Tags Articles tagged with "MUSD"


Access to the Internet will not be necessary for participating in Maricopa Unified School District’s distance-learning plan.
Starting Monday, the district will make educational resources available to students from preschool through high school. Teachers will be available to deliver hardcopy and online resources.
The district announced its plans on its website Wednesday night.
Public schools, which include district and charter schools, were closed statewide through April 10 during the coronavirus outbreak. Below, see how charters are responding, as well.
MUSD is on spring break, which ends Friday.
Only high school seniors will be supplied a laptop or wifi hotspot to complete their courses. They can check out technology April 1 from 9:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. near the library if they bring their student ID and a government-issued ID.
“Your child’s teacher will provide more detail for you and your child with information that is specific to their grade level,” the MUSD information states.
Though teachers will provide information about Google Classroom, an online platform, there will also be hardcopy options available.
According to MUSD, teachers will be available during school hours by email or video conferences. They will “connect with families” twice a week.
Students in preschool through eighth grade can pick up hardcopy materials curbside at a time and date to be provided by the schools. High school teachers are developing course materials to be distributed curbside as well. Again, Google Classroom will be used.
More resources here.
Leading Edge Academy has teachers providing weekly video instructions and provides daily ideas for online resources as parents become homeschoolers. Legacy Traditional School presented its remote-learning plan March 20. Heritage Academy will also use online programs to continue classes while campus is closed.

Thursday at Sequoia Pathway, bins will be out for parents to drive by and pick up assignments if they do not have technology at home. The school expects its online teaching for K-12 will be up and running Monday.

“We are excited as we are insuring that our students will be a able to learn and grow in this time,” athletic director Glen Hale said.  “Our hope is that we can bring stability and structure through teachers still teaching and bringing the learning to their doorstep.”

MUSD Superintendent Tracey Lopeman


Technically, Maricopa Unified School District is still on spring break.

While many public schools in the state were closed by state mandate to mitigate the spread of novel coronavirus COVID-19, MUSD students and their families were taking a scheduled two-week holiday. The mandate initially was for March 16-27.

Not until Gov. Doug Ducey and State Superintendent Kathy Hoffman announced the extension of the closure to April 10 did the coronavirus officially impact the district, which has an enrollment of over 6,800 students, but contingency plans were forming.

Wednesday, the governing board has scheduled a special meeting comprised only of a resolution allowing the closing of all schools “until further notice.” That is already the case, and the teaching staff is still coming back to school Monday to put the distance-learning plan into action.

How long that will last is the question.

“We’re obviously paying close attention to what the CDC says, what the state officials say and what the Pinal County health official say,” Superintendent Tracey Lopeman said. “We are welcoming over 8,000 people every day. The health and wellness of all 8,000-plus has been our primary goal – before COVID, it was our primary goal.”

She said the resolution gives her the ability to respond quickly without having a special board meeting every day.

Lopeman is no stranger to unexpected school closures. As soon as she came on board as superintendent of Maricopa Unified School District two years ago, the #RedForEd campaign drew teachers out of the classroom to picket at the state Legislature for restoration of funding.

“I showed up in Maricopa, and everybody left,” she said.

Coronavirus is, of course, a very different situation with an indefinite end.

If the state opts to extend school closures beyond April 10, even to beyond the scheduled end of the school year, the distance-learning program will continue.

Lopeman said teachers will be providing resources and online platforms as often as possible to keep students engaged. Starting Monday, they will be learning what that means for their specific courses of study.

The students and teachers also have the weight off their shoulders of school assessments, which have been canceled across the country. Lopeman called it a do-over that is in the best interest of the kids as well as the faculty.

An important part of Wednesday’s resolution reads: “Governing Board finds that it is in the best interest of the District and serves a public purpose to continue to pay its employees for the time period of the school closure in order to maintain order in the community, reduce employee turnover, allow employees to care for the needs of their families, meet its contractual obligations and increase morale for District employees during a time of national crisis.”

March 13, the last day of school before spring break and two days before the state announced school closures, Lopeman addressed the school family through a YouTube video to explain the district’s approach, including cleaning and disinfecting procedures and what possible closures might mean.

Last week, the school announced it would begin distributing free Grab & Go meals to its students at all campuses.

Gov. Doug Ducey and Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman announced Sunday the closures of all public schools in the state through March 27 as a safety measure against COVID-19.


“The health and safety of all our students is our top priority,” Ducey said in the video announcement.

Hoffman said the state had heard concerns from many school administrators about staffing and possible absences.

Maricopa Unified School already had a planned two-week Spring Break during the time of the statewide closure, as did Heritage Academy. Sequoia Pathway Academy is in the middle of a two-week break.

Leading Edge Academy earlier announced a network-wide extension of Spring Break through March 23, but that will now extend through March 27. Legacy Traditional School had announced an extended Spring Break through March 20 at three campuses, which is also altered by the state decision. The LTS network had already canceled gatherings such as field trips through April 10.

“Legacy will be providing meals for in-need students during this extended break,” the charter school announced to its members. “Breakfast and lunch will be served in grab-and-go bags and will be available for pick-up from 8 to 9 a.m. for breakfast and from 12 to 1 p.m. for lunch.”

The state, too, is working to keep boxed meals available for students during the time schools are closed. It would be an early start to the summer food service program through USDA.

The state announcement included an effort to provide childcare options that may be announced later. Families are discouraged from leaving children in the care of elderly adults, a group who appear to be the most vulnerable to the coronavirus.

“We are asking schools to please adhere to the following measures during this period of closure:
* School administrators should make every effort to provide continued education learning opportunities through online resources or materials that can be sent home.
* School administrators should develop a plan to continue breakfast and lunch services for Arizona students.
* As demand rises on healthcare professionals and first responders, schools should expand child care programs currently available to ensure minimal disruption to these critical jobs as a result of the school closure.
* When school resumes, school administrators should develop and implement precautions to ensure schools are a safe learning environment, including social distancing measures, regular intervals for administrators to wash and sanitize their hands, and guidance on how to properly and frequently sanitize election equipment and common surfaces.”


Maricopa Unified School District Administrative Office


In its preliminary budget, Maricopa Unified School District is giving all its employees a 6% percent raise. The governing board voted 4-1 Wednesday.

Originally, the proposal was a 6% raise for teachers and a 5% raise for administration and classified staff. However, board member Torri Anderson had requested a look at the financial impact of an across-the-board raise of 6%.

After looking at the difference of $147,000 and receiving new budget information, the board approved the salary proposal. Anderson voted against it, saying she wanted to be conservative.

The financial impact to the district is $2.26 million. According to Finance Director Jacob Harmon, the growing district will have around $4 million in new revenue.

Board Vice President Ben Owens said the difference between the original proposal and the 6% raise for all was less than 1% of the $53 million budget. He said across-the-board was the way to go.

The district’s goal is to get teacher salaries above the state average, Superintendent Tracey Lopeman said.

“This helps us get there. As all districts around the state over the past couple years have increased their salaries at the same level, if we want to close that gap, we have to increase it more,” Lopeman said.

The state’s average teacher salary is $52,441, an increase of 7% during 2018-19, according to the Auditor General’s Office. MUSD’s average teacher salary is $50,359.

Lopeman had recommended 6% for teachers and 5% for other employees, which was in the proposed budget. She said that concept elevated teachers and “didn’t create a difficult decision for the board regarding administrative salaries.”

The extra boost from 5% to 6% for an across-the-board raise would come from the Maintenance & Operations budget.

Anderson said the $147,000 difference could be used in other areas or for unexpected expenses. Board members were also concerned the money might not be available in future years.

Finance Director Jacob Harmon said his office recommended the 6%-5%-5% as “a little bit of a more responsible approach,” but said he believes the budget can handle the full increase. “If we were really uncomfortable with 6%-6%-6%, we’d be a little bit louder than we are.

“We believe raises are extremely important, and we want to prioritize for that.”

Though Lopeman agreed with board members worried about future funding, she said other expenses would be prioritized around the “big rocks” of the employee salaries.

“I guarantee every board member sitting on this dais that we would never present anything that would put you or me or any one of our cabinet members in any kind of compromising situation, ever,” she said.

“We wanted to prioritize those items, just like you do in your own home. You gotta make your house payment. No matter what, this is going to happen.”

Though board member Patti Coutré did much of the grilling of staff over future needs and risks, she said she is always in favor of across-the-board salary decisions. “I value all of our employees… Teachers don’t do their jobs by themselves. They rely on those other positions.”

In his last meeting as a board member, Joshua Judd said the difference was a low number “for an egalitarian-type raise.”

Though the board does not approve the budget for a few months, Harmon said it was important to get contracts out early.

Board President AnnaMarie Knorr said she also worried the district would not be able to maintain the 6% raise for classified in the next budget and didn’t want to create an expectation. But she pointed to the strong growing spell the district has been in.

Knorr also said the teachers have been given higher raises than other employee groups in the past and continuing to do so might have unintended consequences. “I think we have shown teachers that we appreciate them,” she said. “We really have to think long and hard about the message that we’re sending.”

The 6% raise for all is still preliminary until the final approval of the 2020-21 budget. Some numbers are not in stone because positions like bus drivers, monitors and ESS teachers are variable.

However, as laid out in the agenda, the 6% raise for certified (teaching) staff would total $1,377,805.85 for the district. For classified staff, it would be $658,688.97. For administrative staff, it would be $220,926.40.

Joshua Judd just over three years of his term on the MUSD Governing Board.

Joshua Judd announced his resignation from the Maricopa Unified School District Governing Board during its regular meeting Wednesday.

He was elected in 2016, and his term was set to end in December.

“Home and work obligations have prevented me from being the kind of board member I need to be,” Judd said.

A Marine veteran and a teacher in another district, Judd said Wednesday was his last board meeting.

“It’s been one of the pleasures of my life,” he said.

“Obviously if we could reject his resignation we would,” Board President AnnaMarie Knorr said, telling Judd, “Your insight has been invaluable. Typically, you don’t have the opportunity to have a teacher on a school board. Because Mr. Judd works in a different district, he was able to serve. It’s really been truly enlightening for me for you to be able to share that perspective.”

“I truly, truly have enjoyed all the time we’ve spent together on the dais,” board member Patti Coutre told him.

The terms of Knorr and Torri Anderson are also ending this year. School board elections are on the General Election ballot. To run for office or inquire about an appointment, visit the Pinal County Superintendent of Schools.


Arizona continues to have a teacher shortage, and turnover is a normal part of education, but at Sequoia Pathway, it was particularly an autumn of discontent.

Since the summer break, at least 12 staff members, mostly in the secondary school, submitted their resignations from Pathway. That number includes two principals, and reasons stated for leaving the charter school have ranged from vague to angry.

“I am saddened by the state of things and while I love my students, the staff and my child – I can no longer sit quietly while good people are torn down,” Misti Oosthuizen wrote in her Oct. 22 resignation letter to Sequoia Pathway, a letter that was copied to staff and administrator emails.

Oosthuizen was lead of the Science Department at Pathway.

