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Gov. Doug Ducey and state Superintendent Kathy Hoffman released the following joint statement:

“In alignment with yesterday’s updated federal guidance, today we are announcing the extension of school closures through the remainder of the school year. Today’s announcement is intended to give parents and educators as much certainty as possible so they can plan and make decisions. While this isn’t the outcome any of us wanted, we are grateful for the partnership of schools around the state, who have stepped up to offer virtual and take-home learning opportunities for our students. These efforts are crucial, and we recognize that schools are making every effort possible to continue providing instruction during closures. We also thank our legislative partners for passing legislation ensuring all educators and staff see no disruption in pay. Our No. 1 priority will continue to be health and safety, and we will continue to work closely with public health officials to make the best decisions for kids, families, and our school communities.”

As such, the remainder of the Arizona Interscholastic Association spring season and championships have been cancelled.

“This is an unfortunate circumstance for all of our member schools, students and coaches,” said AIA Executive Director David Hines. “We know this decision was a hard one, but one that was necessary to assist in the well-being of everyone across Arizona. We hope everyone stays healthy and focused on what the next chapter will bring.”

Esports teams may continue to compete in scrimmage mode only via PlayVS.

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Central Arizona College.

In these ever-changing times, Central Arizona College’s primary goal remains: to provide quality learning opportunities while keeping students, faculty, staff, and community members safe.

CAC has long provided online opportunities for degrees, certificates, and transfer credits. These paths to learning are available at affordable tuition rates and offer students the ability to pursue their goals and maintain schedule flexibility. All courses are currently online as per social distancing guidelines described by both the state and federal government.

These measures and all updates from President Dr. Jackie Elliott can be found here. We thank everyone for their continued support of Central Arizona College as we navigate current events to continue to serve students and the community.

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A+ Charter Schools is hosting two virtual Informational Meetings and Question & Answer Sessions for families on April 8 at 1 p.m. and 7 p.m. The virtual sessions are designed for families interested in enrollment for the 2020-21 school year. The administrative team will be available to share the instructional model and answer questions. 

Rachele Reese, Principal for A+ Charter Schools stated, “During these unprecedented times, as families, schools, and communities navigate the COVID-19 pandemic, we want to offer ways to engage families in a safe and convenient way that meet their current needs. A virtual meeting allows us to connect with families, answer any questions they may have about the school, and be a resource to our community.”

Prior to the virtual meetings, A+ will post a series of videos about the school on their website, as well as Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter pages. These are designed as a resource for families and students who may have questions about the school. For families interested in the virtual Informational Meetings, registration information will be on social media as well.

A+ Charter Schools will be located at 41735 W. Alan Stephens Parkway, west of Banner Health. Construction of the new campus is well underway and will be ready for the Fall 2020 school year. The school has worked in collaboration with the City of Maricopa and has received the building permits necessary for the completion of the building project. 

A+ Charter Schools began enrolling for the 2020-21 school year earlier this year. The school will open with students in grades 7-10 and add grades 11-12 in subsequent years. Space is limited and enrollment is filling up quickly. For families interested in enrollment for grades 7-10, visit the online enrollment portal at enroll.aplusaz.org. For more information, please visit their website at www.aplusaz.org or call 520-265-5589.

 

A+ Charter Schools began enrolling students in early January for the 2020-2021 school year. In its first year, the school will serve students in grades 7-10 and add grades 11-12 in the following years. The school is committed to meeting the needs of modern-day students through project-based learning, as well as Advisory and Academic Success Groups.

Principal Rachele Reese said, “We are excited to bring a model that truly meets the needs of students, as well as closes gaps on workforce readiness needs. Space is limited for enrollment and our classes are filling quickly. We anticipate a wonderful group of students and families that will form a positive school community.”

The design of the academic program and instructional model is founded on the latest research and practices in education to prepare students for the workforce, by focusing on 21st-century skills. Students will have opportunities to develop critical skills for a wide variety of industries through project-based learning, community service projects, and internships.

Reese went on to say, “To round out our school community, we are actively interviewing educators who want the opportunity to teach using the project-based learning model and be a part of our founding team.” A+ Charter Schools is looking for innovative and qualified teaching candidates for middle school and high school in all subjects and elective areas, as well as substitute teachers. The school is hosting an Interview Fair on Saturday, February 8. For interested candidates, submit your application and resume to schedule an interview during the Interview Fair. Information is available at www.aplusaz.org/careers or email careers@aplusaz.org with any questions.

