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A recent study by Mingus Union High School administration showed Cottonwood Middle School students passed the science portion of the Arizona’s Instrument to Measure Standards test at a much higher rate than MUHS students.

A report by Mingus Union High School Principal Tamara Addis showed 61 percent of CMS eighth-grade students passed the science portion of the 2010 AIMS test compared to 39 percent of MUHS tenth-grade students.However, the comparison fails to paint a clear picture, according to Cade Densmore, head of the MUHS science department.

A report by MUHS Principal Tamara Addis showed 61 percent of CMS eighth-grade students passed the science portion of the 2010 AIMS test compared to 39 percent of MUHS tenth-grade students.

Densmore responded to Addis’ report at the district’s Dec. 9 board meeting with a report of his own, showing MUHS sophomores passed the science portion of the AIMS test at a rate 10 percent higher than the average rate of sophomores statewide.

“Over the past three years the data indicate the CMS students did pass at a higher rate compared to Mingus; however, they averaged only 0.67 percent higher than the same cohort across the state while Mingus students averaged 10 percent better than their peers statewide,” Densmore told the board.

In addition, the science test for sophomores is different than the test for eighth-grade students, he said.

“Fundamentally, the core content of each test is completely different,” Densmore said during an interview after the meeting.
Life science, which emphasizes chemistry, comprises 13 percent of the test for eighth-graders but 46 percent, nearly half the exam, for sophomores, he said.

Furthermore, science curriculum at CMS is 30 percent physical science, which emphasizes biology. Curriculum at MUHS, however, currently includes no physical science, Densmore said.

The drop-off in scores is not the result of varying curriculum between middle school and high school, however.

The biggest obstacle to better scores in science on the AIMS may be its lack of importance to test takers. In terms of graduating from high school, the science portion of the exam doesn’t count, he said.

“We can’t make it mandatory. We can’t make kids care,” Densmore said. “We’re trying to focus on the things we can do.”

In his first year as department head, Densmore said the department is making sure all science courses are aligned to state standards and creating a flowchart that students can follow to take science classes in the proper sequence.

“We have restructured lab science skills curriculum to be sure that more freshmen receive an introduction to the material tested on the AIMS high school science exam by adding some life science content,” Densmore told the board.

The department will also conduct benchmark tests and standardized assessment tests before and after midterms to help develop improved core curriculum, which is scheduled to be introduced in the 2011-12 school year.

“The science department is not happy with the AIMS test scores over the past three years,” Densmore told the board. “Our goal since receiving the initial AIMS scores has been to improve.”

The estimated 29,200 gallons of fuel consumed by cars, trucks, buses and heavy machinery operated by the city will continue to be supplied by the same California energy provider that has been under contract with the city for the past nine years.

SC Fuels again won the contract to fuel Cottonwood’s transportation fleet by unanimous vote of council Dec. 7. The contract, renewed for three-year periods, has gone to SC Fuels in each of the last three cycles, according to Administrative Services General Manager Rudy Rodriguez.

“They have always been responsive and capable of resolving any issues promptly,” Rodriguez wrote in his recommendation.
Five requests for proposal were sent to alternative fuel providers. Suzy Q and Carter Oil Company did not respond. Requests mailed to Phoenix Fuels and Trejo Oil were returned as undeliverable.

“It’s not my responsibility to chase bidders down,” Rodriguez said. “They’re supposed to keep track of current addresses.”

Several fuel providers contact him each year and ask to be included in the list of potential contractors, Rodriguez said.

“It is unfortunate that no other provider submitted a bid for the off-site fueling services; however, it is not uncommon,” Rodriguez wrote in his recommendation. “SC Fuels has provided excellent services in the past and by keeping them we will avoid a transition to another company.”

The contract builds in protection against any fuel provider under contract with the city that might try to artificially inflate fuel prices.

The city uses the Oil Price Information System, Rodriguez stated. OPIS monitors and reports on fuel prices across the United States, tracking thousands of wholesalers and “maintains the world’s most comprehensive database of U.S. wholesale petroleum prices,” according to its website.

SF Fuels will be paid the OPIS price plus $0.12 for 87 octane unleaded gas per gallon and the OPIS price plus $0.11 for 87 ultra-low sulfur diesel.

A certified public accountant hired by Cottonwood City Council promises to increase city tax collections by educating and closely monitoring local businesses.

Council voted unanimously Dec. 7 in favor of contracting with Donald E. Zelechowski, a Scottsdale CPA who is considered an expert on the transaction privilege tax, which is sales tax collected by local businesses.

Zelechowski will be paid $52 an hour, or as much as $17,000 a year, to audit tax collections during the three-year term of the agreement. Zelechowski provided similar servCottonwood Administrative Services General Manager Rudy Rodriguezouncil.

