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A brush fire burned within 20 feet of a Verde Village home shortly before 2 p.m. Thursday, June 24.

Verde Valley Fire District acting Capt. Bruce Hagberg attacks the flames of a wildfire which broke out at a river access point on Commanche Drive at approximately 1:40 p.m. on Thursday, June 24.Verde Valley Fire District responded to the call from 18-year-old Marcus Drazick at his home in the 4000 block of Commanche Drive.

Verde Valley Fire District acting Capt. Bruce Hagberg attacks the flames of a wildfire which broke out at a river access point on Commanche Drive at approximately 1:40 p.m. on Thursday, June 24.Drazick saw the smoke, called 9-1-1 and raced to the back yard to grab a hose. As flames approached, Drazick started watering down an area behind his home where the fire was feeding on a tangle of thick vegetation and broken branches inside a grove of cottonwood trees.

VVFD was on the scene within five minutes of the call, according to 14-year-old Daniel Davis, who was swimming in the nearby Verde River when the fire began.

Mike Clounts, a firefighter and paramedic with Verde Valley Fire District, works among the charred weeds and brush extinguishing the last smoldering piles of a small wildfire which threatened a home in the 4000 block of Verde Village roadway Thursday, June 24.“We were swimming and saw six kids near the place where the fire started. They were smoking,” Davis said. “I don’t know what they were smoking.”

Verde Valley Fire District firefighters Mike Clounts, left, and Dave McIlvoy extinguish a wildfire near a river access on Commanche Drive on Thursday, June 24Shortly after the six left the area, Davis and his friend, Sam Ofetelo, 15, said they saw smoke they believed was coming from a small campfire.

“Five minutes later, it was a lot of smoke,” Davis said.

Marcus Drazick, 18, uses a yard hose to try to keep a wildfire near his home from taking over the structure at approximately 1:45 p.m. on Thursday, June 24. Verde Valley Fire District emergency responders arrived on scene moments later to fully extinguish the fire.“We were scared,” Ofetelo said. “We ran right by the flames.”

After Verde Valley Fire District crews arrive to suppress a wildland fire in the 4000 block of Commanche Drive on Thursday, June 24, Marcus Drazick, 18, steps back from attempting to defend his home with a garden hose.At least one engine, a water tender and a utility vehicle were at the scene to douse the flames, leaving an acre of charred ground and black, smoldering tree trunks. No structures were damaged.

Wildfire flames engulf weeds and brush dangerously close to a home in the 4000 block of Commanche Drive on Thursday, June 24 as Verde Valley Fire District emergency responders work to put the fire out on a hot afternoon.The fire was out within 30 minutes, but VVFD left firefighters at the scene to take care of hot spots and to make sure the fire did not flare up again.

“I’m very upset that these kids have no respect and don’t obey the signs,” homeowner Danielle Drazick said. “We don’t mind sharing the nature we have back here with people, but when they start fires and leave garbage that we have to pick up we get pretty unhappy about it.”

“This fire came pretty close to our house,” Drazick said. “Too close for comfort.”

VVFD Fire Chief Jerry Doerksen, who was also at the scene, said the wildfire was evidence of how important it is to maintain defensible space around a house.

“If they’d gotten in there with a weed eater and knocked all those weeds down, they probably would have just had little itty bitty flames to deal with,” Doerksen said.

Verde Valley Fire District firefighters attack the flames of a wildfire which broke out at a river access point on Commanche Drive at approximately 1:40 p.m. on Thursday, June 24.Cottonwood Utilities Operation Manager Michael McCarbery, who was also at the scene, said a fire hydrant installed in 2009 was used to help battle the fire. It was the first time the unit was used, McCarbery said.

Verde Valley Fire District firefighter Dave McIlvoy extinguishes a wildfire near a river access on Commanche Drive on Thursday, June 24.“I’m just here to make sure the firefighters and the residents get the water they need,” McCarbery said. “Everything went smoothly.”

Mingus Union High  School Co-Principal Tamara Addis“She walks the talk,” Mingus Union High School District Superintendent Tim Foist said.

