe
Sunrise Preschool

SATISFACTORY [Violations corrected during inspection]

NEEDS IMPROVEMENT [Critical items noted during inspection cannot be corrected immediately requiring follow-up inspection]

UNACCEPTABLE [Gross, unsanitary conditions necessitating the discontinuation of service]

This item appears in the July issue of InMaricopa.

Clear, blue skies are expected this week in Maricopa.

After an elevated weekend, temperatures are expected to return to normal by Tuesday in time for a typical Fourth of July in Maricopa, according to the National Weather Service.

Today is sunny and hot with a high near 111 degrees F and 5-15 mph winds that will gust as high as 20 mph. Tonight will have a low around 77.

Tuesday, the forecast sees sunny skies, a high near 109 and continued breezy conditions. The overnight low will be around 75.

Wednesday, look for sunny skies and high near 108 and winds up 15 mph. The nighttime low will be around 71.

Independence Day will likely be sunny with a high near 107 and 5-10 mph winds. The night is forecast to be clear for fireworks-watchers and low around 72.

Friday, expect sun and a high near 107 and calm breezes. The overnight low will be around 74.

From this distance the weekend looks hot and mostly sunny throughout.


While many Maricopa commuters have fantasies about the stoplight on State Route 347 at Riggs Road going away and becoming an overpass, the state looks set to create another stoplight on SR 347.

A project in the works would put traffic lights at the intersection of Old Maricopa Road, which is about halfway between the Riggs Road intersection and the Interstate 10 exchange. It is in Maricopa County within the Gila River Indian Community. In fact, Old Maricopa Road is an access to Wild Horse Pass Casino and other GRIC properties.

“We had zero control over this,” Mayor Christian Price said, anticipating blowback from Maricopa drivers.

Brandon Nguyen, an environmental planner with Arizona Department of Transportation, sent out a letter to stakeholders describing the scope of the project. A three-way traffic light would allow traffic coming off Old Maricopa Road to turn left. Currently, those drivers can only turn right.

“These improvements are needed to minimize traffic delays and to reduce the frequency and severity of crashes at the intersection,” Nguyen wrote.

In recent years, wrong-way drivers or impatient drivers have caused fatal collisions at that intersection. Price said he understood the safety concerns because there have been four incidents that triggered a warrant for a traffic signal there.

During special events at Wild Horse Pass, temporary traffic lights at that intersection are already used at a cost of about $18,000 for GRIC. New lights would function the same way but on a permanent basis. Nguyen pointed out that because the work would be entirely within an existing right of way, no easements would need to be acquired.

The City of Maricopa has been pushing ADOT and Maricopa County to get on board with Pinal County’s idea of widening SR 347 in both directions from Maricopa to I-10. What impact a new traffic light may have on those designs is not clear. But it is apparent the opinion of the City of Maricopa had little bearing on the decision.

“The City has no official statement, as that project is a collaboration between ADOT and the Gila River Indian Community, and we have not been part of the planning of the project,” spokesman Adam Wolfe said.

Though having no authority in the decision-making, Price said he did speak to planners to ask for concessions.

“When I found out about this, I knew we couldn’t stop it from happening, but I could go and voice my concerns,” Price said. “I asked them, ‘Can it be a light that is fluid? Can it be red only when someone is coming out of an event?’”

His idea would have the lights only stop traffic on SR 347 during events. The rest of the time, the intersection would function just as it does now, with SR 347 traffic not stopping and no left turn allowed off Old Maricopa Road.

The project is planned to start May 2020, with construction lasting six months. ADOT is seeking feedback from stakeholders on the project through July 6.

The transition of the intersection into a traffic signal will include the “obliteration” of current roadway markings, installation of traffic poles, conduit and controller cabinet, restriping, removal of “No Left Turn” signs and installation of new, larger “Do Not Enter” and “Wrong Way” signs “to meet current design standards.”

Nguyen anticipates single-lane closures on SR 347 and lane shifts on Old Maricopa Road during the construction of the intersection. There may even be a short, full closure of the road when pole mast arms are put in place.

This story appears in the July issue of InMaricopa.