The agreement can be canceled by Zelechowski or the city on 30 days notice.

“Mr. Zelechowski has done an outstanding job for the city for nearly 16 years,” Rodriguez told council. “He works well with his clients and the staff.”

Rodriguez declared a conflict of interest and did not recommend Zelechowski for the job because Zelechowski was the best man at his wedding, he said. Officially, City Manager Doug Bartosh made the recommendation.

A selection committee to review Zelechowski’s qualifications was not convened because he was the only CPA to offer his services in response to a public request for proposals dated Oct. 27, Bartosh stated in his written recommendation.
“It is costly to do so with only one qualified proposer,” Bartosh wrote.

In his written proposal, Zelechowski stated he would help the city collect as much as three times the contract price, or $51,000, in transaction privilege taxes.

Zelechowski will be responsible for enforcing local tax laws, educating businesses about tax issues and assisting them to make sure their tax accounting is correct.

He will also study trends in privilege tax collections and advise the city on how such collections will impact the budget.

“My comprehensive privilege tax revenue enhancement and audit program has proven results,” Zelechowski wrote. “What is proposed for your community is a program consisting of information projects, tax payment verification and privilege tax audits.”
Zelechowski stated his work will enable the city to more easily fund its budget.

Not all businesses are required to pay the transaction privilege tax, but many are, including restaurants, retailers, hotels, motels, prime contractors and 11 other business classifications.

A graduate of Arizona State University, Zelechowski contracted with both the cities of Scottsdale and Casa Grande to provide similar services prior to signing on with Cottonwood.

The auditorium was buzzing with hundreds of Mingus Union High School students waiting to shake the hands of school board members present to recognize them for improving their grades by 0.5 percent in a single semester.

Mingus Union High School juniors Cortlin Sandoval, foreground left, and Juliette Freedman, foreground right, receive their first academic letters and congratulations from school administrators and board members Dec. 8 during the annual Strive for .5 initiative which rewards students for significantly raising their grade point average.Strive for .5 is a program that honors students who raise their grade point average by 0.5 from one semester to the next, or maintained a cumulative 3.5-plus GPA for two consecutive semesters. Strive for .5 started at Mingus in 1987 and has recognized thousands of students.

More than 200 students earned Strive for .5 awards at the Dec. 8 ceremony. Several were first- and second-time recipients.

As each student’s name was called, they walked across the stage and received congratulations from the school’s administrators and governing board members, a certificate, a T-shirt and the applause of their fellow students, parents, relatives and friends.

Sophomore Juan Casiano wasted no time putting on his T-shirt, which displayed a portrait of National Basketball Association superstar Michael Jordan and the quote, “Some people want it to happen, some wish it would happen, others make it happen.”

Casiano, who sometimes dreams of being an astronaut, said he was proud to receive the honor.

“I raised my GPA by 0.5 percent. I think it’s cool they recognize the people who are actually trying to improve themselves.”

Senior Christina Thompson’s sister, Brandi, said she was proud Christina bounced back from a rough period and was working to improve her grades.

“I’m excited for her,” Brandi Thompson said. “She goes to The Academy. She was doing bad for a while, but she’s back on track now.”

“I think it’s a very good motivator,” said senior Shelby Haas’ grandmother, Kelli Hass. “It will look good on her resume. I think this recognition keeps them wanting to do better.”

Principal Tamara Addis told the gathering about the importance of listening to the people who believe in them. She encouraged them to rise to the challenges such people issue because they may have insights other miss.

In her case, Addis said she didn’t believe she could be principal of a high school until Superintendent Tim Foist helped her recognize she could.

“And now, here I am,” Addis said.

The roughly 30 volunteers who lined up for a dry run of the second annual Clarkdale Historic Building and Home Tour on Saturday, Dec. 4, got an earful and an eyeful of local history as explained by several historic property owners, many of whom grew up in the small town of 3,000 people north of Cottonwood.

Ruth Wicks describes some of the features of her home, which will be featured on the Clarkdale Historic Building Tour. The tour takes place on Saturday and Sunday, Dec. 11 and 12. Volunteers who will staff the event took an early tour Saturday, Dec. 4. to familiarize themselves with the route and the featured buildings.The fundraiser for Clarkdale Historical Society and Museum is set for Saturday and Sunday, Dec. 11 and 12, starting at 9 a.m. at the museum, 900 First North St. Cost of the tour is $20 and includes lunch at Clark Memorial Clubhouse starting at noon.

The last tour starts at 2 p.m. and doors close at 4 p.m., according to Mary Lou Estlick, who helped organize the event.

