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Staff Report

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Curtis Cardine is a fellow with the Grand Canyon Institute and a retired educator with 45 years of experience in public and charter schools. Photo by Jeff Kronenfeld

Camino Montessori — which closed earlier this month — is hardly unique in the challenges it faced as a charter school in Arizona.

Of the 427 charter schools to have closed since charters were first granted by the state in 1994, 66 shut on short notice during the school year, according to data from Curtis Cardine, a fellow with the Grand Canyon Institute and a retired educator with 45 years of experience in public and charter schools.

“I worked for two charter groups out here and left them both in disgust because of what’s allowed financially,” Cardine said. “They’re paying so much debt they can’t meet their obligations. That’s what’s happening to your company that’s down there.”

Proceeds from the sale of the school’s assets, including a 3.06-acre property purchased on March 3, 2017, for $445,400, will first go to pay back the school’s debts. The primary debt holder is the Community Investment Corporation (CIC), which provided the loan for the property’s purchase.

Initial attempts to finance the purchase through a bond ended unsuccessfully, which led the school to taking out the loan and incurring additional costs related to escrow payments during the several month delay, according to Judy Webster, CEO and board president of the school.

“My whole motive and vision was to bring Montessori education to people who couldn’t ordinarily afford it,” Webster said. “I just wanted to make it work, and it didn’t.”

Located near the intersection of Smith-Enke and Porter roads, the property is currently listed for sale at $700,000 by NAI Horizon. No potential purchasers had contacted the company as of Oct. 25, according to Logan Crum, an associate with NAI Horizon.

Webster said that she and her husband, Kevin, are also debt holders, having extended roughly $120,000 to the school. She said the school had defaulted on the repayment. This was corroborated by the school’s tax filings. She does not anticipate ever recouping this debt, as she believes there will not be enough money left over once CIC and other debts are paid off.

If there are any remaining assets after creditors are paid, they would need to be transferred to another nonprofit, according to Anne Byrne, professional-in-residence with ASU Lodestar Center for Philanthropy and Nonprofit Innovation.

By reviewing Cardine’s data and speaking with Webster, a more complete picture of the events leading to the school’s sudden closure is possible. As stated in previous articles, the school had been losing money for several years. The school was losing $308 dollars per student for the 2016-17 fiscal year.

Cardine said some of the larger networks of charter school providers were losing equal or larger amounts per student, such as BASIS losing as much as $330 per student. Due to their greater financial resources, growing enrollment and multiple campuses, they were more able to weather these costs and shift money around.

Cardine noted other problems indicated by Camino Montessori’s tax filings, such as taking out short-term loans and using credit cards to deal with cash-flow problems. Between 2013 and 2017, the school did not meet the Arizona State Board of Charter Schools (ASBCS) financial performance expectations for three of the four years.

Webster also confirmed, as reported in a previous article, that the school had reached an out-of-court settlement with the family of a student, though she disputed that this was an admission of guilt regarding accusations she delayed the evaluation and provision of services for the disabled student.

“I think small charter schools like us face similar challenges in a system as regulated as this,” Webster said.

Cardine said for small charters, the costs for implementing individualized education plans for even a few students could make the difference between profitability. District schools spend 12 percent on special education overall, while charters spend just 5 percent, despite receiving the same amount for special education students. Charter schools are not allowed to discriminate based on whether students have special education needs or not, though he noted that many do attempt to avoid having too many of the students enrolled through informal means.

Cardine said as many as 20 other charter schools around the state could be in danger of closing on short notice, though none of these are located within Maricopa. He further noted the charter industry throughout the state as a whole had more debt than money coming in currently, which he said would be explained in more detail in an upcoming report from GCI.

Due to a change in the law passed last legislative session, the ASBCS is now able to close charter schools it oversees for financial reasons. Cardine believes they should have shut down the school earlier based on its financial difficulties. He reported when he initially approached the ASBCS about the problems with charter schools throughout the state, they responded that the charters’ practices were legal.

“This is going to burn you guys, you better get ahead of it,” Cardine said he told the ASBCS. “I’m not trying to sandbag you; I’m just trying to say, ‘danger, Will Robinson, if you don’t take care of it, you’re going to have these closures,’ and they were shocked. They didn’t even have a handle on how many had been closed.”

Cardine did note that newer leadership in ASBCS is taking the problem more seriously. The ASBCS did not respond before the publication of this article.

Both candidates for state superintendent of public instruction stressed the need to improve oversight of Arizona’s charter schools.

“First, we need to do everything possible to ensure that our schools, charter and traditional, do not close,” said Kathy Hoffman, the Democratic candidate. “We need to eliminate the corruption found in Arizona’s charter school policies. It’s unconscionable that there are elected officials and private interests that are making millions of dollars off of public dollars via charter schools.”

Hoffman also argued for the need to ensure students’ academic data follows them to their new school. She said policies need be enacted to require more notice before a school shuts its doors.

Frank Riggs, her Republican opponent, echoed many of her sentiments, but also argued that the majority of Arizona’s charter schools were doing good work, especially in serving predominately minority and low-income students.