For families interested in enrollment for grades 7-10, visit the online enrollment portal at www.aplusaz.org/enrollment. The school is also offering a PBL Club on Friday afternoons from 12:30-2:00 p.m. Please visit their website at www.aplusaz.org or call 520-265-5589 for more information.

 

 

 

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A+ Charter Schools, a new 7-12 charter school offering project-based learning, is hosting its groundbreaking ceremony on Wednesday, Dec. 4 ,at 10 a.m. for their inaugural campus in Maricopa.

Phase One of the project will feature a two-story, 24,000-square-foot space on seven acres west of Banner Health on Allen Stephens Parkway. The building will include 16 classrooms, including two science labs, a designated art classroom, multipurpose room, and a College and Career Center. Additionally, the classroom designs will support project-based learning and one-to-one technology for students.

In addition, the campus will include a competition size multi-purpose field to accommodate soccer, baseball, softball, and football.

The school plans an additional phase of expansion, which will include a full-size gymnasium and additional classrooms to support future growth.

A+ Charter Schools is partnering with American Charter Development (ACD) on this building. Since 2010, ACD has completed 70 charter school projects throughout the United States and 15 of those in Arizona. Mike Morley, the founder of ACD, has been working with charter schools since 2004 and brings a great deal of expertise to the building project.

The school has a focus on project-based learning across all subjects, along with development of 21st century skills for students including communication, collaboration, creativity, critical thinking, and citizenship. All students will participate in Advisory and Academic Success Groups to focus on social emotional learning, character building activities, as well as academic support and enrichment. Long-time Maricopa educator and principal Rachele Reese will serve as the founding principal for the school.

“We are excited to bring a unique learning opportunity for our students to Maricopa. With project-based learning, our students will be provided a framework of collaboration and team work though authentic, real-life projects. We are focused on ensuring our students develop 21st century skills for success after graduation,” Reese said.

A+ Charter Schools is currently offering a PBL Club on Fridays 12:30-2 p.m. and is enrolling for grades 7-10 for the 2020-2021 school year. If you are interested in PBL Club or enrollment, visit www.aplusaz.org or call 520-265-5589 for more information.

Sequoia Pathway students demanded a fired teacher be brought back during a protest before school Monday. Photo by Raquel Hendrickson

Sequoia Pathway students are protesting the termination of a popular teacher last week.

Word got out Friday that Kevin Struble had been fired, and several parents were irate, saying it was the last straw in a series of controversial decisions. Students carrying signs and chanting stood in front of the secondary school Monday morning. Some wore masks of Struble’s face.

“He does everything for this school. He stays up until 2 or 3 a.m. making his lesson plans so he’s ready to teach his classes,” senior Joliegh Boothe said. “At one point, he was signing and grading assignments for every teacher with a math class. He’s supported by every teacher and every student in this school just because of all that that he’s done. The new admin doesn’t know anything about him and all that he’s done because they’re new.”

The charter school administration cannot talk about personnel decisions specifically.

“As an organization, if a termination takes place, it has been thoroughly vetted with appropriate documentation, along with adherence to legal precedent, even in this right-to-work state,” CEO Mark Plitzuweit told InMaricopa Friday. “Keep in mind that student and staff safety will always be of highest concern.”

Plitzuweit himself has been a target of some of the anger, with parents saying dissatisfaction has been building.

“There have been at least three teachers let go or resigned since the start of school, not to mention the two or three who didn’t return from last year,” parent Brandon Stone said. “The replacement teachers are either long-term substitutes or teachers who are now just filling in during their prep hour.”

Stone has four children attending Pathway in first, seventh, eighth and 10th grade.

“The application process for the school doesn’t apply any longer, so all students are let in, which has translated to multiple fights recently, more students in classes who are disrespectful and don’t want to be there, which means the students who do want to be there don’t receive the education they have for the past few years,” Stone said.

The students were hearing the teacher had been fired for low test scores, insubordination and unprofessional behavior. Those protesting were highly skeptical.

“In reality, when we did AzMerit, his pre-calc class got the highest scores,” senior Mickenzee Bell said.