The pre-event tour of St. Cecilia Catholic Church, 850 Main St., for example, was conducted by two parishioners who grew up in Clarkdale and made the building which houses the church a touchstone of their lives.

Jesus Valdez and Armida Zepeda pointed out highlights of the building, one of the few locally where traditional Latin Mass is still spoken.

Zepeda, who created a display of historical photographs and documents related to the church, said she was baptized, took her first Holy Communion, was confirmed, married and celebrated both 25th and 50th wedding anniversaries at St. Cecelia’s. Valdez said he had a similar history.

“The church had a beautiful altar and communion rail,” Valdez said, but renovations over the years changed the configuration depicted in some old, black and white photos of the church. Historic records are few and Valdez asked readers to contribute any old photographs they may have of festivities there to flesh out the old building’s history.

The next stop was 1419 First North St., where Jim Gemmil gave a tour of his five-room brick house, which was built in 1917 and appears on the National Register of Historic Places.

Gemmil grew up in the home during the time when his father was owner and operator of a nearby mine between 1952 and 1972. Gemmil moved away from town for a time, but returned with his wife in the late 1960s to buy back his family’s home. He’s lived there ever since. Though several aspects of the house have been upgraded, the 100-year-old plumbing under the kitchen has not. Access is walled off by a two-foot thick concrete wall underneath the house.

“The only way to get in there is to punch a hole through the wall,” a move which has not been necessary so far, Gemmil said.

The cut glass window that looks onto the street is the original, as are many features of the exterior, including the wrought iron fence that surrounds the front yard, he said.

A beautiful red trunk in the living room, a conversation piece, was “liberated” from a mine in Jerome by Gemmil, who believes the statute of limitations has passed since his boyhood.

“It’s entertaining,” Gemmil said. “I like to do history. There are 386 buildings in Clarkdale on the National Register.”

Paul Peck, a railroad enthusiast, agreed. In addition to volunteering to help with the tour, Peck has made a study of all the local railroads that ran through Clarkdale and up to Jerome. He’s personally hiked many of the railroad beds, most of which have eroded away since the track was pulled up during the latter half of the 20th century.

“It’s fascinating to me to learn about how people lived back then,” Peck said.

“This is an event that offers the opportunity to share our rich history with residents and visitors while creating a tourist destination at the same time,” Estlick said.

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The only items missing from the sidewalks of Old Town were the silver bells.

Plenty of people were passing, more than 400, the number of tickets available for the 17th annual Old Town Association Chocolate Walk on Saturday, Dec. 4.

The event was sold out, said Jim Ledbetter, whose business was handing out treats to visitors.

“It’s the most people I’ve ever seen walking in Old Town,” Mayor Diane Joens said.

Merchants who dressed as elves, Victorian grand dames and Santa Claus greeted smile after smile from hundreds of giddy participants who lined up for treats, many of them children, their beaming faces smudged with chocolate.

Children of all ages, from one to 93, could be seen breaking into little jigs here and there, or heard softly singing their favorite carols in time with music that streamed from virtually every open door.

Smitty Smith, left, and Michael Galatioto greet Chocolate Walk guests with smiles and homemade candy at an Old Town restaurant Saturday, Dec. 4.In the air, there was a feeling of Christmas.

Upon the lighting of the new, electronic light show shaped as an evergreen tree atop Cottonwood Civic Center, a chorus of voices sounded “O Tannenbaum,” aided harmonically by a contingent of Verde Valley Singers. Nearly every City Council member was present for the lighting, which Development Services General Manager Dan Lueder, tool belt in hand, made sure would come to life on cue.

When Joens gave the order, on came the lights.

“I guess I can go to work on Monday,” a relieved Lueder said.

More than 40 merchants took part this year, nearly twice as many as last year. Each concocted 400 chocolate items to distribute to participants, who walked or caught a trolley from point to point, their hand-decorated paper bag in hand, to gather the loot.

“Overall, there’s such great enthusiasm for this event,” said City Manager Doug Bartosh, his granddaughter, Scarlet, wrapped in his arms. “It’s great for our community.”

Business owner Mike McClendon was worried the award for Best Decorated Store she owned the last two years could go to another merchant.

“This year, they’re actually trying to compete with me,” McClendon said, holding a tray of chocolates out for the parade of people passing through the store.

“It’s so quaint and cozy,” said James Soldier, a visitor from Seattle. “It’s my first time in Arizona. It’s so great to see a whole town pulling together like this.”

“It’s the start of the Christmas season,” said Barbara Donahue, owner of an Old Town business. “Everyone is happy and getting in the spirit.”

Keyleigh Thomas, 6, who made the trip from Phoenix, wiped away a suspicious smudge on her face but denied she had eaten any chocolate yet. The smudge was from the hot chocolate she drank, her mother explained as the whole family waited in line for their next treat.