At least 10 staff members resigned by Winter Break out of about 70 certified positions (14%) at the charter school, mostly from the secondary school. By comparison, during the same time period (June-December), eight teachers resigned from Maricopa Unified School District out of 376 teachers (2%).

Other Pathway teachers resigned after Winter Break. Overall, the results forced parent company EdKey to rebuild its staff by mid-year.

Some resignations were directly tied to disagreements with new administration at the secondary school, which started with the June 17 resignation of Principal Diane Silvia.

Silvia mentioned no discord in her letter, saying instead she was going to spend more time with her first grandson. But by the start of the new school year, staff was beginning to quit the secondary school.

Special Education teacher Heidi Klepfer left Aug. 9. Math teacher Cindy Roadifer resigned Aug. 15. Joe Klepfler also later resigned. Among other assignments, the Klepflers had coached junior high volleyball. More than two pages long, Heidi Klepfler’s resignation letter cited the disagreements over management of the volleyball program, disengagement of administrators and “inconsistency of communication” as reasons for departing the school.

Roadifer described “being railroaded by a spineless upper administration” in her letter to EdKey Inc. She hinted students were not held accountable for their actions and said the school was now as overcrowded as other public Maricopa schools.

EdKey’s response to overcrowding was to announce plans to construct a new building. At the end of the 2018-19 school year, Sequoia Pathway’s enrollment in K-12 was 1,146, with 300 in the high school grades, according to the Arizona Department of Education.

Culinary teacher Rhonda Print resigned Sept. 11 without citing a reason, but she later told a Facebook parent group it was because of the administration.

Resignations weren’t the only problem. EdKey administration would not say how many staff members had been terminated.

But Kevin Struble’s departure drew the most publicity in October as students protested outside the school in an effort to bring him back. It was a reminder of the 2015 student protests that ultimately led EdKey to re-hire two fired administrators, one of whom was Silvia.

This time, the results were different, and Oosthuizen resigned the next day.

Teachers and families complained about a variety of issues, some even formally to the Arizona State Board for Charter Schools. After InMaricopa requested copies of those records and the charter board office had its legal counsel review the “numerous pages,” EdKey filed a complaint in court against the charter board to have the request withheld.

“Pending direction from the court, the Board is unable to release those records,” ASBCS Executive Director Ashley Berg said.

For its part, MUSD had three teachers resign during the summer break, middle school teacher Evan Drake, high school teacher Carol Mandell and Exceptional Student Services teacher Herman Edelson.

After the start of school in late July through December, resigning staff included high school teachers Yadira Fierro and Lori Bates, middle school teacher Eric Drake, elementary technology teacher Morgan Davis and kindergarten teacher Taylor Kinnard.

Of the eight who sent in letters of resignation, five reflected positive experiences, citing personal or family reasons for leaving. Mandell and Fierro expressed frustrations with re-assignments, and Mandell was also irritated with campus disruptions, including “perceived active shooter events,” and an aggravating relationship with another teacher.

“I think you and your district need to use this as a visionary letter of sorts to regroup and take teacher/peer entitlement and school threats/violence seriously,” she wrote.

MUSD tries to keep its hiring on pace with its resignations and retirements as there is monthly turnover in certified and classified employees.

According to Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman, there are 2,000 unfilled teaching positions statewide.

“The truth is, there are already thousands of qualified, passionate teachers in our state who could fill these positions,” Hoffman said in her address to the Legislature. “But years of cuts to education funding have built a system where inequities thrive – be it teacher pay, student resources or community supports.”

Special Education, in particular, has a “severe shortage,” Hoffman said. Both MUSD and Pathway lost special education teachers in the human-resources process last semester.

“Contributing to the shortage is the fact that special education teachers face higher rates of burnout as they balance teaching among high caseloads, mandatory paperwork, limited resources and high turnover of support staff,” Hoffman said.

In February, 11 more certified teachers announced their resignations from MUSD effective at year’s end or sooner, including another ESS teacher.

The district issued nine letters of intent for certified teachers during a Jan. 25 job fair.

“We offered more letters of intent to teachers this year than any of the prior years. We are very early in the hiring season, but this was a great first step,” said MUSD Human Resources Director Tom Beckett, who planned to issue contracts to current employees by the end of February. “At that time, we will see staff committing to the district for the 2020-21 school year. Informally and formally we have heard of some departures, but we are optimistic our teacher retention rate will rise from last year’s 85% rate.”

Sequoia Pathway had to work even faster to fill spots at its secondary school.

At the beginning of December, English Language Arts teacher and soccer coach Juan Garavito resigned from the charter school. At the end of December, Elementary Principal Rachael Lay announced her departure. Neither cited negative experiences.

Nearly as surprising as Lay’s resignation was that of history teacher Trecia Koozer, who had been with the charter school 11 years. She announced her decision on a Facebook parent-group page Jan. 4 without rancor. Like many of those who left before her, she thanked all for great memories.

Some of the teachers, including Garavito and Koozer, have since been hired at other schools in Maricopa.

While long-term substitutes plugged the holes for the fall semester at Sequoia Pathway, most of the emptied positions had been filled with full-time teachers by the start of the new semester.

This story appears in the March issue of InMaricopa.

Engineering was introduced to Maricopa High School's CTE offerings this school year. Photos by Joycelyn Cabrera

Levi Watlington wishes it could have happened much earlier in his academic career.

The Maricopa High School senior is an aspiring computer scientist and a student of the school’s inaugural engineering course.

“If I were to go into a different field, like an engineering field, I think this would really help me,” he said. “We built a bridge out of toothpicks. Engineers need to account for suspension and how much weight is going to be on the bridge. We made catapults; it’s a pretty fun class.”

Engineering finished its first semester at MHS as a Career and Technical Education course. Students are taught different elements of engineering, including electrical, mechanical and software. The program is available in three sequences: Engineering I, Engineering II and Engineering III.

Aian Pableo teaches the course twice a day. Pableo, originally from the Philippines, got his master’s degree in electrical engineering before coming to the United States to pursue teaching. He teaches college and high school level classes.

“I’m still adjusting, I’m still learning,” he said. “I’m happy when students learn something from me, when they say, ‘Ah ha!’”

Michelle Poppen is the CTE director and a vice principal of MHS.

“Engineering can help to build on [critical thinking] skills, bring the math skills into a practical realm,” Poppen said. “One of the nice things about CTE is to apply what’s being learned in the core subject areas and then being able to apply those skills into real life experiences.”

Levi Watlington

While not the only subject taught in class, circuitry was an in-depth unit the students learned during their first semester with Pableo.

Sophomore Charles Lyndell dreams of becoming an inventor. He said the accomplishments of Thomas Edison inspired him to pursue inventing.

“I’ve learned different kinds of ways to measure electricity, volts, currents, resistance and some different ways to draw blueprints and ways to read how much electricity there is in something,” Lyndell said.

MHS provides 12 CTE programs for students. After surveying the students on campus last year about what programs they would like to see, engineering and fashion design were among the top choices.

Sophomore Kyle Draper said what he learned in his engineering class ties into his after-school robotics club.

“I go and sit down and I learn a new concept. One time we learned about circuits, and it was always very fun to figure out how electricity works and how the circuits are.”

Kyle, still unsure of his future career, said he is looking into chemical engineering.

Charles Lyndell

The engineering program is a new opportunity for students at MHS to prepare for their careers after graduation.

“This is a foundation; it’s basics for them,” Pableo said. “If they were to push through to college for an engineering degree, this would help them.”

After finishing his first semester teaching an engineering course at the high school level, Pableo said he is ready to adjust his teaching style according to feedback he gets and mistakes he’s made.

“He’s one of my favorite teachers,” Watlington said. “He’s laid back, but also we get our work done and everyone likes him.”

This story appears in the March issue of InMaricopa.

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Noah Lewis leads the fifth graders in the Mile Meet.

Butterfield Elementary churned out the runners for Maricopa Unified School District’s annual Mile Meet on Wednesday at Ram Stadium. Butterfield students won all but one of the six events that had fourth and fifth graders competing for medals.

Breaking up the monopoly was Pima Butte Elementary’s Isabella Gomez, who won the fifth-grade girls’ mile in 6:30. Jianna Reyes of Butterfield was second in 6:47, and Amiya Gutierrez of Butterfield was third in 6:54.

Noah Lewis of Butterfield won the fifth-grade boys’ mile in 6:27. Hot on his heals was Carter Hill of Pima Butte in 6:29, and Elijah Washington of Butterfield was third in 6:35.

Rachel Lapp of Butterfield won the fourth-grade girls’ mile in 7:10. Kylie Adams of Santa Cruz Elementary was second in 7:11, and Mia Robles of Butterfield was third in 7:48.

Thomas Sorenson of Butterfield won the fourth-grade boys’ mile in 6:12, the fastest individual time of the day. No slouch, Jeremiah Camacho of Butterfield was second in 6:19, and Gasper Ruiz of Santa Cruz was third in 6:55.

In the 4×400-meter relays, Butterfield won the girls’ race in 5:33. Pima Butte was second, Santa Cruz third and Saddleback Elementary fourth. Butterfield also won the boys’ relay with a time of 5:29. Saddleback was second, Pima Butte third and Santa Cruz fourth.

Important decisions for its second high school come before the Maricopa Unified School District Governing Board this week.

The board could hire an architect and construction manager as well as a project manager for the construction of another school to alleviate an over-capacity situation at Maricopa High School. Those items are on Wednesday’s consent agenda.

Also on the agenda, albeit under executive session, is the selection of a school site. District spokesperson Mishell Terry said that information is “not quite ready” to be made public.

MUSD created a selection committee of qualified people to make the recommendation for construction manager at risk and architect/engineer. By policy, at least one member was a senior management employee of a licensed contractor and one was an architect or engineer.

The committee reviewed the proposals that resulted from the request for qualifications and made a short list of finalists before forwarding a final recommendation to the board. While those recommendations are not yet public, the administration is asking the board to approve Facilities Management Group as the project manager.

FMG has been a guiding force for the district on its expansion for more than a year.

The construction personnel and the site are to be paid for with state School Facilities Board funds. The MUSD board is to consider the recommendation from its Land Selection Committee regarding an appropriate site for another high school and then authorize the negotiation with the owner of the property.

Last year, SFB earmarked $22.3 million plus funds for up to 40 acres for the project.

The board meets at 6:30 p.m.

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Michelle Poppen

By Michelle Poppen

The Maricopa High School Career and Technical Education Department would like to announce that February is Career and Technical Education (CTE) Month. CTE Month celebrates the value of workforce development and the accomplishments of CTE programs throughout the United States.