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UPDATE: Joshua Call died of his injuries. Friends and family are planning a candle-light gathering in his memory at Raceway Bar & Grill on Papago Road, Tuesday, July 2, at 7 p.m., with the candle-lighting starting between 7:45 and 8 p.m. Donations for the family are welcome.

Joshua Call (Facebook)

A 30-year-old Maricopa man is on life support after falling from a roof during construction work Friday.

According to Maricopa Police Department, the cause of the accident is under investigation and involves Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). He reportedly fell from a high elevation through the roof into the interior of a home under construction and suffered severe head injuries.

The incident happened around 12:42 p.m. on West Mediterranean Way in Sorrento.

He was transported with life-threatening injuries to a trauma center in Chandler. Friends are identifying him as Joshua Call.

Tracey Lopeman is beginning her second year as superintendent of MUSD. Photo by Kyle Norby


How would you describe your first full year at MUSD?
I’ve been able to meet so many great kids and great families along the way and really enjoy the benefits of a close relationship with city partners and business partners. So, it’s just been a wonderful experience.

How did that come about, being able to grow those relationships with the city, for instance?
Well, we started off by having a large stakeholder meeting where we articulated the Maricopa Why. And we invited the mayor, the city manager. We had police representation there. We had city agencies like Be Awesome, parents, students, of course, teachers and administrators. That was in August of last year. They took us up on the invitation, and we were able to identify all the dreams we have in common for the kids of Maricopa. When you have those kinds of commonalities, it’s a pretty good start.

What in your background prepared you for some of the challenges you’ve faced in the past year?
Actually, as a school-level administrator, I spent a lot of time building relationships with parents. It always came back to those core values – if we all want what’s best for kids, the differences we bring are less disruptive and can be turned into the strengths of the final outcome. I came into the work in Maricopa ready to meet people and ready to listen. From our beginning, starting with the Maricopa Why, and having superintendent’s advisory councils with certified, classified staff, parents and students, it really fit well with all my professional experience but also my professional passion.

What were some of the district’s successes during the past year?
It’s a pretty long list. For starters, we have a new website. It’s a much more effective representation of who we are to the rest of the world. We are launching a preschool in July. From the day I started, we had to begin planning for growth at the high school. Of course, that’s a multi-year project. We have been rewarded from the School Facilities Board $23 million to begin that project. The Legislature funded that, so we know we have a future for a high school vision as well. Plus, we had to have an intermediate plan that was agile. If you go over to the high school right now, you’ll see there are 16 classrooms, some of them are brand new, some of them are one-year used, gently used, pre-owned. We’re proposing a 5-percent raise, and we believe our board is going to definitely approve that when they adopt the budget, so we have been able to effectively allocate our resources to get the money back in the classroom, keep the money in the classroom.

When did you know you would need a new school? Was that before you took the job?
Before I arrived, the early spring of 2018, the district completed a demographic study. It was very evident then that a new high school was going to be necessary. Really, I think that just validated what everybody knew.

Can you describe what funding options are available, including the bond?
I mentioned we have the $23 million from the SFB. The board has given very serious consideration to calling for a bond election. That decision is on the horizon. But we began capital planning with a Capital Planning Committee last fall. We’ve had probably a half-dozen meetings with a diverse group of stakeholders, faith-based, business, elected officials, teachers, administrators, parents and students to develop consensus around what was most urgent, in addition to a high school. Our buildings are anywhere from 10 to 12 to 15 years old, so roofs and air conditioning are also a necessity. So is transportation. So is security. Those kinds of things, that’s all part of the funding needs that we have in addition to a high school.

Is there a certain tact you expect the district to take if they go for a bond when you just had the voters approve an override?
We’re committed to communicating the value of education, not only to the individual student or the individual family but the value of an educated population here in Maricopa. What it brings in terms of wealth to the community. If a child has a high school diploma, they have a certain expectancy for income, and how that is so exponentially increased once they have a college diploma. The more educated our city is, the more tax revenue there is, the less crime there is, it’s a more attractive place to live. We don’t want to just sell a bond. We want to promote the idea of making Maricopa a destination city. Part of that is doing our part as a district to educate our children.