Plitzuweit said, due to privacy, only half the story was being told. “It’s always the second half of the story that can’t be shared that could bring clarity to the actions,” he said.

Angry parents threatened to pull their children from Pathway, and Plitzuweit said they have every right to do that. But he warned against organized protests on private property, “as it would be considered a disruption of an academic learning environment.” When Monday’s protest continued into classtime, police were asked to drop in and monitor the situation.

Plitzuweit said the school is facing a teacher shortage similar to the rest of the state, and the hardest slots to fill are math, science and special education. “Out of our 18 schools, this location is one that we have had a greater need for long term substitutes.”

He said he is unaware of an increase of fighting or other disciplinary issues parents have claimed and said he would talk to the administration about it. He said he has heard from several families expressing appreciation for the new leadership.

“All that being said, I am very supportive of the campus-level decisions that have been made in several areas and I look forward to the continued accountability measures that are in place to increase student outcomes, in a safe and secure environment,” Plitzuweit said.

Pathway Secondary Principal Ja-Queese Dightmon did not respond to a request for comment.

The protest was an echo of a 2015 student pushback against the termination of two administrators at the campus. The two were eventually re-hired, but have since left EdKey.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Low Mountain Construction is putting up the campus buildings.

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Informational meeting Jan. 18

Tim Ihms. Photo by Michelle Chance

Maricopa offers diverse school options for students, and may be adding more.

In addition to its large district school and five charter schools, a private school could also open its doors in the city.

Maricopa Christian School would teach students K-6 in a location that has yet to be determined.

The institution would be headed by Tim Ihms, an Arizona native who founded and led two private Christian schools in Gilbert for more than 20 years.

Ihms is now a resident of Maricopa and current special education teacher at Pima Butte Elementary for the past three years.

His resume includes a bachelor’s degree from Arizona State University, a master’s from University of Northern Colorado, various teaching certificates awarded from the state in K-12 special education and elementary education, as well as an administrative certificate.

Looking to revive his career as an administrator, Ihms’ planned Maricopa Christian School to be one of only two private schooling options for residents at a proposed price tag of $6,000 per student. The other choice is Graysmark Academy, a private preschool in Maricopa that has been in operation since 2006.

The tuition rate for MCS is lower than Ihms’ previous private schools, which he said were competitive with the ‘higher-end’ private schools nearby in the Valley.

Ihms said the school will not hold fundraisers, but will accept donations. He hopes to keep operation and tuition costs down by performing custodial and office work himself.

Considering Maricopa’s median income is $75,000, Ihms said his school’s education and sense of community would more than justify the cost.

“The school does an amazing job; With that, people believe in it and sacrifice for it,” Ihms said. “It’s a different world, and it’s meant to be.”

The reason he has decided to open a school in Maricopa, Ihms said, is because he believes in its unique methods, which proved to be successful for his previous students in Gilbert – methods he said often can’t be implemented in a public or charter setting.

For starters, the school would not label its students based on ability.

Ihms explained because MCS would not receive government funding, it is not required to label whether children are gifted or special education students. For this reason, the school would offer “personalized” education for each child without nightly homework.

“Each student has an individual goal every day based on the day’s work beforehand,” Ihms said.

The school would also implement a lessened focus on technology and forego digital norms that are often found in traditional local schools. Students are instructed primarily by their teacher, using computers sparingly for lessons on typing, Word processing and Excel spreadsheets.

Students would learn in small class-sized cohorts. Inside one classroom, a teacher would lead kindergarten through third grade; another would teach fourth through sixth.

It’s a form of consistency that builds positive social relationships and an “amazing education,” according to Ihms.

“It allows the teachers and the students and the parents to know each other for up to four years, usually,” Ihms said.

Of course, the most obvious difference from other schools would be MCS’s religious component. Being a Christian school, Ihms said it would not include faith-based curriculum textbooks, but direct readings from the Bible.

As is the major challenge for most start-ups in the city, Ihms’ “million-dollar question” that still needs to be answered is the school site’s future location. Although he has scouted available spaces, he has not committed to one yet.

An informational meeting is scheduled Jan. 18 at 7 p.m. inside the wet room at Copper Sky Recreation Center. There, Ihms will provide prospective parents information about his proposed school and will also brainstorm solutions to its logistical challenges.