Maricopa High School’s CTE Programs and Teachers:

  • Marketing – Julian Rodriguez
  • Stage Craft – Kevin Piquette
  • Computer Maintenance/Networking – Brad Chamberlain
  • Graphic Design – Maria Pour
  • Engineering – Aian Pableo
  • Digital Photography – Chuck King
  • Culinary – Greg Mahon, Hannah Norby
  • Sports Medicine – Justin Ennis
  • Automotive – Erick Fierro
  • AFJROTC – Lt. Col. Allen Kirksey, Master Sgt. Dishon Gregory
  • College and Career Technology Classes – Forrest Nuzum, Tony Fuller, Jim Frye
  • CAVIT Central Campus Programs – Mike Glover, superintendent

Maricopa High School’s Additional Team Members:

  • MHS Principal Brian Winter
  • Assistant Principal/CTE Administrator Michelle Poppen
  • CTE Administrative Assistant Karen Malouff
  • College and Career Coordinator Bernadette Russoniello
  • School counselors Deanna Paine, Larry Veltrie, Vanessa Stone, Mark Lavit

We are proud to serve the Maricopa Community and please contact us to schedule a tour.

520-568-8100 or mpoppen@musd20.org and brussionello@musd20.org

Michelle Poppen is a vice principal at Maricopa High School and CTE director.

For the third year in a row, a team of students from Maricopa will represent Arizona on a national stage.

Students from Maricopa Wells and Desert Wind Middle Schools competed at the Arizona Future City Competition Jan. 25. Once again, a team of students from Maricopa Wells Middle School won the STEM-based engineering competition. The team earned an all-expenses-paid trip to Washington, D.C., to compete at the Future City National Finals.

Marley Polosky, Allison Rice and Nicolas Yendrzeski will compete at the National Finals on Feb. 14-19. The students will be accompanied by their teacher, Janell Hudson, and engineering mentor, Robyn Rice. Marley and Allison were members of the team thatwon the Arizona competition last year, making this their second trip to the National Finals.

Maricopa Wells Middle School 1st Place Team

In addition to winning the competition, MUSD students earned a total of 19 awards. MWMS students won 12 awards and DWMS students won seven awards, taking home half of the total awards from the state-wide competition. The MUSD Middle School students demonstrated their knowledge of STEM by presenting projects which designed a resilient and futuristic water supply system for a city of the future. The following awards were presented to MUSD students at the competition.

Maricopa Wells Middle School Awards:


1st Place: Salt Lake City
Marley Polosky, Allison Rice, Nicolas Yendrzeski

Best Application of Quality Concepts to Future Cities: Salt Lake City
Marley Polosky, Allison Rice, Nicolas Yendrzeski

Walton Sustainable Community Award: Salt Lake City
Marley Polosky, Allison Rice, Nicolas Yendrzeski

Most Sustainable Infrastructure: Santa Barbara
Bella Cox, Elin Dayley, Gracie Rogers, Amyah Clark-Martinez

Award of Distinction: Santa Barbara
Bella Cox, Elin Dayley, Gracie Rogers, Amyah Clark-Martinez

Walton Sustainable Community Award: Santa Barbara
Bella Cox, Elin Dayley, Gracie Rogers, Amyah Clark-Martinez

Special Award for Project Management: Santa Barbara
Amyah Clark-Martinez

Best Functioning City: Lindol Central
Maryn Atkinson, Rylan Blader, Genevieve Thompson

Best Scaled Model: Lindol Central
Maryn Atkinson, Rylan Blader, Genevieve Thompson

Rich Goewey Community Awareness Award: Sedora
Jo Anne Coronado Rivas, Ava Sorenson, Maximilian Voigt, Luis Quiroz-Sanchez

Walton Sustainable Community Award: Jericho
Siera Bazzel, Ana Pumarino Arcos, Chelsey Sholes

Most Innovative Design: Chennia City
Emmanuel Batrez, Stephanie Jones, Zachary Velchek

Maricopa Wells Award Winners

Desert Wind Middle School Awards:

Best Computer Model: Mek’ele
Akira Babb Valerie Hernandez, Nevaeh Livingston, Trevor Schoreder, Briana Zamorano Ramirez, Sariah Strong

Best Presentation: Santa Clara
Jazmin Perry-Marr, Lauren Roman, Chloe Armstrong, Abigail Judd, Kenton Wilson

Popular Choice: Havana
Kailynn Sanders, Alannah Flores, Kyara Lizarraga Celaya, Jessica McVay

Best Land Surveying Practices: Zavala
Megan Pedro, Catherine Correa, Rayaunna Olds, Blake Brasher, Ruby Boyle, Alexa Gomez Fuller

Best Futuristic Transportation System:  Santa Clara
Jazmin Perry-Marr, Lauren Roman, Chloe Armstrong, Abigail Judd, Kenton Wilson

Best Complex System of Systems Approach:  Zavala
Megan Pedro, Catherine Correa, Rayaunna Olds, Blake Brasher, Ruby Boyle, Alexa Gomez Fuller

Best Communication System: Nueva Esperanza
Mara Fortunato, Robert Knorr, Ayden Krehbiel, Mikaylin Whitley, Abigail Barba, Morgan Bell

Desert Wind Award Winners

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With teachers and staff always in demand, Maricopa Unified School District held its annual job fair in the district office Saturday. The effort is to fill certified and classified positions for next school. Future job fairs will also be hosted by Leading Edge Academy and the upcoming A+ Charter Schools.

Maricopa Unified School District presented its monthly recognition awards to community members, staff and students Wednesday.

Community members honored were Marissa Smith, parent volunteer at Butterfield Elementary, Mary Breden, volunteer at Maricopa Elementary, Fabrizia Hunt, parent volunteer and PTO officer at Pima Butte Elementary, Alyshea Shaw, volunteer yoga instructor at Saddleback Elementary, Sara Armstrong, PTO president at Santa Cruz Elementary, Sarah Barraza, volunteer at Santa Rosa Elementary, Douglas Fortunato, volunteer at Desert Wind Middle School, and Tahani Hanania, parent volunteer at Maricopa High School.

Staff members recognized were Ben Descoteaux, school psychologist at Butterfield, Lea Talsness, second-grade teacher at Maricopa Elementary, Jessica Ansley, fifth-grade teacher at Pima Butte, Brandi Bailey, fourth-grade teacher at Saddleback, Peter Petrides, PE teacher at Santa Cruz, Jessica Montes, music teacher at Santa Rosa, Johnny Bochat, custodian at Desert Wind, Leonard Bratspir, social studies teacher at Maricopa Wells Middle School, Kevin Piquette, technical theater instructor at MHS, and Becky Teller, accounts payable in the Business Department.

Students in the spotlight were Daryn Infiesto, second grader at Butterfield, Daniel Retana Balguer, fifth grader at MES, Diego Flores-Bustamante, first grader at Pima Butte, Averie Patterson, fifth grader at Saddleback, Jacob Rivera, third grader at Santa Cruz, Markus Talbert, first grader at Santa Rosa, Robert Knorr, seventh grader at Desert Wind, Camille Troyer, eighth grader at Maricopa Wells, and Freya Abraham, senior at MHS.

From left, Francisco Servian, Jessica Bailin, Elin Dayley and Abigayil Gindiri.

Five Maricopa students were honored by the Maricopa Rotary Club Tuesday with its Students of the Month presentation before Maricopa City Council.

The group included four eighth graders from Maricopa Wells Middle School.

Francisco Servian, son of Rochelle Servian, is on the Decathlon team and After School Club. He is on the baseball, cross country and soccer teams. “He is a high-achieving example of what the staff at Maricopa Wells strives for. He displays leadership skills in his everyday behavior. Making good decisions and showinga high degree of respect for all adults while continually keeping his grades high.”

Jessica Bailin, daughter of Dominic and Rebecca Bailin, is a member of the orchestra, choir and After School Club. “She constantly displays leadership skills in her daily behavior, helping with community affairs, church organization and maintaining a very high GPA.”

Elin Dayley, daughter of Trevor and Shirley Dayley, is involved the After School Club, Orchestra and soccer, where she was the key member to the Maricopa Wells Championship Girls’ Team this year. She does all this while maintaining high-achieving grades in all her subjects.”

Abigayil Gindiri, daughter of Joshua and Shalom Gindiri, is a member of Student Council, orchestra, drama, the After School Club and many community organizations. “She is the president of the National Junior Honor Society, which helped organize two canned-food drives and the Penny Wars competition, and organized the Maricopa Wells Blood Drive, which will take place Jan. 24.”

Also recognized but not in attendance was Maricopa High School senior Briley Hoffman, daughter of Brian and Terrell Hoffman. President of the National Honor Society, she is in Honors English, geometry and biology. She plays violin for the MHS Orchestra, is on the varsity girls’ golf team and has been a community volunteer for many organizations such as the City of Maricopa, Red Cross Blood Drive nad Homecoming Committee, and is active in her church. “She has been beyond invaluable to the National Honor Socieyt. Not only has she organized the largest group of NHS members in the existence of NHS on MHS’s campus, she has done it with grace, humor and a timeliness that is astounding.”

FMG partner Mark Rafferty points to an end date in 2022 on a draft timeline to build a second high school for MUSD. Photo by Raquel Hendrickson

After a loss at the ballot box, Maricopa Unified School District is planning its next steps to build a second high school.

At a special meeting of the governing board Wednesday, Mark Rafferty, a partner at Facility Management Group, showed a draft timeline that would have a school ready to open for the 2022 school year. Superintendent Tracey Lopeman also explained the budget limitations.

MUSD has only partial funding for a second high school. About 56 percent of voters who participated in the Nov. 5 election voted against a $65 million bond.

Recapping a meeting with the School Facilities Board, Lopeman said the SFB funding of $22.46 million for 125,000 square feet is firm. It is for new site construction only and not to expand the Maricopa High School campus.

“The amount of money that has been allocated, while we are very grateful for it, is not intended to build a comprehensive high school like we envisioned, like our students deserve,” Lopeman said.

MUSD Governing Board members sit with staff and Mark Rafferty in a special meeting. Photo by Raquel Hendrickson

The package from SFB also includes $3.7 million for a school site, if needed.

The square footage of 125,000 would allow for about 1,300 students. Lopeman described a two-story building that might look like the 100 building on the MHS campus, a structure that is 68,000 square feet. The school would be “basic,” with no playing fields, no carpet, but probably polished concrete.

The funds would pay for some furniture, equipment and wiring for technology but not the tech itself, Business Director Jacob Harmon said.

“On the bright side, $3.7 million is generous enough to buy a site that can be a comprehensive high school someday,” Rafferty said.

Lopeman said the architecture and engineering must reflect the budget limitations. “We have phases we will be looking at over the years.”

Most similar schools MUSD officials looked to for guidance actually had much more square footage to work with.

“There is no other high school that has been built with just SFB money.” Superintendent Tracey Lopeman

“There is no other high school that has been built with just SFB money,” Lopeman said.

“That’s the first thing they told us. ‘What’s your plan, because we know you cannot build a school with the monies we’ve given you,” Harmon said.

The district may bring back to voters a revised bond request in the near future. Meanwhile, officials are looking at creative funding alternatives for the short-term and long-term.

Board President AnnaMarie Knorr, a legislative agricultural lobbyist as a government affairs manager for the Western Growers Association, said a state lawmaker approached her after the election results showed MUSD would not get a bond. The legislator pointed out some schools in similar circumstances have received legislative appropriations of a few million dollars to complete construction projects.