Riggs argued the ASBCS, in concert with the superintendent and the Arizona Department of Education, should have receivership over charter schools for worst-case scenarios such as the closure of Camino Montessori. He also argued for reforming standards for charter school boards to ensure all members have the necessary training and that there aren’t potential conflicts of interest that could impact their oversight function.

“The State Board for charter schools on which the superintendent of public instruction sits needs to be more proactive in interceding with poor performing charter schools or charter schools that are putting up red flags,” Riggs said.

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Mayor Christian Price, dressed as Marty McFly, delivers his State of the City address Oct. 24. Photo by Kyle Norby

In his annual State of the City presentation, Mayor Christian Price offered a bold but attainable vision of the future grounded in the past. He touched on subjects important to Maricopa residents, such as transportation, growing the economy and continuing to improve the efficiency of local government.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=001pVRQ_1vw

“I believe the very best way to predict the future is simply to create it,” Price said, establishing early one of his central themes for the evening: the importance of a bold vision for Maricopa’s future.

Before the event, anticipation ran high, with a number of attendees curious about what fun plans Price had up his sleeve. His State of the City presentations have become known for his innovative and fun introductions. Last year the mayor zip-lined in, while the year before he made a video of himself in an indoor skydiving facility to make it appear as if he parachuted in.

The State of the City is funded by sponsorships.

“I have no idea what Christian is going to do, because he is a wild card, he could do anything,” said Maricopa resident Linda Huggins. “I’d just like to see where he feels the future of Maricopa is going to be.”

Hollace Lyon, Democratic candidate for the state senate seat for District One, had a suspicion that the mayor’s entrance might involve a DeLorean.

“I’m excited to see if he can fit in one, because he’s a pretty tall guy,” said Lyon, who hoped to find out more information about the progress of the overpass project in particular and economic development more broadly.

On the entertainment and transportation fronts, Price did not disappoint, indeed arriving in a DeLorean (owned by Mark Burchard) and dressed as Marty McFly with City Manager Rick Horst dressed as Doc Brown, characters from the film franchise, “Back to The Future.”

Photo by Raquel Hendrickson

Price discussed not only the overpass project and plans for State Route 347, but also the road’s history. He took the crowd back to 1989, when the future city of Maricopa wasn’t much more than, “a few lonesome plots of farm land.”

“Developers could foresee that the future success of Maricopa was intrinsically tied to the ability to make 347 work properly,” Price said.

Price described how a coalition of local residents, land developers, tribal and state officials came together to support the construction of SR 347. He noted the project was funded by residents of the then-unincorporated area through what was called a “special transportation district.” It passed in a high-turnout election by just 21 votes.

Price related this to Propositions 416 and 417, which put a regional transportation plan and half-cent sales tax to finance it before voters last year. Prop 417 also passed by a narrow margin, 51 percent to 49, though its implementation has been held up by a lawsuit. He said the roughly $100 million the plan is projected to raise was necessary for increasing entry and exit routes into Maricopa, in addition to other measures to decrease traffic and accidents.

“Twenty-eight years after the first major road improvement, the people of Pinal County and the City of Maricopa courageously and emphatically stated, through their slim but majority vote, that, yes, we want and we downright need a solution to this dangerous road and the gridlock it often extends to our families,” Price said.

Price discussed how partnerships were not only vital to Maricopa’s past, but also its future.

Current projections for completion of the overpass project, as presented in the State of the City.

On the business side, Price stressed the importance of cultivating relationships with a range of private and public entities. He described how these relationships helped Maricopa secure grant funding and gain support for important projects from county, state and federal government bodies.

He laid out proposed plans for the Copper Sky site, including Maricopa’s first hotel since incorporation and a number of mixed-use spaces with commercial units on the ground floors and residential ones on the second.

Price also announced the city was changing from a business licensing process to a business registry, and that form is now only a page long and can be completed online. The fee was reduced from $50 to $10, with veteran-owned businesses and nonprofits paying nothing to register.

Reactions to the speech seemed positive, with the mayor having touched on the topics the crowd had indicated they were interested in. He also highlighted some of the exciting tech companies working throughout the region, such as the electric car company Lucid Motors and Nikola Motor Co., which makes electric-hydrogen-fueled trucks.

“The mayor never ceases to amaze me,” said Rosie Kuzmic, a Maricopa resident. “He is such a cheerleader for Maricopa. He fills us in on what’s going on, where we’ve been and what we can look forward to. He doesn’t pull any punches and he’s always fun.”

Grants received special mention a number of times, with Price highlighting the benefits received in terms of school safety, first-responders and other essential city functions. He also lauded the job done by Horst, who he likened to the city’s Doc Brown and who was appointed as city manager in June. In fact, Price quoted Doc Brown in his closing remarks.

“To Doctor Brown’s credit, he really did say it best when he said, ‘our future hasn’t been written yet'” Price said. “Your future is what you make of it, so let’s make it a good one.”

To watch the full speech, visit the city’s YouTube page at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lGB4xhFiHqg&feature=youtu.be

City Manager Rick Horst dressed as Doc Brown. Photo by Raquel Hendrickson

A Maricopa woman was arrested on domestic violence charges Oct. 20 after two incidents involving her husband.