“If we want to get this schools started, I’m going to need help,” Ihms said.


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A vehicle struck the front tire of a child’s bicycle Thursday morning as she attempted to peddle through a cross walk on her way to school at Leading Edge Academy, police said.

Ricky Alvarado, spokesman for the Maricopa Police Department, said the 12-year-old girl was thrown to the ground in the collision, but was not injured.

Maricopa Fire/Medical cleared the girl of injuries, and a call was made to her parents, Alvarado said.

Prior to the incident, Alvarado said MPD was working a minor vehicle accident at the intersection, causing traffic to back up in the area of Porter Road near Sequoia Pathway Academy.

As the girl approached a crosswalk near Sequoia Pathway Academy, Alvarado said a “driver waved her through, but wasn’t looking at traffic coming in the opposite direction.”

“The little girl got her bike to go across when there was another car coming in the opposite direction that couldn’t see because traffic was backed up there,” Alvarado said.

No citations were issued in the accident, in part because Alvarado said the girl rode her bicycle through the crosswalk, when bicyclists are required to walk their bikes through a crossing.

“Since technically she shouldn’t have been riding her bike across, she should have been pushing it across the street, there was no prosecution done on anybody or any violations since nobody was injured,” Alvarado said.

The driver involved in the collision was not impaired, Alvarado said. 

Photo by Michelle Chance

The circular drive in front of the Maricopa High School office is not designated for student drop-off and parent parking, according to officials at the school.

In preparation for the first day of classes Aug. 7, the MHS website published a statement to parents reminding them parking is not permitted in the area.

MHS Office Manager Paula Pavlosky said she posted the notice online because the often fast driving speeds of parents there are a safety issue.

“It does become a very dangerous area, and as much as we tell parents the roundabout is not where you park, they still do and leave their car running, and run into the office, and sign their kids in,” she said.

Parents usually park in the area when they are signing in a tardy student, or while picking up a student, Pavlosky said.

If a student misses the last morning bell after 7:30 a.m., parents must sign students in at the front office, but park in the permitted spaces in the front parking lot, Pavlosky said.

“No students are allowed through the front door unless your parent is actually physically walking you in,” Pavlosky said.

However, parents have been known to drop their students off in front of the office when they are not late. The designated drop-off zone for students who are on time is off Taft Avenue, which is west of the main entrance.

School policy requires office staff to direct students who are dropped off at the front office to walk around to the Taft entrance.

“If you (drop them off at the office) at 7:25, we are going to turn them out and they are going to have to walk all the way around anyway, and then they definitely will be late,” Pavlosky said.

The curb encircling the drive is painted red as a “no parking” fire zone. However, Pavlosky said parents still park there despite that and school notifications in the past to cease the practice.

No children or adults have been physically injured in the circular drive, but Pavlosky said “we’ve had an instance where a teacher’s car was hit by a parent’s car.”

Maricopa Unified School District Governing Board mulls the new budget. Photo by Michelle Chance

Details surrounding employee pay increases were not resolved among board members Wednesday night at the Maricopa Unified School District Governing Board meeting.

Before a proposed budget for the 2017-18 was approved, governing board member Torri Anderson pushed back on the board’s previous salary increase proposal, which would raise district workers’ pay by 3 percent.

Anderson instead suggested that teacher raises stay at the proposed figure. All other positions would receive a 2 percent pay raise in an effort Anderson said would “incentivize” teachers to come to – and stay with – the district.

The current pay increase across the board for all employees would cost the district $817,500. Dropping other employees by 1 percent would save the district money.

Anderson said MUSD could take savings from her proposal and contribute them to the district’s reserve.

“I want to incentivize teachers, even if it’s just that 1 percent because everybody is important, but we have a hard time hanging onto teachers,” Anderson said.

Other board members sustained arguments supporting an equal percentage raise across the district. Gary Miller said MUSD also has issues retaining bus drivers and other classified staff.

Board President Patti Coutré said teachers wouldn’t have the support they need without the work of attendance clerks, bus drivers, janitors and district office staff.

“In the past, we kind of got away from that because we wanted all of our staff to feel valued,” Coutré said in regards to giving one group of employees a higher percentage raise than another.