Board member Torri Anderson also suggested looking into the possibility of creating a “specialty” high school. Board member Joshua Judd asked about expanding the current high school campus as a short-term solution.

The governing board will need to decide method of procurement and a selection committee. As early as its Dec. 11 meeting, it may start the process of finding an architect.

The construction environment in Arizona has changed since the last time MUSD built a school, when project delivery was through the so-called “hard bid” process. Rafferty said for much of the past decade, school-construction projects “largely, predominantly, in 99% of cases have been delivered through the construction-manager-at-risk delivery system.”

Though there is a push to rediscover the hard-bid delivery method, in which the school would select a general contractor with the lowest bid, Rafferty said it was his opinion the relationship between the schools and the contractors would be “somewhat adversarial” and the system was not in the best interest of the school districts.

“We really have to be moving forward on two separate tracks, with and without the bond.” Board member Joshua Judd

Quality-control and cost-control issues, such as a high number of change-orders that created a final cost that overshot the low bid, had government entities looking for alternative processes. Rafferty said the construction-manager-at-risk method was already popular in other states before coming to Arizona.

“The reason we have alternative delivery methods is because of what happened in the ‘90s with hard bid,” he said.

His company, FMG, recommends MUSD use the CM@R procurement method because of the collaboration among the school district, construction manager and architect. Rafferty said though hard-bid is simple, it could take 30%-40% more time.

CM@R is based on qualifications.

During the CM@R process in hiring subcontractors, a representative of the school district will be at the table when bids are tallied, he said.

MUSD Board President AnnaMarie Knorr

Rafferty also recommended hiring the architect and the construction manager concurrently. Negotiations on fees would happen separately and would be based on the budget of the project.

MUSD Governing Board must approve the selection of the construction manager and architect, the fee basis and the guaranteed maximum price.

The evaluation criteria are established in the request for qualifications. “References are very important because K-12 is a pretty small world and the whole construction industry in Arizona is a little bigger,” Rafferty said.

State statute requires a selection committee of five to seven members, who will grade submittals and make a recommendation. The committee membership is required to include a registered architect and a licensed general contractor. The committee is also required to have an SFB representative.

Lopeman said ideally the committee members will be local. She said she reached out to City Manager Rick Horst to seek possible candidates.

“On the bright side, $3.7 million is generous enough to buy a site that can be a comprehensive high school someday.” Mark Rafferty, FMG

Jan. 15, MUSD will host a strategy meeting to include parents, businesses and other community members to discuss the design, look, feel and use of the new school.

“We have to have an amazing compelling vision,” Lopeman said, “but we also have to have a short-term understanding of what the limitations are.”

Rafferty said FMG would like to see MUSD buy and masterplan a site, with the school as the first component and other components phased in.

“We really have to be moving forward on two separate tracks, with and without the bond,” Judd said. “And we have to have a plan to be built with or without the bond on this date.”

Not discussed at Wednesday’s work session but included on the failed bond were maintenance and repair projects like new roofing and heating/air conditioning units.

During the 2017-18 fiscal year, SFB gave MUSD $203,640 for five projects. Three were at the high school for HVAC, one was for plumbing issue at Maricopa Elementary School, and one was for electrical at Desert Wind Middle School.

Board member Patti Coutré would not be surprised if repairs have even higher price tags in years to come. She said those kinds of maintenance issues will increase as the current buildings age. School districts are limited in the amount of contingency funds they are allowed to set aside to plan for inevitable failures. SFB funding is not guaranteed.

Kenton Wilson (left) and Brady McMullen with their teachers. Submitted photos

Central Arizona College’s math department recently hosted the 2019 Middle School Math Contest at the San Tan Campus. More than 130 students from 13 schools throughout Pinal County participated.

From Maricopa Unified School District, Kenton Wilson of Desert Wind Middle School placed second in the individual competition. Brady McMullen of Maricopa Wells placed third. The top individual competitor was Logan Pflugfelder of J.O. Combs.

Two-person teams from San Tan Heights placed first and second in the team competition while J.O. Combs was third.

Combs placed first in the school rankings, followed by Circle Cross Ranch and San Tan Heights

Fifth-grader Max Gerena shakes hands with MUSD board members. Photo by Raquel Hendrickson

Maricopa Unified School District awarded its November spotlights to students, community members and staff during Wednesday’s meeting of the governing board.

Students honored were Abraham Hoopes, fourth grader at Butterfield Elementary, Max Gerena, fifth grader at Maricopa Elementary, Kendyll Raue, third grader at Pima Butte Elementary, Thonya Florez, first grader at Saddleback Elementary, Le’Neia Noreiga-Solig, third grader at Santa Cruz Elementary, Tayven Maybray, fourth grader at Santa Rosa Elementary, Elizabeth Coles, eighth grader at Desert Wind Middle School, Ashleymae Hulguin, seventh grader at Maricopa Wells Middle School, and Kanthikan Kanjana, senior at Maricopa High School.

Community members honored were Jennifer MacDonald, parent volunteer at Butterfield, Anna Schechenzubar, PTO member at Maricopa Elementary, Shawna Baca, parent volunteer at Pima Butte, Trisha Johnson, volunteer at Saddleback, Maegan Carter, business partner at Santa Cruz, Coree Adams, PTO president at Santa Rosa, Mike Pease, volunteer at Desert Wind, John and May Donohue, Kids Day Organizers at Maricopa Wells, and Elizabeth Witteman, parent volunteer and substitute at Maricopa High School.

Employees honored were Cindy Welch, second-grade teacher at Butterfield, Nancy Guggisberg, first-grade teacher at Maricopa Elementary, Tabri Hicks, first-grade teacher at Pima Butte, Sarah Rice, paraprofessional at Saddleback, Stephanie Arturet, third-grade teacher at Santa Cruz, Edith Martinez, administrative assistant at Santa Rosa, Misty McKenzie, bookstore and library assistant at Desert Wind, Jana Everett, administrative assistant at Maricopa Wells, Deana Paine, counselor at Maricopa High School, and Judy Valdez, substitute specialist and district receptionist.

Pima Butte Elementary School. Photo by Kyle Norby

One school in Maricopa Unified School District jumped a letter grade in the most recent assessment while another fell a letter grade.

The same phenomenon occurred among Maricopa’s charter schools, with a perennial A-lister falling a notch. Letter grades determined by the Arizona Department of Education are not yet final and can be appealed.

MUSD’s governing board will see a presentation on its results from the 2018-19 school year during Wednesday’s scheduled meeting at the district office.

Letter grades are determined by results of state testing as well as measurements of student growth in a variety of areas.

Pima Butte Elementary School, one of MUSD’s campuses in Rancho El Dorado, is an A+ school and, for now, is the only A-rated school in the city. Butterfield Elementary, which last year had climbed to an A from a C, now has a B.

Despite that, according to data from Principal Janel Hildick, Butterfield’s third and fifth graders saw more than 10-percent growth in English language arts (reading) proficiency. Math results decreased by 19.88 points among third and fourth graders.

Pima Butte, on the other hand, ranks 20th among the state’s more than 1,300 total points earned. Its math and reading passing percentages on AzMerit were among the top three in Pinal County.

Meanwhile, Saddleback Elementary, which had been MUSD’s only elementary school to receive a C for the 2017-18 school year, achieved a B this time around.

While all six of MUSD’s elementary schools are now A and B schools, its two middle schools and the high school remain C-rated.

Among the charters, Legacy Traditional School dropped from an A to a B, but still had among the county’s top AzMerit results. However, Sequoia Pathway Academy climbed from a C to a B. Leading Edge Academy maintained its B-rating.

Wednesday, MUSD Teaching and Learning Director Krista Roden and Assessment and Technology Director Dennis Koch will discuss the results with the district governing board. The meeting begins at 6:30 p.m.


Maricopa Schools                   2017/18                2018/19

Butterfield Elementary                 A                              B

Desert Wind Middle                      C                             C

Leading Edge Academy                B                             B

Legacy Traditional                         A                            B

Maricopa Elementary                   B                             B

Maricopa High School                  C                             C

Maricopa Wells Middle                C                             C

Pima Butte Elementary                A                             A

Saddleback Elementary               C                             B

Santa Cruz Elementary                B                             B

Santa Rosa Elementary                B                             B

Sequoia Pathway Academy          C                             B


Photos by Kyle Norby

Maricopa Unified School District hosted its annual Veterans Breakfast on Friday morning to showcase local veterans, especially those working or volunteering for the district. With breakfast catered by the culinary department, attendees sat in on a program that included Superintendent Tracey Lopeman expressing the district’s gratitude for those who served in the military.

Photo by Joycelyn Cabrera
MUSD Superintendent Tracey Lopeman

While most Valley schools seeking bonds, overrides and budget increases succeeded in Tuesday’s election, Maricopa Unified School District was not among them.

MUSD’s request for a capital-improvement bond was defeated 58%-42% according to the unofficial totals. It lost in 11 of the 12 reporting precincts.

“Prop 437 failed because the MUSD, an organization [whose] purpose is to educate, underestimated the intelligence of the voter, by presenting the taxpayer a financially irresponsible and uneducated proposition,” said Alan Marchione, one of the proposition’s most vocal opponents.

In a prepared statement, MUSD Superintendent Tracey Lopeman thanked all who exercised their right to vote and expressed appreciation for the 42% who supported the district’s cause.

The proposition was aimed to fund a comprehensive second high school for the district, something the state Legislature has proclaimed to be necessary. The school is 600 students over-capacity and using mobile classrooms to deal with the overflow.

“The City of Maricopa is exploding with growth, and, as a result, Maricopa Unified School District’s enrollment continues to rise,” Lopeman said. “Knowing that the state of Arizona does not provide adequate funding for districts to build new facilities or maintain existing facilities, districts throughout the state must rely on local community support to help provide funding to build much needed facilities, add safety upgrades, purchase school buses, and address lifecycle projects.”

Chandler Unified received approval for a bond with 62% of the vote. Deer Valley Unified voters approved a bond by 59% and an override by 51%. Gilbert Unified voters approved a bond (62%) and a budget increase (55%). Tempe Elementary District voters passed an override and a budget increase. Paradise Valley voters approved a bond and a budget increase. Scottsdale Unified voters approved the continuation of that district’s override.

Lopeman said the local vote did not change the needs at MUSD.

“Because the bond did not pass, we will continue to creatively manage overcrowding at the high school and will proceed with a scaled version of the plan to build a second high school using funds granted by the School Facilities Board,” she said.

That is a reference to more than $22 million the state Legislature approved to start another high school in MUSD. That deal also offers up to 40 acres of land if necessary.

“Maricopa Unified School District has an important role in educating the workforce for a city that is on the rise,” Lopeman said. “Our students deserve the support of the community and we will continue to seek the resources necessary to provide a first-class education.”

MUSD board members did not respond to requests for comment.