Lisa Pender, president of Old Town Association, sponsor of the event, said this year’s walk surpassed expectations because of the enthusiastic assistance of merchant members, the city of Cottonwood, Cottonwood Chamber of Commerce and many others.

“Thank you for your help and participation to make this event successful,” Pender told a crowd outside Civic Center.

During a special session Nov. 16, Cottonwood City Council eyed two local nonprofits and two public street projects as possible recipients of Community Development Block Grants, federal funds distributed annually to the city which must be used to benefit people with low to moderate incomes.

Although the amount of grants made available to the city in 2011 is not yet certain, Cottonwood has received as much as $514,000 in the past for projects like constructing low-income housing or refurbishing headquarters for community service organizations such as Old Town Mission and Verde Valley Senior Center.

Several public hearings are required before council votes on how to distribute the CDBG funds, according to Long Range Planner Charles Scully.

Scully told council Kelly Byrd, branch director of Cottonwood Boys & Girls Club who could not attend, was interested in grant money to create and support various programs that benefit low-income children.

Carol Quasula, site director for Verde Valley Catholic Charities told council she was hoping for grant funds to upgrade and expand office space at the Catholic Charities building on North Main Street.

Community Development Director George Gehlert suggested grant money could be spent to realign the intersection of 10th and Main streets as part of a 10th Street redevelopment project that would upgrade the thoroughfare between Main Street and Mingus Avenue.

Council also showed an interest in the redevelopment of Fourth Street in Old Town.

Community Development Block Grants are made available by the federal government on a four-year rotation among small cities and towns. The grants may be used for a variety of purposes within certain guidelines.

Preferences for CDBG grants rotate to Cottonwood next year, Scully reported.

Federal rules control federal grant money offered to cities like Cottonwood. To qualify, any project suggested for CDBG spending must satisfy federal goals.

Grant money must either be spent to benefit low- to moderate-income residents, prevent slums or satisfy an urgent need.

Projects to build housing, remove architectural barriers, improve public works or public safety, foster economic development or improve social services would normally qualify.

Projects considered priorities by the Department of Housing and Urban Development would receive preferred consideration.
HUD priorities include housing rehabilitation, rental rehabilitation, street and sidewalk improvements and historic preservation.
Cottonwood Area Transit, Verde Valley Senior Center, Verde Valley Sanctuary and Verde Valley Chapter of Catholic Charities would all qualify as organizations eligible to receive CDBG money, Scully reported.

City Council must prioritize CDBG applications in January, approve applications in February and submit them to the Northern Arizona Council of Governments in March.

NACOG must approve and forward grant applications to Arizona Department of Housing in April.

Following a HUD review, the Arizona Department of Housing makes grant awards in July.

By Saturday, Jan. 1, the city will officially transfer all employees, money, equipment and other assets it controls in Cottonwood Area Transit to a regional transportation authority that will operate the system going forward.

The decision will cost one CAT employee their job, but is expected to reduce costs to the city and further the goal of a truly regional transportation that links county population centers. Northern Arizona Intergovernmental Public Transportation Authority plans to hire all but one CAT employee when the agreement goes into effect.

Council unanimously approved an intergovernmental agreement with NAIPTA to accomplish the transfer at its regular meeting Nov. 16.

The agreement caps the city’s financial obligation to support CAT at $230,000 a year, money that will come out of the city’s Highway User Revenue Funds distributed by the federal government.

The city will also transfer to NAIPTA its right to receive any future grant funds it has been awarded for CAT.

Existing routes will continue as detailed in the 2009 Verde Valley Rural Transit Five Year Plan.

The move completes one of council’s top strategic priorities from 2009, merging CAT into NAIPTA in order to create a regional transportation system, according to General Services Manager Richard Faust.

The economic downturn raised concerns among representatives from both NAIPTA and the city about the potential financial outcome of the deal and delayed finalization of the agreement for several months, Faust reported.

Weekly meetings between the city and the transit authority that started in September resulted in the successful conclusion of the agreement, according to Faust.

“The city’s relationship with NAIPTA has been very productive and successful,” Faust said.

The partnership between NAIPTA and the city in recent years resulted in the successful creation of the Lynx system between Sedona and Cottonwood. NAIPTA also conducted extensive public surveys that resulted in the three routes CAT uses today, he reported.

Faust said NAIPTA is uniquely qualified to take over CAT because of its success at raising grant money to support the system. For example, the transit authority succeeded in raising $80,000 in grant money to sustain the system after Yavapai County decreased funding.

Faust said he hoped the city’s annual contribution will be reduced in the future as NAIPTA finds alternative grant funding to operate the transit system.

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