A Maricopa Police report shows Maria Weber was arrested on charges of assault and disorderly conduct for a Oct. 20 incident and criminal damage charges from one on Oct. 18.

According to police, on the evening of Oct. 18, Weber used a screwdriver to punch holes in the wall of the bedroom of her estranged husband at his residence on West Ramona Street. She is also said to have set a pillow on fire and dumped oil on a bed.

The second incident occurred on the evening of Oct. 20. Police said Maria Weber was involved in a “verbal argument” with her husband.

“She recklessly threw three baseball-sized rocks at [her husband],” a police report reads. “One of the rocks struck [him] in his left ankle.”

After this, she is said to have begun, “yelling and excessively using her vehicle horn, while in front of [her husband’s] residence.”

Maria Weber allegedly admitted to the crimes to police after her arrest. Her son is said to have provided witness statements against her as well.

The Sequoia Pathway volleyball team had a perfect regular season and reached the CAA semifinals. Top row: Coach Holley, Emma Berg, Alexis Powell, Volunteer Assistant Jodi Kalulu; middle row: Cydnee Byrd, Lynniece Andrews, Lexi Trimmer, Mikayla Gallon and Lani Kalulu; bottom row: Taylor Yon, Mercedes Garcia, Jasmin Nafarrate and Jameshia Hughes.

 

Last night the Sequoia Pathway volleyball team experienced its first loss of the season against the Basis Peoria Scorpions in a hard-fought four-setter.  The 1-3 defeat means the Pumas will not advance to the Canyon Athletic Association’s Division II State Championship.

“The girls held on to their nerves for too long,” coach Lashieka Holley said of the game.

However, Holley was more upbeat about the season past as a whole and the one to come.

“The girls ended the season 16-1,” Holley said. “They really came together and had an unprecedented season, which sets us up for next year. They will be ready for those close games.”

Two juniors are slated to return next season, as will a number of freshmen and sophomores, preserving a strong core. Despite the loss, the camaraderie developed by the tight-knit squad was itself a form of victory.

“We worked really hard as soon as we came in from tryouts,” said Lynniece Andrews, the team’s court captain. “We weren’t as bonded back then, and that was a big piece, because we had different components coming in. We all meshed together and we’re sisters now. We work hard everyday and every game.”

Another Puma captain, Jasmin Nafarrate, echoed this sentiment.

“We have our ups and downs, of course, every team does, but we really did bond together,” said Nafarrate, who described her own role on the team as the “emotional support captain.”

“I’m like a big sister. If they need any advice off the court, anything going on with their families, boy troubles, I’m always there for them. I’m just a shoulder to lean on.”

Holley had hoped the Pumas’ extra practices and long hours would have end in the goal they wrote down shortly after tryouts: winning the state championship for their division. 

“They really put themselves through it this year,” Holley said. “They are a really hard-working group of girls, a special group.”

Turner Stanek in his gear at Nationals in Spokane, Washington. Submitted photo

When Turner Stanek arrived at the 2018 USA Powerlifting Raw Nationals in Spokane, Washington, earlier this month, he wasn’t nervous until he noticed all the “very large people.”

They must have been truly humongous, because although only 15 years old, Stanek is no slouch, standing six feet tall and weighing in at around 230 pounds. Literally in a class to himself — he was the only competitor in his age and weight group — Stanek achieved personal bests by deadlifting 507 pounds, back squatting 430 pounds and winning his first national championship.

Turner Stanek flashing his gold at Nationals. Submitted photo

When Stanek was 13 years old and first walked into CrossFit Maricopa a couple of years back, his height immediately stood out to the gym’s owner, Scott Bradley, who is now one of Stanek’s coaches.

“He’s a big kid, tall, and he was definitely growing very quickly,” Bradley said.

Though powerfully built, Stanek was never really into any of the sports he played recreationally. “I was super overweight a few years ago before I started it,” Stanek said.

That started to change when his best friend, a young lady by the name of Alexis Ball, took some time off from competitive gymnastics and started working out at CrossFit Maricopa.

“She kept bringing it up and I was like, ‘I’ll try it,’ but never really did,” Stanek said. “I remember I was sitting on the couch and I was super bored and I texted her.”

Stanek said when Ball explained CrossFit to him as “a really fun way of working out,” he decided to give it a try.

“I ended up loving it,” Stanek said.

Turner Stanek before starting at CrossFit Maricopa. Submitted photo

After participating in CrossFit classes for six months, another of Turner’s future coaches suggested he give powerlifting a go. He quickly took to the sport, entering his first competition about six months after that. During that competition, his mother Danica Stanek noticed her son’s coaches huddled tightly in conversation. When they called her over, she was worried something was wrong.

“When I walked over there, they’re like, ‘Turner’s broken all three state records,'” Danica said, explaining he’d set the state record for back squats, bench press and deadlifts, the three events that make up a powerlifting competition.

“Obviously, I was glowing with pride,” Danica said.

The coaches explained Turner might break another record and didn’t want to tell him until the scores were final. When Turner competed in the USA Powerlifting Arizona 2018 State Championship in April, he again broke records — this time his own — and qualified to compete in nationals.