While this was your first year as superintendent, there were also changes among the administrative staff. How did that work, with you bringing them up to speed while also still learning the ropes yourself?
I’ll go back again to what we articulated in our strategic plan. We have some very clearly articulated vision and mission statements, and that produced some very powerful goals and strategies. It minimizes the time you have to get people on board because we already did that. We already spent a tremendous amount of time and energy and dedication to articulating what we want for this community. We identified blocks and obstacles, so that already captured any resistance we might face, any obstacles along the way. So, we’re prepared to link arms, not only as professionals but with our parents, with our students, with our elected officials, with our business partners, with our faith-based partners. We’ve got the path already laid for us.

What was your biggest surprise of the last year?
Probably just how many great kids I met. I’ve had a couple of surprises actually. I thought I was going to be stuck in my office all the time. My admin assistant and I made plans to get me out into the schools. I was surprised at the welcome. I was surprised at the warmth. I was surprised at the partnership that I felt continued beyond the articulation of the plan, the partnership that continued beyond the superintendent’s advisory councils. It just was personal. I was surprised at the personal nature I was able to enjoy. It really drove me to get out there more and to listen more and to get out there the next time. It’s just an upward spiral.

Where would you put the level of transparency now compared to when you first came in?
Transparency is a priority for us. We have applied that concept and that philosophy across all departments and throughout all levels. We want to be open and communicative with our parents and with all the constituents in Maricopa. In terms of our communication, part of that is just being available. The website is better, as we mentioned, but we also made sure we had a human answering the phone. We had one of our stellar, superstar Maricopa Unified office people picking up the phone every time someone called. That’s the first part of transparency, saying, “We’re here to listen.” So, we can have a two-way conversation. We’ve also this past spring changed some of our administrative procedures to create greater transparency around our budgeting processes, the way we’re allocating resources and how we’re sharing leadership and ownership in much greater fashion at the school level.


This story appears in the July issue of InMaricopa.

Crew work in the early morning at the Heritage Academy sight.

Heritage Academy is scheduled to open its Maricopa campus July 24, but the charter school is still under construction.

The school, prepared for sixth through 11th grade (intending to add 12th grade next year), is awaiting five permits. Ten permits have been issued for the project, and there are 35 inspections yet to be conducted.

The property at 41001 W. Lucera Lane is on land owned by Our Lady of Grace parish in Glennwilde.

The 13,525-square-foot gym and a 29,359-square-foot academic building have been issued permits for commercial new building, sprinkler system and fire alarm. A 16,101-square-foot addition to the academic building has not.

Each of the first two commercial permits took two and a half months to be issued. The commercial permit for the addition was submitted April 17.

The campus plans also eventually include a 16,454-square-foot auditorium and a football field.  Low Mountain Construction has the campus marked for completion in October.

Representatives from Heritage Academy did not respond to queries about contingency plans. A weekly newsletter stated, “We will have a better timeline of completion once the steel is finished.  In the meantime, we are making some back-up plans, just in case, so we can ensure school will begin on time.”

The school has been busy hiring faculty and orienting scholars. Students have been auditioning for fine arts programs as well.

Another planned charter high school and middle school, A+ Charter Schools, opted to postpone its construction until next school year.

Low Mountain Construction is putting up the campus buildings.

When the Maricopa Unified School District Governing Board approved the 2019-20 budget Wednesday, it did so without the agreement of Board Member Patti Coutré.

She said some of the listed savings were coming on the backs of full-time substitutes. “I have a hard time with this,” she said.

“When this program was set up years ago, when we started the pilot program, it was successful,” Coutré said. “So much so that we put full-time subs in all our schools and two at the high school. If it’s working, I don’t understand why we have to pull it.”

Business Director Jason Harmon showed the district saving $1.07 million with changes to the budget, including $131,000 from altering the full-time substitutes program. The full-time substitutes had benefits through MUSD, but will now go through a third party, smartSchools, for appointments and benefits.

