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Mobile

Mobile Elementary School District Superintendent Kit Wood (center) with board members Delores Brown and Patricia Blair, who volunteer at the remote, rural school known for its small class sizes. Photo by Raquel Hendrickson

“In the middle of nowhere” is the phrase often used to describe Mobile Elementary School District. Arizona Department of Education defines Mobile Elementary as “very small, rural.”

“We’re very small. We’re close-knit. We have high expectations, high standards that are well known.” Superintendent Kit Wood

The school has an enrollment of 29 students. Only six of those students live in district. It has three full-time teachers and two part-time teachers. The students-to-teacher ratio is 4.8: 1.

A K-8 school with no eighth graders currently enrolled, Mobile Elementary sits just north of State Route 238. Roughly 15 miles west of Maricopa and 28 miles east of Gila Bend, the school is not close to anything but its residents.

The school bears a Maricopa mailing address and the Maricopa telephone prefix of 568. Though annexed by the City of Goodyear 12 years ago in anticipation of a master-planned community that never happened, it is more than an hour’s drive from the municipality.

The biggest benefit of annexation has been having a Goodyear fire station directly across the street from the school, that street being 99th Avenue.

If House Bill 2139 becomes law, the elementary district might be consolidated with schools in Goodyear, a move it has been fighting for years. The reason? They like the tiny school exactly as it is, its small size considered an advantage for its students.

“Some of the benefits, of course, are the small class size, the personal relationship they can have with their teacher, the staff and all the students,” said Kit Wood, who has been superintendent 14 years.

Classes are divided in K-2, 3-5 and 6-8.

“Our kids don’t get lost in a classroom.” Board member Delores Brown

“They stay with the same teacher for a number of years,” Wood said. “The teacher doesn’t have to spend six to eight weeks getting to know that student’s academic level. They come in knowing their history and their family background.”

Apache Junction’s Rep. John Fillmore (R-District 16) sponsored HB 2139, which would force elementary districts and high school districts to consolidate by 2024. He points to the administrative costs of having separate districts near or overlapping each other’s boundaries.

“When people have said to me that schools need more money, I’ve always had the quick comeback they have enough money, and that what we need to do is have them spend it a little bit more wisely,” Fillmore told the Senate Appropriations Committee in April.

Most often, the smaller the school, the higher the percentage of administrative costs.

In financially auditing the district for fiscal year 2016, the Auditor General’s Office found Mobile School spending much more per pupil on administration compared to other small schools. Released in April 2018, the critical report included six recommendations, only one of which had been completely fulfilled by the time of a follow-up in December.

Total per pupil spending 2018
Mobile                 Peer                      State
$40,995               $18,597               $9,929

Auditors found that in 2016, Mobile Elementary, with its annual double-digit enrollment, had administration expenses of $17,178 per student compared to its peer group average of $2,987. The report found that was “partly because it served fewer students than peer districts, on average, and therefore, costs were spread across fewer students. However, the high costs were also the result of the District employing a full-time superintendent with a relatively high salary.”

Wood’s response was to outline a plan to phase out the superintendent position after the hiring and training of a head teacher/special education teacher.

The follow-up by Vicki Hanson, director of School Audits, indicated the crossover phase during fiscal year 2019 would “likely result in higher administrative costs” while both superintendent and head teacher are on staff.

Mobile Elementary students receive art instruction from artist Kristal Hoeh.

Mobile Elementary does not share boundaries with other schools. When its students reach high school age, or even middle school age, they can choose from various schools. Being in the city closest to Mobile despite being in another county, Maricopa schools receive some of the Mobile students. Others have gone to Mountain Pointe. Some have even attended Ira Hayes. Years ago, they were bused to Casa Grande.

The audit suggested the district pay tuition to a nearby district to educate its students. The school was called out for overpaying an hourly employee, misreporting the number of students transported and having poor oversight of its lease agreement, among other items. Implementation of changes are noted as being “in process.”

With a transient population, enrollment is now too low for the district to receive state funds (Wood estimated it would need an enrollment of 35-40 to qualify), so it relies primarily on property taxes. Enrollment is also too low for the school to be assigned a letter grade, because publicized test results could be almost matched to specific students.

However, for the second year, the school qualified for results-based funding. In FY2018, that amounted to an extra $8,100 (or $400 per student). Butterfield Elementary was the only MUSD school to do likewise.

“You don’t get that unless your students are performing well on the test,” Wood said. “So, although they can’t publish our results, we are doing well as far as the assessments.”

What’s not in the financial paperwork is the unincorporated area’s tendency to lean on the school as a center of the community. Board members feel the school and community are misunderstood.

“We’re not gun-toting hillbillies who live here,” board member Delores Brown said, adding several in the community have master’s degrees. She tutors students, touting those who have seen more success since transferring to the school, and is one of the school’s strongest volunteers.

Wood called board members the “most dedicated, committed board I’ve ever worked with.” Board President Patricia Blair has tutored younger students in the past and put her efforts into building up the district library.

“She has been, for all the years I’ve been here, a strong supporter of our library,” Wood said. “We have a really great library, especially for the size of school we are. She has organized that library, she has catalogued things. She is the heart and soul of that library.”