Stanek continued to train with CrossFit Maricopa’s powerlifting team, which he describes as his “second family.” While the gym takes safety and working out seriously, the spirit of mutual support and fun are at its core.

“I told Turner that I want him to have fun more than anything,” Bradley said. “I didn’t want to make it drudgery.”

Both of Turner’s families were with him at nationals in Spokane, where he joined over 1,000 other muscly competitors, some national record holders. Though Turner arrived earlier, he didn’t compete until Sunday, the event’s last day. He spent most of the morning in the warm-up room with his coach, Bradley, before moving to the competition floor shortly after noon.

“The way Scott does it is he doesn’t let me see what weights that I’m doing for each lift,” Turner said. “I feel like it really helps because you don’t get in your head about it. You don’t know if you’ve done this weight before. That’s what I like about it.”

Setting personal bests for deadlifts and back squats while putting up very respectable numbers for bench press, Stanek achieved his first — though likely far from last — national championship.

“To put up those kind of numbers as a 15-year-old is hard to even fathom,” coach Bradley said. “Most 15 year olds are more concerned with other stuff.  To see him doing this and getting good grades in school and being the kind of person that he is, it’s amazing. He’s a great all-around kid and his brothers really look up to him.”

While his mom couldn’t be prouder of his accomplishments and attitude, she noted there were a number of fringe benefits to having a powerlifting national champion for a son.

“He’s great at carrying in groceries and moving stuff around,” Danica Stanek said.

Turner Stanek (upper left) with his mother Danica and two brothers at Nationals. Submitted photo

Brandon Osife (PCSO photo)

Bo Runge, a Shell station clerk, was at work on the night of Oct. 13 when a man attempted to rob him, he told police. He said the man had his hands in his pocket and was, “trying to act like he had a weapon.” When the suspect attempted to go behind the counter, Runge grabbed a baseball bat. The suspect then fled on foot without obtaining money or merchandise.

Runge said the man claimed to have robbed the store before, which is at 19680 N. John Wayne Parkway. Maricopa Police took a still picture from the store’s video footage, which they circulated throughout the department. Officers identified the suspect as Brandon Osife, who was convicted of robbing the same store in an incident that occurred last year on Oct. 23.

Osife was arrested on suspicion of attempted robbery a short distance from the store at 12:29 a.m. on Oct. 14. He is in Pinal County Jail on a $10,000 bond.

Adam C. Fox (PCSO photo)

 

Adam C. Fox was arrested by Maricopa Police Department on suspicion of assault and criminal damage on the evening of Oct. 9 at 7:24 p.m. Both offenses are said to have occurred on Oct. 8 between the hours of 9 a.m. and 3 p.m.

The report alleges Fox became upset during a verbal argument with a woman and grabbed her by the throat.

“Adam then intentionally impeded the normal breathing of [the woman] by applying pressure to Jessica’s throat for approximately three to four seconds,” the report says. “[The woman] managed to free herself however Adam managed to grab her again.”

The reported victim said she didn’t feel safe leaving the residence on West Dutchman Drive until after Fox left the next day.

Rickey Alderidge (PCSO photo)

 

A Maricopa woman was loading groceries into her SUV in the parking lot of the Walmart Supercenter, 41650 W Maricopa-Casa Grande Hwy Oct. 9 evening when a man approached her, demanding the keys to her vehicle before pulling a knife.

Her Jeep Cherokee Sport was already running with the keys in the ignition. When the man seemed to realize this, he “shoved [her] away from the vehicle and got into the driver’s seat,” according to a police report. She sustained lacerations and bruising on her legs, arms, hands and face.

The man reversed out of the parking spot, striking the woman’s grocery cart, which became lodged under the vehicle. Despite this, he successfully fled the scene.

The woman’s purse and cellphone were in the vehicle when it was stolen. Police were able to track the phone, locating the vehicle on North Canton Way north of State Route 84 in Stanfield. Rickey L. Alderidge was found in the vehicle and was placed under arrest at 11:22 p.m.

The victim was brought to the scene and identified Alderidge as the man who pulled the knife earlier. A knife matching the description given by the victim was found on him.

Once at the Maricopa Police Station, Alderidge said he was recently released from a prison in Texas and was homeless. When told he had been identified by the victim, he requested a lawyer and no further questions were asked by police. Alderidge faces charges of aggravated assault, armed robbery, theft of means of transportation and criminal damage.

He is in Pinal County jail on a $25,000 bond.

Chris Sarappo's family was the victim of a hoax "swatting" incident that brought police to his door. Photo by Jeff Kronenfeld

 

When 17-year-old Nina Sarappo, a National Honors Society member and intern at Maricopa City Hall, answered the door of her Homestead residence Friday morning, she had no idea why a group of police officers were there, one with a plastic shield and one a beanbag shotgun.

The Sarappos had become the latest victims of “swatting,” a term for the crime of making false or hoax reports to bring about large police responses. This term was popularized in online gaming communities, but has become a national problem. Ricardo Alvarado, public affairs specialist for the Maricopa Police Department, said the last time something like this happened in the city was roughly two years ago.