Tamara Addis takes the helm this summer as co-principal of Mingus Union High School, a position she is sharing with district Superintendent Tim Foist for the 2010-11 school year.In the weeks since she was named co-principal of Mingus Union High School, Tamara Addis continues to demonstrate she is the right person to replace Principal Marc Cooper, who retired in May, Foist said.

“Those are some big shoes to fill,” Addis said, pausing for an interview in Cooper’s former office, which she has yet to occupy.

“Stepping into Marc Cooper’s shoes is going to be a big job,” she said. “He really had a good pulse of the community.”

Foist said Addis is up to the task.

“She has proven herself to have the skills to take our school to the next level,” Foist said.

Foist and Addis will act as co-principals for the 2010-11 school year, after which time Foist expects to name Addis to the full-time job.

Addis said she plans to keep her duties related to curriculum and instruction while Assistant Principal Allen Mitchell focuses on daily operations, including discipline and attendance, Addis said.

Addis will continue monitoring MUHS curriculum, comparing it to state standards to make sure what is taught in the classroom advances students’ ability to perform well on Arizona’s Instrument to Measure Standards test.

“What I have going for me here is we have excellent teachers and they are able to deliver a rich content in an artful way,” Addis said.

“We have incredible staff and incredible students,” she said. “I believe I have the energy to push them to realize their dreams, aspirations and goals.”

Ten years ago, Addis transferred to MUHS from Sedona Red Rock High School, where she taught math and science. Starting in 2000, she worked as a math teacher and won promotion to director of curriculum in 2009.

Addis spent her first year in MUHS administration as director of curriculum, applying her experience and training as a master of secondary education. She also holds several administrative certifications.

She invited the community to drop in her office anytime, take a tour of the school, and see for themselves the programs and infrastructure their tax dollars support.

“I want people to feel this is their school — make them feel welcome,” Addis said. “I really want that open door.”

Mingus Union High School’s former wrestling coach could be out of a job by Tuesday, July 13, if he fails to appeal the Mingus Union High School District Governing Board’s decision to approve charges leveled against him by school administrators.

Patrice Horstman, legal counsel for the Mingus Union High School District governing boar, explains the options available to the board members  at the school board meeting Monday, June 14, regarding the decision of whether or not to accept the district administration's recommendation in the matter of physical education teacher and state champion winning wrestling coach Tom Wokasch, who is alleged to have mismanaged funds.The board voted 4-1 Monday, June 14, to accept the charges against five-time state champion wrestling coach Tom Wokasch, who is alleged to have misappropriated at least $33,000 in gate and concession receipts during the last three years. Wokasch resigned as coach earlier this year, but continues under contract with the district as a physical education teacher.

Board members John Tavasci, Jim Ledbetter, Andy Grosetta and Brenda Zenan voted to accept the charges. Board member Mike Mulcaire voted against.

“Based on the information I was presented, I’m not sure if it’s justified,” Mulcaire said after the vote.

The vote came after MUHSD lawyer Patrice Horstman told the board Wokasch did not respond to the district’s offer of settlement.

Wokasch may challenge the allegations at a due process hearing should he file notice of appeal within 30 days. Should Wokasch appeal, the board will appoint an independent hearing officer to make findings of fact and recommendations.

Mingus Union High School District board member Mike Mulcaire, left, listens as fellow board member John Tavasci Jr. makes a motion to accept Superintendent Tim Foist's recommendation  at a school board meeting Monday, June 14, regarding physical education teacher Tom Wokasch's employment with the district because of alleged mismanagement of wrestling team funds.William Holder, Wokasch’s attorney, could not be reached for comment as of press time.

The board also voted unanimously to not place Wokasch on administrative leave.

“If you elected not to place him on administrative leave, he would not be acting in an official capacity as a teacher because the school is closed,” Horstman said before the vote.

Wokasch allegedly failed to follow proper procedures required to account for gate and concession receipts and reportedly deposited the money into his family’s personal checking accounts.

In an e-mail circulated to his supporters Wednesday, June 9, Wokasch wrote, “I didn’t take any money. I am not paying back this money because it was used for the wrestlers.”

“This money was used on your child,” Wokasch wrote.