Blair said the wide variety of books ranges from pre-K to 12th grade.

“We’re very small. We’re close-knit,” Wood said. “We have high expectations, high standards that are well known, so we can address when things happen that are inappropriate or unacceptable, or they’re not meeting the expectations of general student behavior, take care of it quickly and then just go on.”

The superintendent said all its teachers are highly qualified with endorsements and certification in their areas. The teachers average 10-plus years of experience. Besides the three full-time classroom teachers, there are part-time teachers for art and physical education.

“We have a very lean staff. We all do multiple tasks and have multiple responsibilities,” Wood said. “We do not receive state funding. All of our funding comes from property taxes. And that’s always a challenge.”

Staffing is also difficult at the remote school. The challenge is to find someone of quality to come to Mobile and fit in, though teachers have been willing to drive long distances for the job. It is still looking for a music teacher.

Mobile’s biggest expense is staffing. It has a starting salary of $40,100. Its average teacher salary is $50,038. By comparison, the peer average is $50,510, and the state average is $48,951.

Besides the random financial audit, Mobile Elementary also undergoes the annual performance audit to which all district schools submit. The most recent report showed the administration costs were down to $12,155 per student. That is still well above the peer average of $3,064, which increased.

Mobile had only nine students per administrative position compared to 33 in peer schools and the state average of 66. The report showed no financial stresses. It was particularly low-stress in capital reserve (more than three years’ worth), operating reserve (17.2 percent and increasing), steadiness of school enrollment and meeting its budget.

A Rural Education Achievement grant gave the school the ability to purchase technology in the form of classroom and library computers. The grant is $15,000-$18,000 per year for the tech program.

There have been past efforts by Valley districts to consolidate Mobile Elementary, but the small school effectively gave them the raspberry. Until now, as Blair noted, a district did not have to be consolidated unless it wanted to.

HB2139, on the other hand, would force the issue, making independent districts a thing of the past.

“Over the past decades a variety of unification and consolidation efforts, committees and proposed legislation have been brought forward in the state of Arizona,” Wood said. “If this bill is successfully passed and signed into law, Mobile ESD would comply with the requirement for a feasibility study and then work with the Maricopa County Education Services Agency and others regarding study results and findings.

“We will await the results of this legislative session.”

But they aren’t happy about it.

“It just makes the other schools larger and classrooms bigger,” Blair said. “To me that’s not a good idea for the kids.”

“They don’t have the support because the teachers don’t have the time to give them the support,” Brown added.

“Our kids don’t get lost in a classroom.”


This story appears in the May issue of InMaricopa.

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Sonoran Valley Parkway project alternative

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) today signed a Record of Decision (ROD) that will allow the City of Goodyear to build the proposed Sonoran Valley Parkway in Maricopa County largely on public lands.

The parkway will provide a direct route in southern Goodyear connecting Rainbow Valley Road to the community of Mobile and State Route 238, expecting to improve emergency response times in the fastest growing county in the nation. Goodyear annexed Mobile a decade ago, but pathways between are narrow, dirt roads. The parkway also could provide another route to the West Valley for Maricopans.

 “Above all, the federal government’s job is to keep our people safe and respect our neighbors. Today we are proudly fulfilling both of those missions. This project will improve emergency response times, which means lives will be saved.  Additionally, the community will enjoy increased access to recreation and position the City of Goodyear for economic success well into the future,” said Assistant Secretary for Land and Minerals Joe Balash. “I appreciate the thoughtful approach of the BLM and the community toward balancing the needs of residents with management of sensitive desert habitat.”

The ROD was signed today, providing the rationale for the BLM’s decision to grant the 250-foot wide right-of-way for the two-lane parkway, with potential for future expansion. The ROD and other available project materials can be found on the BLM ePlanning website at https://go.usa.gov/xP9zF.

Once the BLM grants the right-of-way, the City of Goodyear would need to finalize the parkway’s design. Construction of the first two lanes is estimated to take approximately 32 months to complete. Expansion beyond a two-lane parkway would require further authorizations from the BLM and would be subject to additional environmental review.

The Final Environmental Impact Statement evaluating the potential environmental impacts associated with the construction, operation and maintenance of the right-of-way was published on March 22, 2019.

Max Schrader (Facebook)

Ten days after he went missing, a search party of family and friends located the body of 84-year-old Max Schrader around 10 a.m. Saturday, according to the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office.

He was found in a desert area of Mobile miles away from his car where there are no paved roads. Because of the remoteness, it took MCSO deputies “several hours” to reach the location and “navigate through tough terrain and/or areas with no roads at all.”

Officers believe Schrader was traveling a “backwoods roadway” from Mobile to Rainbow Valley when his vehicle broke down or got stuck. He then apparently tried to walk back to is home in Mobile with no food or water. Family realized he was missing April 3. MCSO was notified April 6, and a Silver Alert was issued across the state.

Deputies reportedly joined the search being conducted by Schrader’s family, friends and volunteers. His car was found April 9.