Early vote counts show the Maricopa Unified School District bond election failing by a 16-point margin.

MUSD Bond Early Vote Count 
YES 2,487
NO 3,444

The bond, aimed at building a second high school to relieve overcrowding at Maricopa High School, trailed in 12 of 14 precincts. The Province precinct, which includes The Lakes at Rancho El Dorado, was particularly opposed, with 63% voting against in the unofficial tallies.

For Pinal County schools seeking bonds, overrides and budget increases, it has been a mixed night.

Voters in Eloy turned down an override and in Florence and Apache Junction said no to budget increases. Apache Junction voters also denied a bond. However, school districts in Oracle and Ray received strong support for overrides and a bond. Coolidge Unified School District’s bond election is also ahead in a close early count.

While other district opted for a mail-in ballot, MUSD went with poll voting, which ended up primarily being early voting.

“The traditional election format was chosen to accommodate both voters who prefer mail-in options through early ballots, as well as those who enjoy the civic experience of voting in person on election day,” MUSD spokesperson Mishell Terry said.

Only the Ak-Chin Community precinct showed support for the MUSD bond, overwhelmingly so, with 93% of its participating voters (fewer than 50) voting in favor. That was wiped out by the Thunderbird Farms precinct, where 77% of voters said no.

The closest result so far is in the Santa Rosa precinct, where the bond is losing 53% to 47%.

The MUSD bond is for capital project, like a new school, buses and HVAC and roofing. The district received $23 million from the state to start a second high school when data showed MHS 600 students over-capacity.


Jae Luna (left) as Smee and Julie Goodrum as Black Stache in "Peter and the Starcatcher." Photo by Raquel Hendrickson

Maricopa High School Theatre Company debuted its production of the Tony Award-winning play “Peter and the Starcatcher” at the Performing Arts Center. Imagined as a backstory to Peter Pan, the whimsical and often funny play continues Friday and Saturday at 7 p.m., with an additional Saturday matinee at 2 p.m.

With great performances all around from a cast taking turns in the spotlight, the production features Joey Russoniello as the nameless Boy who hates grownups (for good reason), Taya Johnson as the intelligent, adventurous and motherly Molly Aster, and Julie Goodrum as the hilariously preening villain Black Stache.

The production is supported by a set that serves as ship and island, great sound effects and witty stagecraft. The play is directed by Alexandra Stahl, with Princess Elisa Jimenez as student director. Kevin Piquette is technical director over the tech theater crew.

MUSD Superintendent Tracey Lopeman takes questions during a town hall on the bond election. Photo by Raquel Hendrickson

Resident JoAnne Miller said it was still all about the money.

Suspicious of Maricopa Unified School District and against Prop 437, the bond to build a second high school, she stayed through most of Tuesday’s town hall at MUSD to hear the presentation on the district’s needs. She remained unconvinced.

She said her taxes were already going up $50 next year for the school district.

“That’s a lot of freaking money because everybody else wants their two cents also,” Miller said. “The water department does, the electric does, [etc.]. So, giving it to the schools when I don’t see good management of the schools, it makes it very hard to say yes.”

She was one of a handful of residents amid several teachers and MUSD staff and elected officials at the town hall session. Superintendent Tracey Lopeman said she wished for a bigger turnout.

Lopeman explained the difference between an override and a bond election. In 2016 voters approved a seven-year override to lower class sizes and improve technology. The proposed bond for $68 million is primarily to construct a second high school, purchase land if needed and for capital projects like HVAC, buses and roofing.

Dan Cerkoney is a military veteran who moved to Maricopa in August. He said he is likely to vote no.

Cerkoney said he’s been catching up on the facts of the situation and the history of the district.

“We moved to Maricopa because it was a low-tax area,” he said. “I agree, I’ve looked at the schools and, yes, you need to do something. But I’ve also come from a district that they kept raising the tax. ‘We need it for better schools, better schools.’ And they went from $2,000, $3,000, $4,000 to $5,000 for my parents in their case.”

Cerkoney also warned the supporters against surrounding themselves with like-minded people to “feel good.”

“So, when you come across a guy like me, and I’m gonna ask you tough questions, you haven’t been prepared for it,” he said.

Ed Michael said he came from a school district in Wisconsin with the same issues of overcrowding that exist at Maricopa High School, which is 600 students overcapacity. A military veteran on a fixed income, he said he and his wife discussed the problem and the possible tax rates.

“I looked at her and I said, ‘Is Grace worth it?’” he said. “Grace is my granddaughter. She goes to school here in Maricopa. She’s worth it. Every one of my grandchildren is worth it.”

City Councilmember Rich Vitiello said it is also a matter of economic development. “We can’t bring businesses here if our school district isn’t at top-notch,” he said.

Lopeman said the $26 million the district received from SFB for the project is about a third of what is necessary for a “comprehensive” high school rather than a starter, “bare minimum” high school.

Cerkoney suggested the district reach out for more public-private relationships with major companies in the area like Nissan and Volkswagen.

Miller confronted Lopeman over the district’s past spending habits and future plans, including to improve the administration building. “When they built this, you didn’t consider maintenance, putting in new roofs down the road, insurance for that, whatever. That wasn’t considered?”

Lopeman said capital spending is limited by the School Facilities Board.

“We don’t have top-of-the-line HVAC units. We have what could be purchased with that SFB money,” Lopeman said.

Current enrollment in the district is around 7,200. It is projected to grow to at least 11,000 in eight years. When asked why the district didn’t recognize the population issue sooner and begun saving for bigger facility, Lopeman said the process of the state Legislature is to fund a year at a time and it would take 40 years to build up that kind of fund.

She said the high school would be able to manage for three years but the problem would only increase with time. If the bond does not pass this year, she said, a high school would still be built. “The scale in the first year will be impacted by whether this passes.”

See the full town hall

Maricopa High School is over capacity by 30%, something the students experience every day. The question is how to deal with growth in a way that is fair to students and taxpayers. Photo by Joycelyn Cabrera

By Joycelyn Cabrera

Proposition 437 introduces a $68 million bond on the November ballot for the main purpose of building a second high school in Maricopa Unified School District. The bond has sparked dialogue among Maricopa residents.

Residents within MUSD debate on social media about the proposition, the differences between bonds and overrides, and whether to vote on additional educational funding after just having approved an override.

Proposition 437 seeks $68 million bond

Nov. 5 is a special election for registered voters of MUSD 20 to vote on a general obligation bond, which will fund the construction of a second high school and general, long-term maintenance for school district property.

General maintenance will include improvement to roofing throughout the district and repairing heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems on the current high-school campus, as well as safety enhancements for schools and the purchase of buses for the district.

The Arizona School Facilities Board approved $23 million in early 2019 specifically for construction of a new high school and additional funds for the purchase of land.

Superintendent Tracey Lopeman said $23 million is not enough funding to build a high-functioning school with the same standards as the current Maricopa High School.

“This is for a starter high school. It is not meant to build an entire, comprehensive high school. It doesn’t cover football fields, gymnasiums, it doesn’t even pay for carpet,” Lopeman said. “It only pays for the beginnings of a high school, for the beginnings of a population as well. It’s not meant to cover the entire investment.”

The $68 million from the bond would be added to the $23 million already allocated.

“We envision a comprehensive high school that provides the amenities and the enriched, robust programing,” Lopeman said, “while not the same as at Maricopa High School, but the same quality, the same richness.”

Leftover funding after reaching the $70 million mark will be used for general maintenance, equaling out to potentially $13 million for district maintenance to repair older buildings, upgrading buses and maintaining HVAC systems.

Maricopa High School over-capacity

In that 10 years, the student population has essentially doubled, but our campus footprint has stayed the same.

MHS was originally built for 1,900 students maximum, according to Principal Brian Winter. The school is 600 students – more than 30 percent – over capacity. And the 2,500-student enrollment increases daily, and the school continues to enroll students on a daily basis, he said.

“I think that there is a host of benefits to the proposition passing,” Winter said. “A second high school in our community will create a positive rivalry with Maricopa High School and take the stress and burden of the continued growth that we’re experiencing off of this campus.”

Temporary portable classrooms have been implemented on campus to relieve large class sizes, which began ranging from 25 to 40 students last year.

Aiden Balt is an English teacher at Maricopa High School and a National Board-certified educator.

“I’ve been working for the district for 10 years, and in that 10 years the student population has essentially doubled, but our campus footprint has stayed the same,” Balt said. “Many people are aware that we have contracted for 16 portable classrooms that are currently on campus. That’s a temporary solution to our numbers.”

Students say their quality of education is affected by the school sitting at over-capacity.

Francis Trast is a junior and part of the Air Force JROTC program at the school as well as a member of the cross-country team.

“We do have some overcrowded classrooms. The German courses is one of the ones that’s particularly overcrowded, because everybody needs to get a foreign language,” Trast said. “I know my German classroom has, I would say, 35–40 kids in it, so it’s always kind of loud and boisterous.”

Freya Abraham is a senior, currently at the top of her class. Abraham said she personally cannot focus or efficiently learn in large classrooms.

“I’ve heard and known students whose quality of education has taken a hit because of overcrowding,” Abraham said. “When I talk to kids, even if they’re not ready for that level, I recommend honors and AP solely because of the class size. With 45 people in the classroom, I don’t know how you can be motivated in a class where you don’t even have chairs to sit in.”

Plan B?

Should Proposition 437 not get approval from voters, MUSD 20 still plans to begin working to relieve over-crowding at the high school by using the $23 million to explore different avenues.

This could potentially include a small start-up school with basic necessities, adding classrooms on the current campus, or purchasing land before waiting on another election to turn to voters once again.

“We don’t want to have overcrowded classrooms at Maricopa High School. That’s one of the intentions of the bond is to build a second high school so that we can provide safe environments for all of our kids and quality instruction,” Balt said.

Financing and tax-payer money

What you find is that property taxes increased so high over time that it forced people out of the community.

Many residents of MUSD 20 turned to social media to voice their concerns about the resulting tax increase should the proposition pass, particularly because of the tax increase from passing an MUSD 20 override in 2016.

Informational pamphlets on the proposed bond were sent to Maricopa residents amid early-voting season. Should the bond pass, property taxes for Maricopa homeowners will increase at an assessed 10% value of residential property, according to the pamphlet.

The law uses assessed value rather than market value for determining property taxes. For instance, a property that sold for $236,000 in October has an assessed full cash value of $134,995.

Residential property assessed at a $100,000 value would see a tax increase of about $10.15 a month, creating an annual estimated cost of $122 each year. The pamphlet specifies, “an owner-occupied residence valued by the County Assessor at $250,000 is estimated to be $311.91 per year” in additional taxes.

Chester Szoltysik, a 15-year Maricopa resident and director of Information Systems at AmeriFirst Financial, previously worked in the Chicago Police Department and Arizona Peace Officer Standards and Training Board. Szoltysik said he is concerned the growth of the community will slow down or come to a halt with tax increases.