“I can’t put a dollar figure on a person,” Coutré said. “These are people that have been working for the district full-time with benefits, and now we’re going to say, ‘Hey, we need to save some money, so you can purchase benefits through smartSchools, and you can still sub, we’ll still call, but you’re not guaranteed a job anymore.’”

The full-time substitutes were told of the situation in May at a face-to-face meeting with Human Resources Director Tom Beckett after being asked to sign a “Notice of Appointment” in February for the upcoming school year.

Substitute teacher Idressa Calland felt it was a virtual breach of contract. “This is immoral, unjust and disheartening,” Calland said in the wake of that meeting.

On Wednesday, Beckett conceded it was late notice.

Budget Highlights

  • The primary tax rate will decrease from 4.1596 to 3.7908 this fiscal year.
    • The secondary tax rate will decrease from 3.0408 to 2.9675. Included in that secondary tax, a scheduled increase in the M&O override from 1.3261 to 1.3426 is counterbalanced by drops in Class B bonds from 1.2693 to 1.1968 and desegregation from 0.4454 to 0.4125.
    • Average teacher salaries are going up 6 percent. The average teacher salary will be $50,376.
    • The estimated reserve is $682,224.
    • Weighted student count is 10,024, up from 9,504.

“We have made the contingency that we are going to place each of those full-time subs that were with the district on top of the priority list for that individual school where they are at,” he told the governing board. “They will be first-placed when there is an opening at their school site.”

Beckett said there would not be a guarantee of 180 days, “but we’ll do our very, very best.”

While Calland said there was no illegality involved, she was not happy with the manner it occurred. She said the teachers should have been told in March.

“It’s just how they gave us contracts and let us go three days before school ended,” she said. “People lose sick time and opportunities to apply for open positions.”

Wednesday, Coutré questioned whether the district was actually saving $131,000 with the move. “Because my understanding is that these employees will be able to continue to work through smartSchools as subs. Basically, we’re still going to be paying them, but we’re going to be paying them through smartSchools. So, we’re still out that expenditure. The only thing we’re really saving would be the benefit costs that they are no longer receiving.”

However, Board Member Torri Anderson, a former teacher, supported the change.

“To have a full-time sub on each campus is a Cadillac model that we can’t afford to do when there are other things that we need to stretch our money to do,” Anderson said.

She said some of the substitutes were doing work other than substitute teaching in classrooms.

“If substitutes weren’t being used correctly, that seems to be a management issue and something that maybe the district needs to streamline,” Coutré said.

When Superintendent Tracey Lopeman explained approving the proposed budget was more about “form and format” rather than the details, which can be changed later before the final vote, Coutré said that was a moot point. The rest of the agenda, she said, included personnel and other expenditures.

“We’re spending the money,” she said.

The board voted 3-1 to approve the $50 million budget for FY20.

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Photos by Kyle Norby

James Reid brought his juggling act back to Maricopa Public Library Thursday, also entertaining children with yo-yo tricks. The presentation was part of the library’s annual Summer Reading Program.

Glenn Morrison, constable for the local justice court, is among six constables suing Pinal County.

Constables are fighting with Pinal County over salaries and have now filed a lawsuit.

Claiming the Board of Supervisors did not follow the law when it set constable salaries in 2018, the suit, filed June 14, seeks restoration of lost income. At issue is the decrease in salary of three of the constable positions, “even though the gross workload was increasing.”

State statute requires supervisors to set salaries at a regular June meeting prior to the January commencement of term. The constables claim the board violated the law by not setting their salaries until August 2018, as a consent-agenda item after the Primary Election.

“We realized it had not been done for the new districts, so processed it at the August Board meeting,” County Manager Greg Stanley said. “The agenda was posted prior to the Primary Election, and Board approved it as posted.”

Last fall, the county consolidated eight precincts to six, renaming some of the precincts in the process. Maricopa/Stanfield Justice Court, for instance, became Western Pinal Justice Court just as Glenn Morrison took office as constable.

The county then lowered the salary of the highest-paid constables. The Western Pinal constable went from $61,208 to $50,029. The salary of the Casa Grande constable was lowered from $61,208 to $49,939. The salary of the Apache Junction constable dropped from $61,208 to $50,480. The salaries of all six constables now equal $300,000.