In stark contrast to the crowded condition at the Mingus Union High School District board meeting May 13, the meeting to decide whether to pursue termination of MUHS physical education teacher Tom Wokasch on Monday, June 14, carries on without the attendance of the popular wrestling coach’s many supporters. The board voted 4-1 to continue the termination process which Wokasch now has the opportunity to appeal.Wokasch was allegedly unable to provide documentation showing how all of the money was spent.

The charges against Wokasch state: “Your conduct constitutes a misappropriation of funds and serious neglect of duty.”

Wokasch was notified of the proper procedures on at least four separate occasions between August 2006 and May 2009, administrators allege.

It will now be up to Wokasch to decide what steps should be taken in the future.

Lunch ladies with the  Cottonwood-Oak Creek School District could be out of a job next year if a COCSD research team chooses an independent food service operation to cook meals for students, according to COCSD Business Manager David Snyder.

For years, COCSD staff have prepared and served meals as part of the food service department.

Looking for ways to save money on the program, the COCSD board directed administrators to review proposals from outside vendors, Snyder said.

Cottonwood-Oak  Creek School District Food Service  Secretary B.J. Lyttle, right, and  Food Service Manager Laura  Engebretson talk about concerns they have  regarding the Mingus Union  High School District’s decision to outsource  their school’s food  services Thursday, June 3.Proposals are due Tuesday, July 6, after which time the board may decide to hire an outside contractor or hire a new food service director and continue the program as usual, he said.

COCSD Food Service Secretary B.J. Lyttle and Food Service Manager Laura Engebretson said they both hope the district decides to continue offering its own internal food service.

Engebretson, involved with the program for more than a decade, said it provides tasty food that meets state nutrition guidelines for several hundred students each year.

“We’ve done a great job for these kids,” she said. “We put a lot of care into what we do.”

The COCSD offers lunch free to children under 18 and at a reduced cost for adults throughout June.

For the last several years, the Mingus Union High School District has contracted with COCSD for food service at the high school. The contract earned COCSD more than $20,000 a year.

Concerns about outsourcing was one of the reasons MUHSD Governing Board voted unanimously in April to look for food service options other than COCSD, Lyttle said.

MUHSD has decided to create its own in-house food service, which was the way meals were handled before the COCSD contract.

Snyder said COCSD’s decision to seek independent contractors to provide food service was unrelated to MUHSD’s decision to cancel the COCSD contract.

A larger contractor would offer the district the benefit of economies of scale, Snyder said, which means it could place large food orders on a national basis, thereby obtaining food at a cheaper cost.

Snyder said any vendor selected as part of the contracting process would also have the financial wherewithal to successfully promote healthy lifestyles and good eating habits in the cafeteria.

As the names of graduates were called, joyful celebration broke out next to The Cave.

Bleachers packed to overflowing, roughly 200 late-arriving parents and assorted relatives tried to hold the high ground in folding chairs or searched for a better vantage point near the stands on the Mingus Mountain side of Bright Field.

Last look back: Jordan Magana glances behind her while waiting to receive her high school diploma with the rest of the 2010 Mingus Union High School 2010 graduating class May 26.The ceremony for the 2010 Mingus Union High School graduating class was a standing room-only event.

More than 1,000 cars jammed lots and lined streets around the school May 26.

A waxing moon rose high and blue above the white lattice backdrop on the stage where the evening’s speakers sat.

Co-salutatorian Robert Lee stepped forward to voice the thoughts of many graduates.

“First off, thank you,” Lee said. “Thank you parents, teachers, administrators, friends and Sparks Notes for helping us make it through these last four years. Without you, we could not have done it.”

Bystanders milled around the tall, chain-link fence, several joking and laughing, their camera phones at the ready.

Others zigged and zagged at the fringe of the field, navigating by the view screen of their digital video recorders.

“Go out and live your life,” Co-salutatorian Jake Addis said, changing the subject. “Use that hard work and dedication that got you here today, in order to create a pleasant life for yourself, achieving the dreams and goals that you have.”

“Don’t let yourself get comfortable with where you are now; instead, keep fighting and clawing your way to the top,” Addis said.

