MUSD board approves $36.4M budget; dropout support program


MUSD school board members unanimously approved the $36.4 million 2013-14 school year budget Wednesday and also agreed to enter into a partnership with The American Academy to assist with the district’s No Dropouts program.

Additionally, the board delayed a decision on whether to rent 13,000 square feet of Desert Wind Middle School to The Menta Group.

Tortosa resident Kameo Monson spoke during the call to the public to express her concern over the proximity of Menta students and the regular student population. Monson’s son, whom she said she wouldn’t identify for fear of bullying, is going into eighth grade at Desert Winds.

The Menta Group is a nonprofit organization that provides educational and social needs for special education students.

“I want zero contact,” she said. “Menta isn’t only for special-education kids; it’s also for students who have behavioral problems. Students that have been told they cannot function in a normal academic environment.

“How are we going to protect our children? Who’s to say those kids won’t bring knives or weapons or bully the other kids? The rented space is upstairs and they’d have to share a staircase. What if a Desert Winds kid is going to the bathroom or something when they’re out there?”

Monson said she was troubled by rumors that Menta students would share a lunch period with Desert Wind students.

“The plan is still to have separate lunches and programs,” said MUSD Superintendent Steve Chestnut. “The two groups will be separate at all times.”

One idea brought up by board member Patti Coutré was to instead have Maricopa Wells Middle School host Menta because it has several separate buildings increasing the distance between the two groups.

“I don’t have a preference personally,” Chestnut said. “Yeah they (Maricopa Wells) have another building, but Desert Winds has another floor. We’ll see what happens.”

The Menta Group will send a representative to present its strategy and daily plan to address parent concerns at the next school board meeting.

The Maricopa Unified School District school board unanimously approved entering into a Master Service Agreement with The American Academy to support its no Dropouts program, but not before asking Chestnut questions about the success of such programs.

Board members wanted to clarify exactly how The American Academy would quantify success when generally a low number of participants in dropout programs earn a high school diploma.

School board member Scott Bartle questioned the cost of the program and its benefits to students.

“This isn’t money from the money tree,” Bartle said. “This is taxpayer money and we need to have a way where we can see continued success.”

***ADVERTISEMENT***Board President Torri Anderson said, “I consider even some kids who could be classified as delinquent or have delinquent tendencies to be future citizens. I like that we can reach out to these kids. … If we only reach a few then we still will have helped them.”

Chestnut told board members the district does a “really good job at educating students but once they drop out we don’t have the same success with programs to give these kids connections to prepare them for the future.”

“It’s about engaging kids. Once they can get off the couch and realize that dropping out wasn’t the smartest decision for themselves, they can get skills to get on with their lives,” he said.

Chestnut said the program was budget neutral.

A proposal to offer a second early-release day for high school staff on the third Wednesday of each month was withdrawn from discussion.