“The County’s action in setting the salaries was both unfair and illegal,” the suit claims, further emphasizing the constable positions have not received a raise since 2010.

Previously, the eight constable salaries combined for $321,000. Constables in the smallest precincts made as little as $13,050. Three of the constables made between $32,000 and $36,100. The small districts were combined or folded into a larger district to create the six current precincts.

Though only three constables are impacted by a salary decrease, including Morrison, all six signed onto the suit. Morrison deferred comment on the case. One of their attorneys, Stephen Tully, said they are seeking a raise in salary back to its original rate and back pay.

The state statute does not define a remedy when this section of the law is violated, but Tully said that is not unusual.

“Clearly, the legislators didn’t pass a law that is a violation but has no penalty, no enforcement,” he said.

When the Board of Supervisors approved its 2018-19 budget, it stipulated the six constable salaries combined not exceed $300,000. City Manager Greg Stanley noted increasing the total above $300,000 would require an amendment to the budget.

Tully said when talks with the county “didn’t go anywhere,” the constables opted to take their argument to court to make the county comply with the statute. “I imagine they’ll get it right next time.”

Felicia Williams (right) resigned this month, to be replaced on an interim basis by TOSA Marchelle Hasan (left).

Maricopa Unified School District is looking for another principal.

After 10 years as principal of Saddleback Elementary School, Felicia Williams submitted her resignation June 13. Her last day was Friday.

“I have been offered a position outside of MUSD that is in the best interest of my family,” she wrote.

Wednesday, the Maricopa Unified School District Governing Board accepted the resignation without docking her a contract assessment with less than a month before the next school year starts.

The board approved Marchelle Hasan as interim principal at the campus. She has been teacher on special assignment (TOSA) at Saddleback since 2013.

Hasan has a doctorate in educational leadership, a master’s degree in education/curriculum and instruction and a Bachelor of Science in elementary education. She has more than 18 years of experience in education.

Danica Gutierrez is a National Finalist in MLB Pitch, Hit & Run. Photo by Raquel Hendrickson


A 12-year-old Maricopa girl is heading for Cleveland next week to compete during MLB All-Star Week.

In the MLB Pitch, Hit & Run competition, Danica Gutierrez beat out the 11-12-year-old crowd in the softball division at Chase Field. Her results qualified her for the national tournament during All-Star week.

“It was awesome,” said Danica, who plays club softball for the Gila Riva Chaos and some club baseball and also plays for the Maricopa Wells Middle School softball team.

This was the third year she has competed in Pitch, Hit & Run. She is typically a pitcher but said her best event was batting.

Now she’s preparing for Cleveland.

“I practice at home, I practice on the field,” she said. “I’m hitting off a tee, and I’m working on my agility.”

To reach Nationals, Danica had to work through layers of competition. That started at the local tournament at Copper Sky. She was among the top three in her age group to advance to the Sectionals at Casa Grande. There, she qualified to play at the MLB Team Championship hosted by the Arizona Diamondbacks at Chase Field.

Competition came from around Arizona and New Mexico. Danica finished on top of her age division.

Other Maricopans competing at the MLB Team Championship at Chase Field were Kiersten Cope, who finished second in the 7-8 softball division, and Madison Brandon, third in the 13-14 softball division.

Winners at the Diamondbacks’ MLB Team Championships. Submitted photo

Winning the MLB Team Championship did not automatically qualify her for Nationals. MLB has 29 Team Championships and selects the top three scores across the country as National Finalists. Danica was No. 2 in her division and she will be joining players from Alabama and Washington in the finals.

Danica has played softball since she was 8. She previously played soccer, which was when her father noted her killer instinct.

“I saw how aggressive she was, in a good way,” Daniel Gutierrez said. “She was one of our top scorers. And when she was a goalie, she was always moving.”

Danica with her father Daniel Gutierrez Sr. Photo by Raquel Hendrickson

She has also played flag football, volleyball and basketball.

“We like to stay busy,” Danica said.