“That individual, if I remember correctly, he was playing an online video game,” Alvarado said.

The incident on Friday occurred after Sonya Bilevins, a DHL Express delivery driver, dropped off a package of contact lenses for Nina. A confirmation of delivery was sent by the company to her old phone number. A reply from that number sent at around 10:45 a.m. read, “Send Help, He’s got a gun, the backdoor code is [REDACTED.]”

Bilevins — who was initially unsure what to do after receiving the message — contacted the police. Officer Adam Webber and Officer Andrew Leach were dispatched at around 11:15 a.m. to perform a welfare check. They contacted Bilevins by phone and called in more officers to assist with clearing the residence, which was completed by around 11:46 a.m.

Also home besides Nina was her 12-year-old brother Christopher. Both children were on their fall breaks. Chris Sarappo, the children’s father, is a personal trainer for Copper Sky Recreation Center, where he was working during the incident. He rushed home as soon as he checked his messages.

“My kids were scared when it first happened,” Chris Sarappo said. Despite this, the two cooperated while police determined what had happened.

Police pinged the old phone number, determining it was located near a school in Tucson and was registered to a female Tucson resident identified only as Michelle in the police report.

The Maricopa Police reached out to Officer Marcos Ramirez, the school resource officer for the Tucson school. Ramirez called back around 1:03 p.m. and confirmed the phone belonged to Michelle’s son, who was a student at the school in Tucson. The student admitted to receiving the messages from DHL regarding the delivery. He said he ignored the messages but showed them to his friends, according to the police report.

Chris Sarappo wants the guilty party punished and to let his neighbors know it was a false alarm and that their family is safe and not in any trouble.

“I just want them to get to the bottom of it and to clear our name, because I work for the city,” Sarappo said. “I’ve done everything from working with kids in Tiny Tots to Challenger League with handicapped kids. I coached high school baseball and with the middle school when we won a championship. I have a lot to do with this community.”

Alvarado stressed the police response was calm and methodical. Body camera footage from one of the officers present confirmed that police knocked on the door at a reasonable level and proceeded with caution. They escorted Nina away from the house while attempting to confirm elements of the report. They did the same for Christopher Sarappo, the son.

“Slow is fast in our business,” Alvarado said. “We are still working with agencies in Pima County to gather more information on this if it reaches the level – which we’re pretty confident it may – to file charges when it comes to this type of incident.”

Maricopa is hardly alone in facing this problem. A number of celebrities have had their homes swatted in recent year, including Tom Cruise, Ashton Kutcher and Justin Bieber, just to name a few.

New Jersey State Assemblyman Paul D. Moriarty was swatted after proposing an anti-swatting bill in that states. Massachusetts’s fifth Congressional District Rep. Katherine Clark introduced the Interstate Swatting Hoax Act of 2015, before being swatted herself the next year. Despite this, she proposed the Online Safety Modernization Act of 2017, which covered a range of, “cybercrimes against individuals,” but it appears to have stalled in the Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, Homeland Security and Investigations since being referred there on July 14, 2017.

Nationally, swatting has led to deaths when things go wrong. One recent example saw a feud between online gamers spill into real life. A 25-year-old California resident made a hoax 911-call which resulted in the death of a 28-year-old Kansas resident.

Alvarado did offer some advice for Maricopa residents if they are ever victims of such crimes.

“If we arrive on your doorstep and we talk to you, we’re not there because we want to be,” Alvarado said. “Bear with us and we’ll work through it.  We try to be as professional, as courteous and as informative as we can to help calm fears.”

He had a very different message for any would be pranksters.

“For anybody that’s considering doing this, just be aware that when we locate you, you will face felony charges,” Alvarado said.

Michelle Bowman was among parents who had to scramble to find a new school for her daughter Abigail when Camino Montessori shut down unexpectedly in the middle of the semester. Photo by Jeff Kronenfeld

 

Next, InMaricopa looks into how the school’s remaining assets, including a three-acre parcel of land currently listed for sale at $700,000, will be disposed of and explore similar problems with charter schools throughout the state. 

As Camino Montessori officials and board members continue to avoid questions about the school’s closure on Oct. 5, one thing has become clear: the possibility of closure was kept from parents and employees from a week to several months.

Camino Montessori Director Judy Webster writes an open letter to the community

School officials also appear to have been less than forthcoming about its financial situation. According to the school’s annual filing with the IRS as a nonprofit, known as a 990, when its expenses were subtracted from its revenue the school showed negative $87,957 for 2015 and negative $22,474 for 2016.

The Arizona State Board for Charter Schools (AZBCS) was informed that a closure vote was imminent on Sept. 27, according to statements from AZBCS Quality Assurance and Accountability Manager Rachel Hannah.

Plans to transfer control of the school to The Charter Management Group (TCMG) apparently fell through sometime in August. The company is run by partners Doug Pike and Bil Zeleny, who currently operate three charter schools in Arizona, according to its website. Fountain Hills Charter School, one of those operated by TCMG, recently received an F grade, the lowest possible, in its most recent assessment by the AZBCS. Their other schools received D and B ratings.