“What you find is that property taxes increased so high over time that it forced people out of the community,” Szoltysik said. “For example, in the state of Illinois, it’s one of the few states that’s actually seeing a population decrease. They’re seeing people leave the state to go to places with lower property taxes.”

Szoltysik has no children in the district and said his stance on the proposition may change if he felt a stronger obligation toward supporting additional educational funding.

Many Maricopa residents voiced their concerns on social media for tax increases in cases of fixed incomes or no personal connection with the school district.

Torri Anderson, a member of the Arizona School Boards Association and MUSD 20 Governing Board, said the state Legislature creates issues in tax increases for local districts.

“The state needs to be accountable to the taxpayers and put the money into public schools, which is taxpayer accountability,” Anderson said. “It’s really time for the taxpayers to start demanding that they know where their money goes.”

Bonds and overrides

Bonds are capital projects, things like construction of buildings, new roofs, new HVAC systems, buses.

Money approved for an override can only be allocated for a specific purpose, just as money approved for bonds can only be utilized for specific projects.

According to the Arizona School Board Association, overrides can have money allocated for maintenance and operations expenses as temporary solutions (or with a short-term expectancy) or in supporting specific programs that may have to be renewed (such as funding salaries for additional staff).

Bonds are used to fund capital equipment that has a life-span of more than five years without getting renewed in any way, according to the ASBA. This would include funding the construction of buildings, long-lasting repairs and maintenance, and updated safety and transportation systems.

Maricopa Unified School District #20 has had six bond approvals in its long history. Here are the previous three:

  • 2006 bond election for $55,700,000 was issued over 5 series, the latest maturity is July 1, 2029.  ($6,220,000 authorization went unissued as it expired in November 2012).
  • 1996 bond election for $3,885,000 was issued in 3 series, the latest maturity was 2013.
  • 1987 bond election for $3,000,000 was issued in 4 series, the latest maturity was 2002.

Both bonds and overrides require voter approval from residents in the district. MUSD bonds elections for capital improvements have fared better than override elections over the past 15 years.

In 2005, an override passed with 67% approval, followed by a successful bond election in 2006, passing with 78% of the vote.

However, since 2009, five overrides were brought to voters and failed, with disapproval ranging from 55% to 68% up until 2016, when the first override in 10 years passed by 56% of voters to pay for more teachers and additional technology.

“The override was a maintenance and ops override that is permission from the voters to exceed the budgeted amount that is allocated to the schools by 10%. It’s maintenance and operations money that’s meant to be spent in one year,” Lopeman said. “Bonds are capital projects, things like construction of buildings, new roofs, new HVAC systems, buses… it’s things that have a lifespan of more than one year.”

Money approved for overrides, whether capital or special, cannot be re-allocated to fund bonds or anything outside of what falls under each category, according to state law. Likewise, money approved for bonds cannot be utilized for projects that would fall under an override.

The 2006 bond was the most recent long-term, capital-projects funding passed by Maricopa voters, according to county records. That bond built several schools in the district, Butterfield, Santa Cruz, Saddleback and Pima Butte elementary schools and Desert Wind Middle School.

Statewide trend

It’s a math equation; more students need more resources, and the state hasn’t done it, so therefore we have to ask our neighbors.

MUSD 20 is not the only district to turn to voters during the 2019 election season. School districts in all but five counties are asking voters for approval on bonds and overrides on their November ballots, according to Save Our Schools Arizona, an organization that works with the Legislature to improve Arizona public schools.

Dawn Penich-Thacker is the co-founder and communications director for Save Our Schools Arizona. Penich-Thacker weighed in on the statewide context of Proposition 437.

“Arizona politicians have cut the funding, but our needs are higher because people move here,” Penich-Thacker said. “It’s a math equation; more students need more resources, and the state hasn’t done it, so therefore we have to ask our neighbors.”

Many counties are proposing overrides and bonds for multiple school districts per county, with only a few counties voting on one district. Pinal County will see four bonds and four overrides go to voters.

“Over the last 10 years, MUSD has incurred $19.1 million in cuts to capital funding,” Balt said. “Our projected budget for 2020 only funds about 70% of our allotted capital items, and that is a direct effect of the cuts that have been made at the state level.”

Over 40 Arizona public school districts will be voting on bonds and overrides this Nov. 5.

“Public education serves every single child in the state. Public education services everybody, and we are a diverse, equitable education,” Anderson said. “It’s not pick and choose. We educate every child.”

Abby Poland with her great-uncle Ernst in Germany. Submitted photo

Oktoberfest, one of the biggest, most extensive, annual parties in the world, is a staple of the Bavarian region of Germany. It inspires much smaller celebrations of German culture – food, traditional clothing and lots of beer-drinking – in sundry spots in the United States.

“Fun fact: All the stereotypes of Germany come from Bavaria – the lederhosen, Oktoberfest,” said Abigail Poland, who spent 24 days in Germany this summer as part of a cultural-exchange program.

Poland, a 15-year-old junior at Maricopa High School, is only two generations separated from Bavaria herself. Her grandmother, Gudrun von Kampen, emigrated to the United States alone at the age of 16 in 1950 after helping her family rebuild their bombed-out home.

“There are so many stereotypes with Germany, and there are a lot of misunderstandings because of everything that happened in the past,” Poland said. “That’s not what Germany is. World War II was one terrible period in German history, and German culture is so much richer and so much more amazing than that.”

Poland, who lives in Maricopa Meadows, studied two years of German at MHS and then took the National German Exam. She scored in the top 10 percentile, making her a gold medalist and qualifying her to apply for the Study Trip Award provided by the German Foreign Office and its Pedagogical Exchange Service. Winners stay with a host family, attend classes at a local high school and experience cultural field trips.

“The application process is, you answer a few questions, some in English, some in German, and you write a letter to a potential host family in German,” Poland said. “Then you have an interview in German – well, part in German. They were really forgiving. Because I was so nervous, a lot of mine was in English.”

She was one of 44 American students chosen for the Study Trip Award through American Association of Teachers of German. The program paid for her roundtrip flight from Newark, New Jersey, to Aschaffenburg in northeast Bavaria.

“I was so shocked and overwhelmed and so grateful that I had the opportunity,” she said.

Though “blessed with better-than-average, self-selected students,” MHS German instructor McKay Jones said, “it’s no exaggeration to say that Abby is a once-in-a-generation student. Motivation, attitude, ambition, love of languages – she’s just really enthusiastic. I think that’s one of the reasons she was selected. That really came across.”

Abigail Poland and her German teacher, McKay Jones, show where she spent three and a half weeks this summer in Bavaria. Photo by Raquel Hendrickson

Her grandmother, who now lives in Mesa, was one of the reasons Poland wanted to study German in the first place and why she was particularly excited about the trip.

“Her family was too poor. They weren’t able to feed all their kids and pay all their bills. There was an aunt that lived in America that my grandma didn’t really know and later found out that she wasn’t the nicest aunt. She said, ‘Send Gudrun to me, and I’ll take care of her.’ So, when she was 16, she came over and made a life for herself.”

But her grandmother was never chatty about the past.

“I’ve grown up my whole life visiting her very frequently, and she’s never even told me,” Poland said.

“She’s a very happy person, and obviously talking about your country being destroyed and being bombed and being homeless, and all that happening to her, she just never talked about it,” said Leah Poland, who is Abigail’s mother and Gudrun’s daughter. “I didn’t even hear the story until I was in junior high.”

Just earning a trip to Germany was not a guarantee Abigail would have the opportunity to travel to her family’s old haunts.

“I told her, ‘They’re not obligated to drive you all over the place,’ but her host family was amazing,” Leah Poland said. “They drove her twice more than an hour away to visit my uncle in an old folks’ home. He has no other living family. He was so happy to see her.”

Abigail previously had worn her grandmother’s dirndl, a traditional peasant dress that shows up frequently at Munich’s Oktoberfest. She wanted to purchase one but found them too expensive – “hundreds of euros” – but her uncle helped her acquire one.

Abby in her Dirndle. Submitted photo

Her uncle was also a treasure trove, sharing family stories and giving Abigail a huge box of family photos.

What’s more, her host family drove her two and a half hours to visit the home where her grandmother grew up, a home that was in the family for generations before being sold in the 1980s when her great-grandmother passed away.

“Even when I just mentioned visiting her house, my oma [grandmother] told me two new stories we’d never heard before,” Abigail Poland said.

Her host family was comprised of a mother, two sisters and, for part of the time, the mother’s “life partner.”

“I noticed right off the bat the feeling was different,” Poland said. “I felt like there was so much less pressure. A lot of people think Germans are cold, but I think Germans are chill. They are so much more open and talk about their feelings. It’s OK if you’re not happy and smiling and saying ‘Oh, I’m doing great’ all the time. The German stereotype is that Germans have no feelings, but I felt like it was the exact opposite, that Germans were very open with their feelings.”

Her hosts also got her to come out of her nervous-foreigner shell.

“Here, I make a lot of jokes,” she said. “In Germany I wasn’t comfortable because I didn’t know what the humor was. I didn’t know if it was going to go badly. But I remember a conversation I had with my host-sister, and she was like, ‘Just try. What’s it going to hurt if you try?’ That changed a lot of things for me.”

She traveled with a group of other foreign students to Munich, Frankfurt and Berlin. She hung out with her host-sisters and their friends. She couldn’t always follow conversational details but knew the gist.

“Her German when she got back just blew me away,” Jones said. “It was basically a month of immersion.”

“You can see how language mirrors culture,” Poland said. “In English, there’s a lot of ambiguity. In German, the words are what they mean. It’s very straightforward and real in the same way the people are straightforward and real.”

Abby with friends at grandmother’s house in Germany. Her grandmother emigrated to the United States at the age of 16 in 1950s. Submitted photo

Jones said the program is Germany’s investment in the future. “They want the German programs in the U.S. to stay vibrant, and there aren’t very many of them, especially in the Southwest.”

She gained a sense of independence that may have taken longer to obtain without the experience. The youngest of the five children of Leah and Matthew Poland, Abigail had never flown before she boarded the plane from Phoenix to the East Coast.

“I learned to not be afraid,” she said. I had adults and other people around to help me, but it was like I was completely alone. I learned how to do stuff for myself. And I learned to get over my fears. On the planes I was absolutely terrified on takeoffs and landings on the way there. I was sitting in the middle and on the aisle, which was good. Anytime I would look out the window, I was like, ‘Nope, nope, nope.’ On the way home I had a window seat, and I wasn’t terrified. I was leaning into the window. It was so interesting to me to see that difference.”

Poland’s experience realized the goals of the program and showed why the German government sets its sights on foreign teenagers. For her, the experience wasn’t about lederhosen or oompah bands or bier steins or anything else that might celebrate the German culture in an Oktoberfest kind of way.

“I want to raise cultural awareness, not just of German culture but of cultures around the world,” Poland said. “One culture is not more valid than another, and neither is a language, and neither is a people. I learned so much in Germany. I’m ready to take on the world, and I have so many opportunities now.”

This story appears in the October issue of InMaricopa.