Daniel and Monica Gutierrez moved to Alterra form Texas more than 13 years ago. Both of their children, Danica and Daniel Jr., were born here.

Danica’s father has always been her coach or at least an assistant coach. He said athletics is great for kids, and not just physically.

“It keeps them active,” Gutierrez said. “They make friends, they play with anybody. It keeps them from being shy.”

MLB Pitch, Hit & Run participants compete in softball and baseball in four age groups, 7-8, 9-10, 11-12 and 13-14.

In the pitching portion of the competition, they throw six balls at a strike-zone target. Hitting the zone is worth 75 points. In hitting, participants hit six balls for distance off a batting tee, with the top three measured distances counting toward the score. In running, participants are timed from second base to home plate.

The National Finalists were announced on television. The competition is July 8.

Danica competing at Chase Field. Submitted photo

The new fountain in The Villages beats the heat during a scorching weekend. Photo by Raquel Hendrickson

High pressure will keep high temperatures a few degrees above normal through Monday, according to the National Weather Service.

Today is sunny with a high near 107 degrees F. The overnight low will be around 70.

Friday, the forecast is for sunny and hot with a high near 111 and little wind. The night is expected to be partly cloudy with a low around 76.

Saturday is likely to be partly sunny with a high near 108. The clouds fully move in overnight, when the low will be around 77 and the winds gust up to 20 mph.

Sunday is expected to return to partly sunny and hot, with a high near 110 and mild winds. The nighttime low will be around 78 as the winds pick up to 15 mph and gust up to 20 mph.

Next week starts out with a scorcher, but high temperatures should be at seasonal norms by Tuesday.

MUSD Board Members Patti Coutre and Ben Owens disagreed with Board President AnnaMarie Knorr and Torri Anderson about the size of a proposed bond.


With governing board members divided on the issue, Maricopa Unified School District is taking a tortuous route toward a bond election this fall.

Estimated costs of a second high school combined with capital costs for aging buildings total $140 million.

As the high school is over-capacity by more than 200 students, all board members agree a bond is needed. However, the four attending Wednesday’s meeting split down the middle on the amount for which they should ask voters. Joshua Judd was out of state, but Board President AnnaMarie Knorr attended via phone.

Over the past months, the district has looked at capital-improvement bonds of $50 million, $65 million and $75 million.

“I would rather be conservative and go for the sure thing,” Board Member Torri Anderson said.

She initially supported the $50 million proposal but moved to the $65 million bond. She said she had talked to community members who told her they would not vote for anything that added more than $100 per year to their tax bill.

“I want to be respectful of those community members that are here now,” she said.

But Board Member Patti Coutré said asking for $75 million was not being disrespectful. She said asking for the top amount was respecting future generations of students.

Coutré and Board Vice President Ben Owens pushed for $75 million while Anderson and Knorr voted for $65 million.

Knorr said it was important for the board to be in unanimous agreement on an amount. The board requested a special meeting be arranged July 3 for another vote on the issue after they are all able to gather more community information. The deadline is July 8.

If the board seeks a bond election, it will be held Nov. 5 this year.

A second high school is only part of the capital-improvements challenge.

Estimated costs of a second high school combined with capital costs for aging buildings such as new roofs and HVAC total $140 million. The district will receive about $26 million from the state’s School Facilities Board.

The district conservatively is expected to grow 5 percent over the next few years, a number that is forecast to be closer to 8 percent to spread the tax burden to more properties.

Previous meetings, including a stakeholders’ forum Thursday, showed various scenarios of funding the first phase of a new school plus top-priority capital improvements.

Scenario 1
High school Phase 1          $57,500,000
Top priorities                     $40,700,000
Minus SFB funds               $72,000,000 total

Scenario 2
High school Phase 1          $57,500,000
Top priorities                     $32,200,000 (deleting solar with battery storage)
Minus SFB funds               $63,500,000 total

Scenario 3
High school Phase 1          $57,500,000
Top priorities                     $24,700,000 (deleting energy- and water-saving initiatives)
Minus SFB funds               $56,000,000 total

“It’s a good idea to have energy projects at the front of the line, but you have such a capacity issue right now at the high school, that it’s probably going to push those kinds of things aside,” said Mark Rafferty, a partner at Facility Management Group, who made a presentation Thursday on the district’s lifecycle forecast.