At a school board meeting on June 29, a motion to accept the resignation of Judy Webster as CEO and board president passed with three yes votes and three abstentions. Motions appointing Pike as president and CEO and Zeleny as corporate secretary and treasurer also passed, though they were not implemented. Other votes saw Pike prepared to replace Webster as the school’s authorized representative with the AZBCS.

TCMG pulled out of the deal sometime in August, possibly at the school’s board meeting that month. Notes from that meeting have yet to be made public. However, when interviewed, Pike said, “I think that you can surmise that our interest was not in something that was significantly underwater.”

DJ White, a former teacher for the school who was hired in 2017 and terminated in January of 2018, claimed to have been aware of financial difficulties from “within the first four hours I was there.

“The school was starting year five and had many signs of a struggling school, in my opinion,” White said via email. “[There were] no playground structures or fenced area for kids to play, technology that was antiquated or did not work, no health insurance for employees beyond Aflac, which is supposed to be supplemental insurance.”

White claimed to have regularly spent $200 a month on school supplies, that few if any classes were at capacity and that Webster did little to no fundraising.

“All of these were red flags,” White said.

He also said the turnover rate for teachers was unusually high and the performance of students on assessment tests was poor. According to information from the Arizona Department of Education, the results for combined fall 2017 and spring 2018 state assessment tests showed only 3 percent of the school’s tested students passed in math and 38 percent for English.

White claimed Webster delayed or failed to provide evaluations or services for students with disabilities so they could obtain individualized education programs, known as IEPs, which are written plans for accommodating disabled students. He said, “the school took a huge hit financially because of having to settle a lawsuit for failure to provide services as required by law.”

Ada Marie Plaza Nieves, who taught at the school and whose son attended it, alleges Webster denied her son an evaluation for an IEP on multiple occasions. She corroborated White’s account.

“I also know the family that ended up suing the school for not providing services to their autistic child,” Plaza Nieves said in a Facebook messenger communication.

According to the most recent documents, Camino Montessori had 66 students enrolled. Parent Michelle Bowman, who called the workings at the school “fishy,” said she was able to enroll her daughter Abigail in Sequoia Pathway after the sudden closure.

Joshua Babb, another parent of a student at the school, was preparing to join the board and was surprised by its closure.

“Through the period of time leading up to the closure, Judy Webster gave no indication to myself – as someone applying for the board – that they were in any danger of closing,” Babb said.

He was not surprised by the board’s reluctance to comment.

“Most of the board are close friends of the Websters,” Babb said.

White also cited Webster’s personal ties to the school’s board as a conflict of interest.

“Judy was taking a salary of over $61,000 and did almost zero fundraising,” White said. “Any board not stacked with friends and family would have canned her for that alone, years ago.”

Webster declined to comment for the story, citing the advice of an unnamed attorney. The members of the school’s board also declined to answer questions about the cause and timing of the closure, citing non-disclosure agreements.

Jasper Smith (at microphone) was named 2018 champion of the All-Maricopa Poetry Slam at Honeycutt Coffee.

 

What do Willy Wonka, anglerfish, Filipino Christmas and a sexy cup o’ Joe have in common?

They were all the subjects of poems at the Maricopa Arts Council’s (MAC) third All-Maricopa Poetry Slam at Honeycutt Coffee on Saturday. Eight poets performed in three rounds to an audience of roughly 40 listeners who clapped, snapped, cheered and laughed their way through the evening.

First place went to Jasper Smith and second to Tristan Marshall, who both advance to the All-Arizona Poetry Slam scheduled for Feb. 2 at a yet-to-be-determined location in Maricopa.

As a gorgeous southwest sunset bled over the horizon, Slam Master Bernard “The Klute” Schober and Bout Manager Jess Ballantyne ran through the rules of the competition with poets outside before the event. No props, nudity or musical accompaniment were allowed. Swearing was allowed, as were adult themes.

Ballantyne provided the evening’s first calibration poem, performed before the competition to help prepare judges. The event’s featured artist was Kristal Melody Hoeh, who drew a colorful desert landscape in chalk behind the performers.

“Poetry slams began in coffee houses,” said Judith Lang Zaimont, co-founder and co-director of MAC. “People need to see the human experience come forward through the individual viewpoints of creative people.”

Zaimont also gave special thanks to Honeycutt Coffee owner Warren Grier for donating the space for the evening’s event.

“I think the quality of poets tonight was national caliber,” Schober said after the event. “I’m really excited about the next All-Arizona Poetry Slam, because not only are we going see the talent that was here tonight ­­­— the top two — we’re also going to see poets from around the state, many who have competed in national poetry slams before.”

The judges and audience react to a poet’s performance. Photo by Jeff Kronenfeld
The performing poets at the third All-Maricopa Poetry Slam. Photo by Jeff Kronenfeld

 

Ira Miller (PCSO photo)

 

Maricopa Police responded to a reported domestic dispute between a woman and Ira Miller at 4:54 p.m. on Sunday. Miller, 45, was arrested at a Greenland Park Drive address in Cobblestone Farms on an accusation of aggravated assault for allegedly choking her.