Main River and Schloss Johannisburg

Some of the counselors at Maricopa Unified School District. Photo by Dawniele Castellanos

A counseling department plays a vital role in a school’s ability to meet the needs of all students. Maricopa Unified School District’s Counseling Department has grown to 16 full-time counselors, and Sequoia Pathway Academy has a counselor in its campus. Among them, they have earned more than 15 master’s degrees. MUSD is applying for the School Safety Grant through Arizona Department of Education to support future growth. MUSD has four guidance counselors, a mental health counselor, a college and career coordinator, an Ak-Chin advisor and an Exceptional Student Services counselor who serve the high school. There are four school counselors, an Ak-Chin advisor and an ESS counselor serving the middle schools, and three full-time elementary school counselors, an Ak-Chin advisor and an ESS counselor serving elementary schools. Four of the counselors hold clinical supervisor licensure through the Arizona Board of Behavioral Health.


Maricopa High School Counseling Department

Maricopa High School Counseling Department:
Seniors – Vanessa Stone. Photo by Dawniele Castellanos

Vanessa Stone (seniors)
Stone is a new addition to the counseling department at MHS. Stone received a Master of Science in clinical mental health counseling from Prescott College with a focus on ecopsychology and wilderness therapy, and bachelor’s degree in social work from Weber State University. Stone has a profound love and passion for people and connection with the natural world. Their prior work has included leading activity-based, adventure work and ecotherapy interventions with youth and adults in a variety of group settings. Outside work, Stone loves to spend time exploring with their dog, Xavier, rollerblading and swimming.

Maricopa High School Counseling Department: Juniors – Larry Veltrie. Photo by Dawniele Castellanos

Larry Veltrie (juniors)

“I have been privileged to have graduated almost 1,400 seniors in my 12 years here.” Veltrie received his B.A. at Eastern Washington University in Cheney, Washington, and a master’s degree from Whitworth University in Spokane.

Deana Paine (sophomores)

“I have been at Maricopa High School since 2012, starting as a math teacher before moving into the position of school counselor. I completed a BS in psychology at the University of Illinois, an M.S. in education and counseling psychology from the University of Kentucky and an M.S. in academic advising from Kansas State University. Married for 30 years, my husband and I have five children (including three MHS grads!) and one grandchild. I love baseball, travel, reading and spending time with my family and our dogs.”

Maricopa High School Counseling Department: Sophomores – Deana Paine. Photo by Dawniele Castellanos
Maricopa High School Counseling Department: Freshman – Mark Lavit. Photo by Dawniele Castellanos

Mark Lavit (freshmen)
“I have over 16 years of experience working in the behavioral health field and in education. I have worked in a variety of capacities, which include clinical supervisor, integrated care manager, rehabilitation counselor, case manager, high school guidance counselor and career counselor. I consider myself a lifelong learner and am currently seeking my doctoral degree in organizational leadership. When I am not working, I am usually with my two children, who are in third grade and kindergarten. We love taking road trips up north with our family dog and spending time with our horses.”

Maricopa High School Counseling Department: Ak-Chin – Teresa Valisto

Teresa Valisto (Ak-Chin students)
“I am a member of the Ak-Chin Indian Community. I am married to Benjamin Valisto, a member of the Tohono O’odham Nation. Our two daughters and I are graduates of MHS. I have been working as the Ak-Chin Student counselor 23 years. I started working in 1996 and have seen many changes over the years. I am here to assist students and the staff so that our students can be more successful in their education. I enjoy my job working with the students of the Ak-Chin Indian Community. They are like my own children and I am here for them.”

Maricopa High School Counseling Department: College and Career Coordinator – Bernadette Russoniello. Photo by Dawniele Castellanos

Bernadette Russoniello (College and Career coordinator)

“Serving at MHS 18 years, I am excited by my current role in advising students on opportunities beyond high school and organizing impactful events and experiences for college and career. I attended Arizona State University’s Barrett Honors College attaining concurrent degrees in English and history, a post-baccalaureate in secondary education, and an M.Ed. in curriculum design and instruction, in addition to an M.Ed. in educational leadership from Northern Arizona University. My years as an educator have taught me learning never stops, education and knowledge cannot be static, and a professional community of support is essential for success.”

Maricopa High School Counseling Department: Mental Health Counselor – Lynette Nelson. Photo by Dawniele Castellanos

Lynette Nelson (Mental Health)

“Originally from New Jersey, I have lived in Idaho, Washington, Colorado, Wisconsin and Korea. I have a bachelor’s degree in psychology and a master’s in counseling from Arizona State University and a master’s in public administration from the University of Colorado. I have worked with children and families over 30 years. My husband and I have six children and five grandchildren. I love to travel, make jewelry and play with Peaches, my 4-year-old pug. I have a passion for supporting young people and am thrilled to be here at Maricopa High School.”

Maricopa High School Counseling Department: Exceptional Student Services Counselor – Amber Liermann. Photo by Dawniele Castellanos

Amber Liermann (Exceptional Student Services)
“This is my 16th year here at MUSD as an ESS counselor. My favorite part of my job is seeing students achieve their goals. I live in Maricopa and have three children attending MUSD. I am a foster parent and have positive relationships with community agencies. In my free time I enjoy working out at the gym and riding my motorcycle.”

Sequoia Pathway Academy Counseling: Rebecca Collins

Sequoia Pathway Academy

Rebecca Collins

“I have been a school counselor seven years and currently, for the past two years, have worked at Sequoia Pathway. I have three children – a senior, a sophomore and a seventh grader. My family has been in Maricopa 13 years, and I’ve been married for 20 years. I love our community and I am grateful every day that I get the opportunity to work with the students of Maricopa.”


Maricopa Wells Middle School

Laura Lopez

“I was born and raised in Phoenix. I began my journey as a school counselor in 2011 at Maricopa Wells. I have a bachelor’s degree from Arizona State University in social work and a master’s degree in education – school counseling from Ottawa University. I enjoy working with students and their families. My husband Rodolfo Lopez and I welcomed our beautiful daughter, Isabel, in 2017. She definitely keeps us busy. We love traveling and spending time in the Bay Area visiting family when we get the chance.”

Maricopa Wells Middle School: Laura Lopez – School Counselor. Photo by Dawniele Castellanos
Maricopa Wells Middle School: Danielle Baird – School Counselor. Photo by Dawniele Castellanos

Danielle Baird

“My role is to assist MWMS students with their academic, career and social/emotional development. I have been working as a school counselor in MUSD since 2014 and am a resident of our great city of Maricopa. Originally from New Jersey, I have a dual bachelor’s degree in psychology/justice studies and my Master of Arts in counseling psychology specializing in school counseling and mental health. I have worked previously in the juvenile justice system, child welfare and social service fields. Before I transferred to MWMS, I served at both MHS and Desert Wind Middle School.”

Desert Wind Middle School: Jackie Kellar – Exceptional Student Services Counselor. Photo by Dawniele Castellanos

Jackie Kellar (Exceptional Student Services)

“I am the ESS counselor for Desert Wind, Maricopa Wells and Maricopa Elementary. I have my master’s degree from University of Denver in social work and am an independently licensed clinical social worker. I am married and have three children. I’m not a regular mom, I’m a cool mom. Similar to Olaf, I like warm hugs. I can truffle shuffle with the best of them because nobody puts baby in a corner. I love working with kids especially being their biggest cheerleader. I am trained in CBT, DBT, solution-focused therapy and mindfulness, because there is no crying in baseball.”


Desert Wind Middle School 

Desert Wind Middle School: Rudolph Skeete – School Counselor. Photo by Dawniele Castellanos

Rudolph Skeete

Skeete earned a master’s degree in education and counseling with PPS credentials, licensee professional clinical counseling recertification from Azusa Pacific University; Child Welfare & Attendance credentials from California State University, Dominguez Hills; and a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice administration from California State University, Los Angeles. He brings over 20 years’ experience as an educator, 13 as a counselor in middle and high schools. “I truly love working in collaboration with students, parents and staff; enjoy cooking a variety of foods from around the world. Track and field is my favorite sport, but I also played professional rugby in South America.”

Desert Wind Middle School: Molly Colgan – School Counselor. Photo by Dawniele Castellanos

Molly Colgan

“I was born and raised in Arizona and cannot imagine calling anywhere else home. I first realized that I wanted to go into the field of education while I was in the sixth grade, and I never strayed from this path. I graduated from Northcentral University with my bachelor’s in secondary education – English. I became an eighth-grade English language arts teacher in Phoenix and later returned to school myself and received my Master of Education degree in school counseling from Ottawa University. In my spare time, I like to read, write, learn and travel cross-country by train.”


Butterfield Elementary and Santa Cruz Elementary

Butterfield Elementary and Santa Cruz Elementary: Tara Roy-Pablo – School Counselor. Photo by Dawniele Castellanos

Tara Roy-Pablo

Roy-Pablo has been a counselor with MUSD since 2006. She worked four years at MWMS, six years at MHS and recently began working at Butterfield Elementary and Santa Cruz Elementary. She is a licensed MSW with the AZ Board of Behavioral Health Examiners, a Certified Guidance Counselor and School Social Worker with the Arizona Department of Education and serves as a field liaison with Arizona State University’s School of Social Work. In her spare time, she enjoys hanging out with her family, road-trips, gardening and spending time with friends.


Santa Rosa Elementary and Saddleback Elementary

Santa Rosa Elementary and Saddleback Elementary: Alyse Belletti – School Counselor. Photo by Dawniele Castellanos


Alyse Belletti

“I am starting my second year with MUSD as an elementary school counselor. I was born in Colorado Springs but consider myself a native as I have lived in Arizona a majority of my life. At Arizona State University, I graduated summa cum laude with a master’s degree in marriage and family therapy. Most of my professional career has been spent working as a clinical therapist, providing community-based services to children with autism. In my spare time, you will find me with my family and two German shepherds. I enjoy camping, traveling and making lifelong memories.”


Maricopa Elementary and Pima Butte Elementary

Maricopa Elementary and Pima Butte Elementary: Anna Luna – School Counselor. Photo by Dawniele Castellanos

Anna Luna

“I have my master’s degree in social work from Loma Linda University and an undergrad in sociology with a minor in psychology. I have been in the education and social work field since 2006 and have worked for Native American reservations, public K-12 schools and in drug prevention education. I am a board member of Mindfulness First. I teach cultural competency in social work at the college level and work as a community liaison for Cornerstone Healing Center in Scottsdale. I am a foster mother-turned-adoptive mother to two amazing little kiddos who have caused me gray hairs and deep laugh lines.”

Maricopa Unified School District K-5 Counselor: Ak-Chin – Sheila Bandin

Sheila Pablo-Bandin (Ak-Chin)
“I am the Ak-Chin K-5th grade advisor for students of MUSD. I oversee all students of the Ak-Chin Indian Community with the permission of our parents/guardians. As the K-5th the adviser/tutor I am responsible for providing educational guidance and assistance for students and families within the MUSD. I have been in my position over 13 years and have found my home to help support my community and MUSD schools. I am grateful to be working with an amazing staff and am looking forward to the continued partnership.”