Administrators would also receive the 3 percent increase in the district’s current proposal.

AnnaMarie Knorr, board vice president, sided with Anderson and agreed keeping all staff except teachers at a 2 percent raise could build the district’s reserve fund.  

However, Coutré referred to a previous report given by district Business Manager Aron Rausch, in which he said the reserve fund would stay at an acceptable level with all employees receiving a 3 percent raise.

Knorr also supported the argument that raising teacher pay above others could help the district retain teachers.

Board member Joshua Judd said, “finding teachers isn’t at epidemic levels,” citing the district’s recent hiring efforts. However, he said MUSD should consider incentivizing teacher pay in future budgets.

The board agreed to continue the salary discussion at a later date. Superintendent Steve Chestnut said the figures would be gathered and discussed during a future board meeting.

MUSD board member Torri Anderson. Photo by Devin Carson

By Michelle Chance

Boosting pay for district employees remained the Maricopa Unified School District Governing Board’s top priority Wednesday night.

During an ongoing budget debate between funding for after-school activity buses and raising salaries for its staff, the board proposed an $80,000 drop in funds it originally proposed in April that would have gone toward transportation for the 2017-18 school year.

The proposed funds allocated for after-school buses was lowered to $114,000.

Superintendent Steve Chestnut said the savings would go toward employee pay – raising the district’s budget amount in the area to $680,000.

The additional funds would increase staff salary across the board by 2.5 percent. However, it might raise teacher pay even more with anticipated salary increases by the state.

“This would be an increase for teacher pay, not including the increase proposed by the state Legislature,” Chestnut said.

Board Member Torri Anderson requested the board look into the cost of raising the district’s proposed pay increase even higher to 3 percent, which Chestnut agreed he would investigate.

During a previous deliberation, the board proposed funding to resurrect activity buses after a presentation by Maricopa Wells Middle School where Principal Rick Abel said the additional transportation helped increase student participation in after-school study sessions.

Two weeks ago, the board proposed a nearly $200,000 budget for buses that would run five days a week at secondary schools.

Wednesday, Chestnut said MWMS currently has after-school transportation two days a week, and it is not heavily used by students.

“In (Abel’s) judgement, parents have adjusted with carpools, and that kind of thing, for the other days of the week for practice,” Chestnut said.

The superintendent then proposed two middle school buses that would operate only two days a week, as well as adding three after-school buses for the high school.

Proposing a chunk of funding toward after-school transportation does not come without controversy, as it was done away with at the high school years ago for students’ bad behavior.

“The great fear at the high school is the kids that hang around waiting for activity buses — and they’re very difficult to manage,” Chestnut said. “It’s actually the main reason we ended the high school afternoon activity bus about four years ago.”

The funding for the buses would include pay for a security guard to keep watch over students.

The budget proposal continues to be a fluid discussion with board members adjusting, suggesting and cutting figures for a variety of expenditures that in all total $1.088 million for the 2017-18 school year.

One expenditure that Board Member Gary Miller regularly requests discussion on is a salary figure for a full-time district plumber.

“I know that is a priority for one of our maintenance departments,” Miller said.

The board is expected to discuss those estimates during another budget work session May 30 at 7 p.m.  

 

Maricopa Wells Middle School students made a presentation to the governing board during a regular session Wednesday night. Photo by Michelle Chance

By Michelle Chance

It was a pageantry of student success Wednesday night during a presentation inside the Maricopa Unified School District Board Room.

Students from Maricopa Wells Middle School spoke to the MUSD Governing Board about their experiences, some of them life-changing, in programs that ranged from music to drama to athletics. Some of these activities, however, take place after the school day ends, and that is where the issues begin.

MUSD Governing Board looks at budget numbers. Photo by Michelle Chance

MWMS and other secondary schools at the district do not offer transportation to these students due to a lack of grant funding.

“Listening to this presentation tonight … and what Maricopa Wells has done, is nothing short of amazing,” said Board President Patti Coutré. “You can see where they’re heading … and unfortunately transportation is one of the resources they will need to continue without having another grant.”

Principal Rick Abel said families make do by working together to ensure children make it home safely. Coaches are even known to stay until 6:30 p.m. to wait with students until a family member picks them up, Abel said.