The woman said the attack stemmed from an argument over their house not being clean. She said Miller picked her up by her throat and placed her on the ground. She said Miller held her by the throat for five to six seconds.

The woman’s minor son is said to have entered the room where the altercation occurred, jumping on Miller and attempting to stop him. When interviewed, the son said he had seen Miller “choking” his mother. When asked what choking was, the son “placed his own hands around his neck.”

From left, Councilmember Henry Wade, secretary Deanna Lemorin, chair Nancy Saldana, vice chair Kadin Pulliam and coordinator Heather Lozano. Photo by Jeff Kronenfeld

 

Despite it being fall break, the City of Maricopa Youth Council gathered for a busy meeting Tuesday night. Some of the topics discussed included elections of new officers, planning for the Youth Town Hall on Feb. 28 and preparing for the upcoming Mud Run.

Nancy Saldana, a senior at Maricopa High School, was elected chair. After a three-way tie during the initial round of voting for vice-chair, Kadin Pulliam, a sophomore at Desert Vista, was elected as vice-chair. Deanna Lemorin, an eighth grader at Legacy Traditional School, was elected as secretary. Councilmember Henry Wade served as the vote counter.

In the planning of the Youth Town Hall, potential topics were the growing use of vape pens in schools, increasing academic performance and engagement, managing anxiety at school, cyberbullying, threats of gun violence at schools and options for students after graduating from high school. The winners were cyberbullying and options for high school graduates.

A food drive with city council members was discussed. Plans to collect canned food during Halloween were agreed on, so don’t be surprised if a few trick-or-treaters with wagons of donated food items come knocking.

 

 

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Camino Montessori took parents by surprise when it closed its doors Friday.

For parents of Camino Montessori students, this fall break has been anything but a vacation. The local charter school closed on Friday.

This is the first in a series about the Camino Montessori closure.

Families were first informed about the closure through an email sent on Wednesday, only two days prior.

The sudden end took many parents by surprise, as they were under the impression the school was not only doing well financially, but was planning to expand. The school purchased land in early 2017 with plans to construct a building on the 3.06-acre property next to the library.

“This whole time, we were told that they’re expanding, they bought a property, they’re going to start building sometime this year,” said Chad Youngdale, whose daughter attended the school. “I think a lot of parents feel like they were lied to.”

The school began offering free full-day kindergarten at the beginning of this school year.

“This year, we were told they were in a good financial situation so they could take on the hit of offering full-day kindergarten,” Youngdale said. “That was obviously another lie.”

Incorporated in November 2009, the school opened its doors in 2013. According to an interview with CEO and Board President Judy Webster by InMaricopa in 2015, the school served pre-K through third grade. The school had expanded to serving pre-K through sixth grade by the time of its closure.

“Last night, after an emotional and heart-wrenching discussion of Camino’s current operational status and weighing the financial consequences should we remain open through the end of the year, close at semester break, or close sooner, the school board voted to surrender our charter effective immediately,” Webster wrote in the email announcing the closure.

Though the letter cited “unforeseen consequences,” which made continuing the school “financially impossible,” many parents want more answers about what caused the sudden closure and when the school knew the closure might be imminent.

Webster and Camino Montessori did not respond to requests for comment from InMaricopa.

“It’s kind of fishy, a lot of the stuff that’s been going on,” said Michelle Bowman, whose daughter attended the school.

The closure was decided by a unanimous vote of its board last Tuesday, according to publicly available minutes on the school’s website. However, Bowman believes the school’s property was listed for sale prior to this meeting, seeming to indicate the ball was already rolling on closure.

The notes from the Aug. 21 board meeting, the meeting prior to the closure vote, are not available online. Nearly all other notes from board meetings are available on the website.

Bowman also noted the board had its membership changed several times over the last year and questioned whether these changes were conducted properly. At the moment, parents are hearing more rumors than answers.

“I feel like this educational opportunity has been ripped away from our children because of arrogance of the school board and poor financial management,” Bowman said. “I feel like we’re now left with literally no opportunity to choose what to do for our children.”

Whatever the reasons for the closure, parents are now scrambling to find schools for their children on short notice. However, many nearby charters have wait lists, forcing some to consider driving their kids to school far from Maricopa or with radically different education styles than the Montessori students are used to.

The school leases space in Stagestop Marketplace on Maricoa-Casa Grande Highway. Owner Will Dunn said school officials signed a new, three-month lease a day ahead of the closure announcement to have time to remove Camino Montessori property.

In school ratings released Friday by the state’s Education Department, the charter received a C.

Judy Webster runs Camino Montessori in Maricopa. Photo by Raquel Hendrickson

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Facilitator AnnaMarie Knorr (left) chats with State House candidates Hollace Lyon and Bret Roberts. Photo by Jeff Kronenfeld.

Two of the four candidates running for the two Arizona House of Representatives seats for Legislative District 11 squared off at the InMaricopa.com General Election Town Hall on Saturday. Present at the event were Col. Hollace Lyon (ret.), a Democrat, and Constable Bret Roberts, a Republican.

Not present were incumbent Rep. Mark Finchem, a Republican, and candidate Marcela Quiroz, a Democrat.