He said all MUSD school are 12 to 16 years old, a time when most building systems “begin to go out of service.” That includes heating/cooling, roofing and interior finishes.

“At 12 years, they begin to go out of service. They begin to be a maintenance issue,” he said. “By 16 years, they are all out of service. All of your schools except the high school are between 12 and 16 years old.”

At last week’s forum, financial advisor Mike LaVallee, a managing director of Stifel, Nicolaus & Company, reiterated the discrepancy between what is legislatively mandated to go in the voter pamphlet and what is the economic reality. Numbers presented to voters, he said, must include the 10-year average growth, a time period that included the great recession.

For MUSD, that would be a growth rate of 0.82 percent. Some districts, he said, had negative growth for the decade. During the past three years, however, the growth rate at MUSD has been at a 5-percent clip.

Tax value is usually 82-85 percent of the market value of a home. The average assessed value of homes in the borders of MUSD is $117,000.

But Anderson said there are several homes in Maricopa with assessed values of $240,000, “and those are our voters.”

LaVallee said there is a $12 difference for every addition $100,000 of assessed value.

Owens said the math indicates a $65 million bond would be $7 per month for the owner of a home assessed at $100,000. On a bond of $75 million, that moves to $7.5 or $8 per month.

“That’ not how people think,” Anderson said. “They think about the tax bill at the end of the year that says $240 or $260.”

Knorr said asking for a $65 million bond would pick up those voters who are on the fence about the full $75 million.

At the same time, she said, a “starter” high school is not workable because it would inherently involve inequality of opportunity between the two high schools. A starter school, for instance, would not have sports or arts programs.

Owens said $75 million would give the district “the capability to do what is right and what we need to do.”

Superintendent Tracey Lopeman said if the district successfully has a bond approved that provides less money than the necessary capital improvements demand, MUSD may have to seek a capital-improvement budget override.

Sunny days are predicted throughout the week as the days get hotter. Photo by Raquel Hendrickson


Days will get progressively hotter in Maricopa during the week, according to the National Weather Service, heading into a simmering weekend.

Today is sunny with an expected high of 104 degrees F this afternoon. Tonight, the low will be around 67.

Tuesday, the forecast calls for a high near 106 under sunny skies. The overnight low will be around 69.

Wednesday is likely to be a near repeat, with a high of 106 expected during a sunny day and low of 68 overnight.

Thursday, too, is predicted to be sunny but with the high temperature increasing to 107 and winds increasing to 10 mph. Overnight, the low will be around 69.

Friday, the high is forecast to be near 108 with continued variable winds and mostly sunny skies. The nighttime low will be around 72.

From this distance, the weekend weather looks to have daily temperatures over 110, which may trigger another heat warning.

Maryeileen Flanagan points out her home on the I-11 map. Photo by Raquel Hendrickson

A new interstate highway planned through Arizona will sweep through Hidden Valley, and residents are irate.

The Federal Highway Administration is seeking feedback on the proposed I-11 corridor. It has primarily been promoted as the first direct connection between Phoenix and Las Vegas, though it ultimately could link Mexico to Canada.

More than 130 people have joined the “Stop I-11 in Hidden Valley” Facebook group, and they have begun meeting to strategize opposition to what is being shopped as the preferred route. Thursday, a group of about 20 gathered in Linda Sullivan’s house, which is near of the freeway’s path.

The freeway corridor is 2,000 feet wide and would necessitate the demolition of occupied homes.

“Some people have built their dream homes out here,” Sullivan said.

“The big intention of this freeway is to connect Nogales all the way to Vegas,” said Maryeileen Flanagan, who has been watching the project for years. “There’s a huge amount of goods transported via truck. This really is about the trucking industry.”

Flanagan’s home is in the path of the “recommended” alternative, which follows sections of the “green” and “purple” routes. She built her own house 1996.