In addition to traditional extracurricular activities, MWMS also offers after school academic opportunities like “eighth hour” for students who have fallen behind in their coursework. Abel said the school saw increased attendance in the program when it still had after-hours transportation.

The Board addressed the issue in previous meetings by proposing funding from additional district revenue and has deliberated for weeks on where and how to spend the money.

The district has over $1 million to spend in various categories for the upcoming school year. The figure makes up 3 percent of the district’s overall maintenance and operating budget.

In the most recent proposal, a boost to employee salaries and after-school transportation require the most cash.

Superintendent Steve Chestnut said the transportation cost for the three schools that would use the after-school activity buses would take close to $200,000 of that budget.

Not all board members were convinced of the price tag.

“I would like to see the cost come down,” said Board Member Torri Anderson, who consistently advocates for higher teacher salaries during meetings.

Out of 18 proposed expenditures, making “progress on employee pay” is the most expensive category for next year’s budget. 

The board’s proposal allocates $600,000 of the additional revenue to district personnel, which Chestnut said “would be roughly 2 percent increase across the board for all employees.”

However, Anderson thinks the district can do better.

“I would love to be the highest-paid school district in Pinal County. Then we’ll have a waiting list of teachers coming to our school district,” Anderson said.

Board Member Joshua Judd said the board needed to find a “happy balance” between the two categories.

The board tabled the draft budget for an upcoming work session. Chestnut said he expects the board to confirm an official budget by late June or July. 

Schools near Pacana Park sent out letters to parents after an odd incident that got a man banned from city parks.

Maricopa Police responded to a suspicious-person call at Pacana Park Wednesday morning, April 19, after a female student was approached by an individual who began asking her questions about her age.

The 17-year-old Sequoia Pathway student reported the incident to school staff, who then contacted police. Officers questioned the 55-year-old man who was found still fishing at Pacana Park.

MPD spokesman Ricardo Alvarado confirmed the man, who has no criminal history, was not found to have committed any crimes. However, based on his response to certain questioning, he was indefinitely barred from returning to Pacana Park and Copper Sky Regional Park.

Other schools in the area were also notified of the incident and sent out letters to parents to explain the situation and offer safety tips.

 

 

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Submitted photo

Stephanie Jones’ third-grade students at Santa Cruz Elementary School are participating in a project centered on fitness and global citizenship sponsored by Scholastic and UNICEF, which are partnering to provide food and nutrition packets to children in underdeveloped countries.

“I submitted an application, and my class (along with our sixth-grade classes and other classes around the country) was chosen to receive a kit that included fitness tracker bands for every student, along with charging stations,” Jones said. The kit also included a tablet to be used to sync and track the students’ steps, as well as other educational purposes.”

Students track their steps daily and sync the bands while they charge in the morning. For every 2,400 steps the students take, they earn one point. Every 10 points (either as a class or individually) provides one food packet to be sent to a child in need.

“My students are so excited about this project,” Jones said. “Not only has it provided a fun incentive to move (earning the steps and comparing them with their friends), but it has also provided a learning opportunity in the area of global citizenship and helping less fortunate children.

“Within the first 30 hours, my class had already earned 131 points, which translates to 13 food packets. Students averaged 6,341 steps between 10:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. on Wednesday. I’m planning on tying the project to our upcoming graphing unit in math class, as well as social studies and obviously physical education.”

A proposed calendar change at MUSD would have school starting in July but two-week breaks for fall and spring.

Maricopa Unified School District’s Governing Board decided Wednesday to further seek community feedback on an adjusted school calendar before they make a final decision.

The proposed calendar change will mandate “two-week fall and spring breaks, the addition of Wednesday to the Thanksgiving holiday break and two additional teacher days during the school year.”

See the Proposed Calendar compared to the Traditional Calendar.

Board members unanimously agreed to table the measure pending an extension of a survey they felt was not adequately utilized.

Only 6 percent of survey recipients responded.

Board member Torri Anderson cited the timing of the survey as one of the reasons there may have been a low participation rate.

“They went out during the holidays, and I think a lot of parents missed it,” Anderson said. “I received many, many emails in the last 24 hours from parents who did not know.”

Board Vice President AnnaMarie Knorr also felt the issue warranted further assessment.

“We don’t even adopt policies unless we have them at two meetings,” Knorr said. “This is a huge change, and this is the first time we have publicly discussed it.”