Several of the questions asked in the debate related to energy policy and Proposition 127, which would require private Arizona power utilities to produce 50 percent of their energy from renewable sources by 2030.

It was a hot-button issue throughout the day, and Lyon acknowledged it was a tough one for her. Though she supports the proposition, she expressed some concerns about the inflexibility of the measure. She said that Arizona Public Service Electric Company (APS), makes roughly $400 million in profits annually and the CEO has an annual salary of $15 million. She advocated for the Arizona Corporate Commission to ensure that some of the increased costs of compliance will come out of the company’s profits, rather than passed entirely to ratepayers.

Roberts opposes Proposition 127, stating he believed it would increase individual ratepayers costs by $1,000 a year. He said other countries, such as Canada, China and Japan, were divesting from renewable energy.

“The solar industry is kind of becoming a fossil,” Roberts said.

Lyon expressed doubt over these claims. If what Roberts said about the shift in energy policy in other countries is accurate, she saw it as an opportunity to fill the void.

The candidates sparred over a number of issues, such as whether Arizona should take over more federal lands within the state. Roberts was for this and Lyon opposed. Roberts said that only 16 to 17 percent of lands within the state were taxable, while states such as New Jersey are able to tax 97 percent of their land.

“We’re at a deficit before we even start,” Roberts said.

Lyon strongly disagreed, sarcastically asking what could go wrong if the state did take over federal lands, noting the Wallow Fire in 2011 cost the federal government $109 million, while the entire budget for firefighting and suppression in Arizona was only between $5 million and $10 million annually.

“One good fire and we would just wipe out the Arizona budget,” Lyon said.

The two candidates also disagreed over tax policy. Lyon attacked what she described as $13.7 billion in tax loopholes, which she believed should be reexamined to see if they generate a sufficient return on investment to offset the loss in revenue. She also said that 74 percent of corporations in Arizona paid $50 or less annually in taxes to the state. Roberts disagreed with both points.

“This tax loophole thing is just a fallacy,” he said.

Roberts preferred the term tax policy to tax loopholes. He also argued that corporations paying such low taxes generated revenue for the state by bringing new jobs and increased economic activity.

Both candidates agreed they had strong differences in opinion and approaches.

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Ralph Atchue (center) and Vince Leach debated the issues in a Town Hall session facilitated by AnnaMarie Knorr. Photo by Jeff Kronenfeld

Democrat Ralph Atchue came out swinging against Republican Rep. Vince Leach in the first debate of the day for the InMaricopa.com General Election Town Hall on Saturday.

The two candidates for the state Senate seat for Legislative District 11 offered strongly contrasting views on important issues for Maricopa residents such as education, taxes, prisons, water policy and new development in desert areas.

Atchue went on the offensive in his opening remarks, stating that Arizona was facing “tough problems” and his opponent was not only “part of the problem” but was the “main obstacle standing in the way of coming up with common sense solutions.”

In contrast, Leach avoided personal remarks, offering a more optimistic view of the state’s current condition, though he did dispute Atchue’s claims a number of times. The positions of each candidate generally corresponded to that of their party.

Education funding levels were front and center throughout the debate. Leach argued only slight increases in state revenue would be needed to fully fund Gov. Doug Ducey’s planned 20 percent increase to Arizona public school teachers’ salaries by 2020.

“We’ve put $2.7 billion back in the school system since I came in 2015,” Leach said.

Atchue rebutted this with a scathing criticism of Leach and Gov. Ducey’s education policy, stating the Republicans initially offered teachers only a 1 percent increase in pay, relenting to the greater increase only after tens of thousands of teachers walked out of schools in April.

AnnaMarie Knorr, president of the Maricopa Unified School District governing board, served as the moderator and opened the debate by asking whether current taxes in the state were too high, too low or just about right. Atchue said taxes were “out of balance.” He proposed an audit of the state’s current tax scheme, attacking what he described as tax loopholes and tax credits, which he claimed offered little return on investment.

“Because the state has abdicated it’s responsibility for funding things like public education, infrastructure, juvenile detention, many things, the tax burden has been pushed onto counties and cities who have no recourse but to raise sales taxes and property taxes,” Atchue said.

Leach acknowledged the state had experienced “tough times” in the past, mentioning a one-time budget shortfall of $3 billion, but said Arizona was now experiencing increasing revenue.

“Our overall tax system is very, very good in the state of Arizona,” Leach said. “In fact, we’re a tax haven.”

Leach cited lowering taxes and other pro-business policies as responsible for attracting new residents and businesses to the state. Atchue disputed this last claim, arguing the state’s climate was more responsible for attracting new residents than its tax policy.

The two candidates also differed on infrastructure issues, though both agreed on the need to improve dangerous intersections and to expand road capacity.

A question about the use of private prisons demonstrated a strong difference of opinion between the candidates. Leach supports the use of private prisons when cost-effective and claimed prison populations in the state were declining. Atchue disputed that prison populations are decreasing and did not support increasing the use of private prisons.

As both candidates’ forceful closing remarks made clear, residents of Maricopa have two very different options available in the senate race for Legislative District 11 this November.