Nevada completed the first leg of its part of the interstate, from Boulder City to Lake Mead, last year. Such a highway has been discussed in one form another for 25 years but was not formally designated until 2015. Flanagan said some of the data and maps of Hidden Valley being used in the study are outdated, according to recent reports from the Arizona Department of Transportation.

As the planned freeway from Marana to Buckeye comes through the Maricopa area, it is divided into three alternatives. What is called the “orange” alternative follows Interstate 8 to Gila Bend and then cuts north to Buckeye and on to Wickenburg. That alternative, however, has mostly fallen out of discussion because of the distance.

Santina Johnson, who has ongoing battles with Pinal County, believes the “orange” is being ignored because Maricopa, Casa Grande and Pinal County are pushing it through Hidden Valley.

Hidden Valley residents gather in the Sullivan home to talk strategy.

The shorter alternatives, “green” and “purple” go through the populated areas of Hidden Valley, following a path along Barnes Road east to west, passing south of the Nissan proving grounds until it reaches Amarillo Valley Road, where it starts to run northwest and passes through the Palo Verde Regional Park. It would cross State Route 238 at Mobile and continue on to Buckeye.

Johnson said residents of the City of Maricopa “are being fed the B.S. that the I-11 will take traffic off the 347.”

Janet Hedgpeth said no one in the county government would care if residents of Hidden Valley dropped off the face of the earth. Johnson described the area as having high numbers of senior, low-income, disabled and Hispanic residents.

Several members of the group wanted to plan confrontations with Mayor Christian Price and other elected officials in Maricopa and Pinal County, even introducing a recall of County Supervisor Anthony Smith, but others said it was smartest to go straight to the federal level and cut off the funding.

“We also need to make sure those are people who have the potential to have some impact in our behalf,” Hedgpeth said.

Flanagan has reached out to U.S. Congressman Tom O’Halleran and U.S. senators Kyrsten Sinema and Martha McSally. Sinema’s office responded immediately and said the senator or one of her representatives would attend a future meeting in Hidden Valley.

“We need to focus on our baby steps to get to our goal,” Sullivan said.

The public comment period ends July 8. A decision on the final route is expected in early 2020.

Flanagan said it comes down to money, inferring Pinal County wants the highway only as a driver of economic development. The county, she said, is the second largest in the state but has the least amount of available land for development and to make revenue, “because we have so much reservation land, state land, federal land.”

“So, they are desperate to do something to generate revenue,” she said. “They have to do something, so they can stay relevant.”

“It’s a good thing that people get up in arms, but the politicians don’t really give a damn what we think,” said Joe Abodeely. “What you have to do is something that affects them. For instance: ‘You going to be running for office next time? I’m going to do everything I can to make sure you don’t get elected.’”

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Democrat candidate for U.S. Senate Mark Kelly dropped in on a meeting of the Blue Star Mothers of Maricopa on Wednesday. Vero Sanchez, president of the nonpartisan group, said the campaign reached out to ask if they could say a few words as he was coming through the area. Kelly, a 25-year Navy veteran and retired astronaut, is the husband of former Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords. If nominated, he could face incumbent Martha McSally, a Republican who was appointed to the seat after the death of Sen. John McCain. Kelly told the group his mother was a Blue Star Mother twice over when he and his twin brother Scott were in the Navy. He said he decided to run for office because he was tired of the divisiveness and nothing being done in Washington.

The corn is high off Bowlin Road at Sorrento.

Weekend weather in Maricopa will be a little bit cooler and breezier, according to the National Weather Service.

Today, the high temperature is expected to be 105 degrees F with winds 5-10 mph. Tonight, expect the winds to gust up to 20 mph and the low to drop to around 67.

Friday, the forecast calls for a sunny day with a high near 103. Winds of 5-15 mph may gust up to 25 mph. The overnight low will be around 66.

Saturday will likely be sunny but the high will only be near 99. The nighttime low will be around 65 under clear skies with winds topping out at 15 mph.

Sunday also sees sunny skies ahead and a high near 100. The overnight low will be around 66.

Next week will start with clear skies and temps in staying in the low 100s.