It appeared Max was traveling a backwoods roadway to enter Rainbow Valley from Mobil and his vehicle broke down or got stuck on a dirt road. He then attempted to travel on foot back to his home with no food or water and likely perished from the elements.

According to MCSO, there do not appear to be any signs of suspicious circumstances or foul play. A medical examiner will determine the cause of death.

Schrader was described as deaf but had no other medical conditions.

Max Schrader

The family of Max Schrader announced today that the missing Mobile man has been found deceased.

Schrader, 84, had been missing since April 3 and his vehicle was found in the desert April 9. Family and volunteers had been combing the area between Mobile and Rainbow Valley each day.

No information has yet been released regarding where his body was found or a cause of death.

The family sent thanks to all who helped or showed their support during a difficult week.

Photo of Pierre and Daniel Deck courtesy of Maricopa Historical Society

By Patricia Brock and the Maricopa Historical Society

 

Mobile is a small community located about 15 miles west of Maricopa on State Route 238 (Mobile Road), and north of what was the Southern Pacific Railroad tracks. It is in Maricopa County and bordered by two majestic mountain ranges – the Estrella Mountains to the east and the Maricopa Mountain Range to the west.

In the 1800s, this little settlement was named Mobile when the Southern Pacific Railroad tracks were laid across southern Arizona and a siding and section house were created to provide water for steam engines.

Today, not much remains to indicate that at one time Mobile might have developed into a thriving town. In 1988, it was the proposed site for the Superconducting Super Collider and considered by the ENSCO Hazardous Waste Facility, but neither of these projects took root. However, against the wishes of many of its residents, the Butterfield Station Waste Management Facility did locate at Mobile.

 

First Homestead

Edison Lung, a white man who first carved out a life in Mobile, homesteaded the area around 1921 and continued to live there for the rest of his life. Lung worked for the Southern Pacific Railroad pumping water for the steam engines. When the railroad transferred him to Yuma, he absolutely refused to go, quit his job and laid down stakes at Mobile catering to railroad personnel and travelers.

Records show Lung filed an application to enlarge his homestead in 1922 and received a title to that land in 1925. His homestead consisted of a frame and stucco house, a store located downstairs and a post office with sleeping quarters on the second floor. The homestead had a gas station, a cow barn, a chicken coup and a storeroom. His wife ran the post office and made a living by providing services to travelers and railroad employees.

Edison Lung raised cattle, hogs and chicken on his homestead. Around 1935, he decided to modernize the property and bought a Delco electric generator that provided the family with lighting and the use of a few appliances. Records also show he and his family motored to Maricopa to dances at the Maricopa Hotel and to other recreational events throughout the 1930s.

 

An African American Community

During the late 1920s and early ‘30s, Mobile became an African American settlement as people began to homestead the land. According to Mark Swanson (An Archaeological Investigation of the Historic Black Settlement at Mobile, Arizona), the population in the 1930s was between 100 and 150 and consisted of mainly black settlers. Most of these early settlers did not work for the railroad but came from Oklahoma or Texas by way of Phoenix.

The first of the successful African American homesteaders were Lee Elliot Williams (homestead awarded in 1933); Richard Cobb Williams (homestead awarded in 1933); Homer Abraham Williams (homestead awarded in 1933); and Willis Thomas, Hezekiah McGriff, Eli Weddington, James Manor, and the Israel Nelson families.

 

Education

The first school in Mobile contained grades 1-8 and consisted of two railroad cars placed end to end. White children went to school in one car and black children went to school in the other car. Later, the white children were transferred to a wood frame schoolhouse that was moved from Rainbow Valley (1936-37) and placed near the home of Edison Lung. It continued to educate these children up to the 1960s.

The black residents of Mobile built a small schoolhouse, Nelson Elementary School, for their children. When the community started to grow and needed a bigger school, the government built a much larger one in the same location. After eighth grade graduation, children were bused to Percy L. Julian or South Mountain High School.

 

Growing up in Mobile

In an oral history interview with the Deck brothers, Pierre and Daniel, and their lifelong friend Fezel Adams, Pierre Deck recalled what it was like growing up in Mobile: One thing about Mobile, I don’t care who you were, you were family. If you needed something, you got it. I don’t care how it came to you, you got it, you didn’t have to pay it back. It was just one big family.”

Pierre Deck said, “I watched my grandfather come from nothing to having something … to be proud of who you are. You just do the right thing and that’s how I was raised. In Mobile everybody stood out.”

Daniel Deck said, “Nobody had running water or electricity. They hauled the water. No electricity, dirt floors, no windows, a potbellied stove you stuck wood into. My grandma and grandpa, they worked pretty hard. When sand was dumped out there, snakes would just lay down and sleep. You had to walk out to the outhouse; you didn’t have a bathroom. If you encountered a snake, you would just jump it or go around. There was not an animal around that the snake would back up from! You live here and they live over there. You had to look under the covers and under the bed and everywhere. You might get out of bed and they would be sleeping right next to you.”

Today, Mobile has a population of less than 100 people who are mostly white. Besides the Butterfield Waste Management Facility, there is a private airport, Lufthansa, located to its north that is used for training pilots.


This story appears in the March issue of InMaricopa.