Dawnielle Castellanos Exceptional Student Services Elementary Counselor. Photo by Dawniele Castellanos

Dawniele Castellanos (Exceptional Student Services)

Castellanos is a licensed clinical social worker in Arizona. She is a transplant from California and has lived in Arizona for the past 13 years. She received her bachelor’s degree in psychology from Azusa Pacific University and her master’s degree in social work from California State University of Long Beach. Castellanos has worked with children, youth, and families since receiving her master’s degree. She likes to travel, read and go to movies.

This item appears in the October issue of InMaricopa.

Merry Grace

By Merry Grace

There seems to be a lot of wrong information being tossed around on the upcoming bond election for Maricopa Unified School District. We need to remember that this bond will be used for more than just a new high school, with funds also designated to be used district-wide to repair roofing, HVAC and to increase security and transportation.

The new high school is crucial and long overdue. This is more than just adding extra class space. A new high school means better student/teacher ratios, better counseling opportunities with a smaller student population, more gym space for events and athletics, minimizes the need to leave town to seek a large venue for an overcrowded Prom, decreases the consideration to limit guests at an overcrowded graduation, increases extra curricular opportunities, increases safety, increases cafeteria space for a reasonable size lunch period, increases better parking space and so much more.

There is a town hall coming up on Oct. 22 at 6:30 p.m in the Maricopa Unified School District office. This is the chance for everyone to come out to engage in a discussion while getting the facts. I hope to see this room packed.

This district serves the majority of the student population in our community including Ak Chin, homeless, ELL, Special Education, Gifted Education, etc. The award winning programs and success stories all lead to amazing accomplishments every year with each graduating class surpassing the previous class.  We cannot keep building new homes and expect to keep wrongfully packing in students to a small space, limiting the quality of their education, limiting opportunities and putting safety at risk with an over-capacity school.

Our household will be voting Yes, not as parents as we will no longer have a student in school after 2022. We are voting as concerned community members who understand the value of having thriving schools in a community. You cannot grow your community and not grow your schools.

I hope to see everyone at the town hall on Oct. 22. Let’s unite and get the facts. Our future students deserve the best. Maricopa it is time to elevate our community.

Merry Grace is a Maricopa resident.

Alan Marchione

By Alan Marchione

Alan Marchione

Here we go again. This November, taxpayers once again find themselves badgered by the Maricopa Unified School District on what percentage of their hard-earned dollars they can actually allocate to the care of and interests of their own families. The MUSD, already having an existing bond in place, after passing the current override, and the approval of the Red for Ed measure last year, wants even more of your money. Remember this measure is on the ballot as many of you are mailing your Pinal County property tax payments, due by Nov. 1.

It’s not surprising how strategic the MUSD is being in proposing Prop 437 to voters this November. This measure in the off-election cycle guarantees most of you will stay home, or be less interested in casting your vote, allowing advocates of the measure to pass it while most aren’t looking. In a calculated effort, Mayor Price, Council and School Board Members have all come out in favor of the measure, without addressing any of the valid arguments against the tax increase.

Prop 437 seeks voter approval for nearly $113 million of our hard-earned income. Don’t be fooled by the $68 million request, because that number doesn’t include the 28 years of interest we’ll all be on the hook for. On average, you’re looking at an additional $300 annually to the District on your tax bill – let that sink in.

Also, don’t be fooled by propaganda suggesting economic development will be adversely affected if not passed. Even with the MUSD’s years-long low ranking of 75th in Arizona, houses continue to be sold, and property values continue to rise. Maricopa is, and will remain a predominantly bedroom community for many years to come, and a majority of us feel that pain driving the 347 each day. There are no big companies coming to Maricopa with its limited infrastructure, and the Valley has too much unoccupied business capacity for Maricopa to become a viable option for business overflow.

What’s also not mentioned is the increased capacity for high school students at our local charter schools, and Heritage Academy which has a brand new facility coming online, serving grades 6-12 in the near future. If your child attends one of our many local charter schools, your increased tax spending will not benefit their education in the slightest. Not one dollar of Prop 437 tax dollars, or the current override tax will ever go to your child’s charter school. You’ll be subsidizing schools your children don’t even attend.

I’ll make the assumption the vast majority of Maricopa’s residents moved to the city because of the lower cost of housing. Many residents already question that decision, when factoring in the higher cost of utilities, fuel and maintenance costs on their vehicles, and with property taxes rivaling some counties in California, any savings in the cost of homeownership is basically eliminated; thus making a move to, or back to, the Valley more appealing.

If you’re a senior on a fixed income, can you afford another tax increase? Seasonal residents will again be realizing an increase in their property taxes, with no voice in the matter, and no realized benefits. Maricopa business owners will be burdened with increased costs as already high rental rates increase even higher to offset the cost.

Understand this… MUSD will never have enough of your money. Even with an existing bond in place, the override tax in place, higher tax revenues coming in from higher property values, and Red for Ed funds, they are continuing to petition for more funds, and will do so indefinitely. Their appetite for your tax dollars is insatiable, and they’ll tax you to death to get it.

Send a message to the MUSD to “budget for reality,” Join me in Voting NO on Prop 437.

Alan Marchione is a resident of Maricopa.


By Ioanna T. Morfessis, Ph.D.

Ioanna Morfessis

Senior Advisor, Maricopa Economic Development Alliance

Maricopans are rightfully proud of the phenomenal community they call home.  Maricopa citizens have brought committed and spirited engagement to build this great city – a city that is vibrant, growing smartly, safe and that treasures its small town, neighborly values.

Over the years, the City Government’s leaders also have worked vigorously to put into place the quality of life, business operating environment, and soon, actual sites where quality, small, medium and large employers will be able to find a location in Maricopa that can accommodate their business operations and growth.

Among the top factors that executives consider when making a business location decision is the availability of an educated, skilled and qualified workforce.  In fact, this is the #1 factor that CEOs care about the most, up from its #3 position in 2017.  Maricopa wins in this category hands down, bar none.

With its highly educated population, Maricopa ranks on par with other U.S. markets heralded for their levels of educational attainment.   And having an outstanding P-12 education system is among the quality of life factors that matter to business that is looking to establish new facilities in the U.S.  It also matters to people looking to find a community where their families can learn, play, work and thrive.

This is where Maricopa Unified School District (MUSD) comes in:  MUSD is a cornerstone institution that educates and prepares Maricopa’s youth for college and careers.

Serving more than 7,500 students in Preschool through 12th grade this academic year, MUSD offers programming and extracurricular opportunities that encourage students to explore and discover their passions.  Blended learning, STEAM opportunities and online education opportunities are just a few programs that make MUSD stand out in our community.

The City of Maricopa is growing and now boasts nearly 55,000 residents.  And with that, MUSD is also growing, exponentially.  The District added an additional 400 new students over the last year, and demographic experts predict the District will continue to grow.

But that additional growth has impacted the student capacity of Maricopa High School.  As it stands today, the high school is already more than 500 students over capacity. In the next five years alone, as the City continues to grow, this number will also increase.

Maricopa’s residents have an opportunity this November to make a positive impact, not only on the high school, but on all schools in the District. By voting yes for the Maricopa Unified School District bond you will ensure that MUSD can:

  • Acquire land and have the funds needed to build an additional high school.
  • Repair and replace heating, cooling, roofing, and weatherization systems throughout the District.
  • Purchase new air conditioned buses to replace older buses that have moderate to no air conditioning.
  • Make the necessary facility improvements to increase security and promote safety.

A citizen bond oversight committee will be created to ensure bond funds are spent on budget, on time and as promised.

MUSD – and the city itself – needs the support of all Maricopans to effectively address these critical capital needs.  Please vote YES on Proposition 437.  In so doing, all Maricopans can ensure that critically important investments needed for MUSD schools – and more importantly – for the city’s youth – are made.

We all need to continue to work hard to build Maricopa’s economy.  Having a traditional public school system that delivers an outstanding education to P-12 students is mission critical to a flourishing economy and healthy community.

Look for your early ballot starting October 10th.  Polls are open from 6AM-7PM on November 5, 2019.  Please visit www.YesforMaricopaSchools.com for more information.

Ioanna Morfessis is a business and economic development executive that has focused her professional life on helping communities and companies thrive and succeed. She is the senior advisor to Maricopa Economic Development Alliance (MEDA). As a 501(c)3 corporation, MEDA champions strategies and solutions that foster economic growth and prosperity in the City of Maricopa by bringing together the business, government, education and civic sectors to identify and advance forward-looking policies that facilitate investment, growth and workforce development.

Lilly Mather is congratulated by Board Member Joshua Judd. Photo by Kyle Norby

Maricopa Unified School District shone its September spotlight on students, staff and community members during the governing board’s Wednesday meeting.

Each month, one student from every school is chosen by their principal “based on their outstanding commitment to their education, their school and their community.” This month’s honorees: Butterfield Elementary – Analisa Barillas, fifth grade; Desert Wind Middle School – Alison Chapman, sixth grade; Maricopa Elementary – Pate Justin, fifth grade; Maricopa High – Ariana Vaida, 11th grade; Maricopa Wells Middle School – Abigayil Gindiri, eighth grade; Pima Butte Elementary – Lilly Mather, fifth grade; Saddleback Elementary – Calvin Woodward, second grade; Santa Cruz Elementary – Josalyn Morgan, third grade; Santa Rosa Elementary – Natalia Fores-Vidal, fifth grade.

One employee from each school was also selected by principals and department leaders: “These staff members are phenomenal individuals who give from their hearts and go above and beyond expectations to meet the needs of the students and families we serve.” This month’s honorees: Butterfield Elementary – Juanita Morton, paraprofessional; Desert Wind Middle School – Mike Pinkstaff, lead custodian; Maricopa Elementary – Paul Krigbaum, physical education teacher; Maricopa High – Cheryl Mount, English teacher; Maricopa Wells Middle School – Keith Gibson, sixth-grade ELA teacher; Pima Butte Elementary – Kelly Gomez, second-grade teacher; Saddleback Elementary – Tara Owens, administrative assistance; Santa Cruz Elementary – Megan Strom, first-grade teacher; Santa Rosa Elementary – Roberta Roberge, kindergarten teacher; Teaching and Learning Department – Krista Holder, administrative assistant.

Each school and the district office also select community members “who selflessly give time and resources to ensure our students’ success.” This month’s honorees: Butterfield Elementary – Murray Siegel, volunteer; Maricopa Elementary – Nathan Ullyot, City of Maricopa; Desert Wind Middle School/Maricopa High – Karen Fortunado, volunteer; Maricopa Wells Middle School – Christopher Leon, community leader; Pima Butte Elementary – Jeffi Pavlich, volunteer and PTO president; Saddleback Elementary – Brittany Smith, volunteer; Santa Cruz Elementary – Tammy Ash, volunteer; Santa Rosa Elementary – Pastor Luke Panter, Grace Fellowship; Superintendent’s office – Jim Irving, volunteer coordinator.