Despite recommending approval of the new calendar, Director of Human Resources Tom Beckett also expressed dissatisfaction with the lack of external response from parents and concurred with the board suggesting a survey extension would be a good idea.

He said the survey will simply be reopened, meaning those who have already participated do not have to resubmit.

Those who haven’t and would like to chime in can do so through Feb. 6 at the following link — https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/LV3H68L .

Maricopa Wells Middle School

The Maricopa Unified School District’s governing board voted Wednesday to approve the relocation of sixth grade classes from the district’s six elementary schools to its two middle schools.

The decision came down as a result of the recent override measure, which will expand elementary school faculties by an average of four teachers per school, reducing the number of available classrooms.

To accommodate this growth the district has decided to move sixth grade classes to Desert Wind and Maricopa Wells middle schools, where Superintendent Steve Chestnut believes the sixth graders belong.

“Those schools were designed to be middle schools,” Chestnut said.  “I’m a former middle school principal, I love middle schools and I think sixth graders thrive in that environment.”

Board member Torri Anderson voiced her concern over the possible infringement on special-needs and blended learning programs, which currently use space at Maricopa Wells that sixth grade classes will be occupying in the future.

Chestnut acknowledged there will be some issues with relocating those programs, but classroom space is available elsewhere in the district which can be utilized for those smaller programs, he said.

No decisions on the relocation of those programs has been finalized.

Anderson also inquired about the move effectively reversing a 2013 board decision, which resulted in the relocation of sixth grade to elementary schools. The move was in part designed as a cost-saving effort by the district. However it was also meant to encourage parents to retain their children in MUSD for as long as possible.

“That was one of the deciding reasons as to why we moved them,” Anderson said. “Because, we thought, ‘Oh, if we can keep them here for sixth grade, then guess what, they stay here for seventh and eighth.’”

It’s unclear if the effort did, in fact, have an impact on the retention of students, as Chestnut did not have statistical information to present on the topic.

Relocation of the sixth grade classes is set to begin with the 2017-2018 school year.

Murray Siegel

By Murray Siegel

You would be surprised to learn that an airline pilot responsible for the safety of 150 or more passengers earned an annual salary of $40,936. You would be shocked to learn that a family doctor is receiving an annual salary of $40,936.

Yet you would neither be surprised nor shocked to learn that a teacher in the Maricopa School District with five years of teaching experience, and responsible for the learning foundation of 25 to 200 students (depending on grade level and subject area), has an annual salary of $40,936.

Yes, but teachers get three months off in the summer so the difference in pay is understandable. A pilot’s hours are limited by the FAA. Most pilots have time for a second source of income. Some own a travel agency or dabble in real estate or fly for the Reserves or the Guard. Many physicians take time off, perhaps every other Wednesday or they leave early on Friday. Certainly patient hours in the evening or on weekends can be left to associates.

What is the reason for the significant difference between a pilot, a physician and a school teacher? All three professions demand knowledge, have a certification process, and impose serious responsibilities upon the professional.

If one flashes back to the mid-20th century, one will find almost all airline pilots and most physicians were men, while the vast majority of teachers were women. There is no question that the disparity in earnings between teachers and other professionals is based on the gender inequality that existed 60 years ago, and that inequity has persisted.

Another interesting difference between teachers and the other two professions is how the individual is evaluated. A doctor whose patients fail to follow health advice is not castigated if those patients become severely ill or die. An airline pilot is evaluated on flying skills. If passengers fail to heed the pilot’s warning to fasten seat belts and are then injured due to violent turbulence, the pilot does not suffer a poor rating.

A teacher, however, is evaluated based on the performance of his/her students. If many of the students have uncaring parents, subsist on a poor diet, live in a dysfunctional family or are abused, these factors are not considered when viewing the students’ scores on standardized tests.

If our schools are to provide students with the education needed for success in the future, should we not demand the very best teachers, provide salaries that are commensurate with a teacher’s abilities and evaluate those abilities in an equitable manner?

Murray Siegel is a Maricopa resident. He has a PhD in Math Ed and 42 years of teaching experience. He and his wife Sharon are volunteer teachers of advanced math classes at Butterfield Elementary School.


This column appears in the October issue of InMaricopa.