Al and Suzanne Bartz may have done some fighting and clawing on the way to their excellent, front row seats. They sat up straight to hear their graduate’s name called.

Suzanne Bartz said the pair rode motorcycles from Seligman to take part in their granddaughter Cheyenne’s big day.

Nearby, Charlene Tasa, grandmother of MUHS graduate Brandon Tasa, said, “He’s my first grandchild to graduate, so I’m excited. It’s a great day for him, for all these kids.”

Dangerous junk piled up at the Cottonwood public works yard was money in the bank for an electronics recycling firm following an event sponsored by the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality.

Verde Valley residents turned in more than 12,000 pounds of unwanted televisions, computer equipment, batteries, chargers, cell phones, DVD players, printers, appliances, fax machines, stereos, cables and cords May 8.

Earl Campbell, owner of an electronic waste company, said the event was one of the best organized he’s attended since he began working with ADEQ to clean up Arizona’s electronic waste.

“Cottonwood did a very nice job,” Campbell said. “The city made it easy for people to attend. There were no traffic problems and everything went very smoothly.”

“I would have no problem going back on a yearly basis,” he said.

Cottonwood, Clarkdale, UniSource Energy and Stewards of Public Lands helped organize the collection day to help save space at the Yavapai County landfill and protect the environment from toxic materials contained in electronic equipment.

Diane_Joens“Illegal dumping of electronics waste is a serious problem in the Verde Valley,” Cottonwood Mayor Diane Joens said. “This free event allowed our residents to do the right thing and dispose of their old TVs and computers and other electronics in a responsible manner.”

Electronic devices are a complex mixture of several hundred materials. A mobile phone, for example, contains 500 to 1,000 components. Many of these contain toxic heavy metals such as lead, mercury, cadmium and beryllium, and hazardous chemicals, Campbell said.

Throwing the equipment into the landfill increases the risk the materials will leach into the environment.

“These things should be recycled properly and properly handled so these materials don’t go back into the ground,” Campbell said.

Though potentially dangerous, electronics also contain trace amounts of valuable precious metals that Campbell’s firm harvests and sells, usually for a profit.

A computer motherboard, for example, usually contains gold, palladium and silver, Campbell  said.

With gold selling at more than $1,000 an ounce, recovering trace amounts of the metal from the more than 12,000 pounds of waste collected should more than cover the cost of the crew and equipment Campbell brought to Cottonwood for the event, which isn’t always so, Campbell said.

An electronics recycling event in Nogales recently ended up costing Campbell because very little recyclable material was recovered, he said.

Televisions, for example, usually cost more to recycle than they yield in valuable metals, he said. Nevertheless, if the sets are not recycled properly, glass from the screens contain lead which will leach out and contaminate the ground.

“People don’t know,” Campbell said. “You can’t just throw this stuff out.”

Charges against a popular Mingus Union High School teacher were not read aloud and further settlement talks were ordered by unanimous vote of the Mingus Union High School Governing Board Thursday, May 13.

Former MUHS wrestling coach Tom Wokasch, an MUHS physical education teacher, is under investigation by the Arizona Auditor General for allegedly mishandling money from wrestling events.

Wokasch and scores of the former coach’s supporters turned out in red MUHS wrestling team T-shirts for the meeting, where the findings of an investigation into Wokasch’s handling of gate receipts were expected to be released to the public.

Instead, action on the findings was tabled pending further negotiations between lawyers for Wokasch and the district.

MUHSD attorney Patrice Horstman told the board settlement negotiations were making progress.

“I am optimistic settlement can be reached without discipline being imposed,” Wokasch's attorney William Holder said after the meeting.

Copies of the written charges were made available to the media prior to the meeting, but because the board did not take action, the charges did not become part of the public record and could not be published, Horstman said after the meeting.

Holder took advantage of the public comment segment to lay out Wokasch’s defense to any charges the board might decide to approve.

Holder said Wokasch’s due process rights were violated when MUHSD Superintendent Tim Foist stated in comments to the media that Wokasch would not be invited back to teach in 2010, thereby implying he had already been fired.

Whatever misconduct Wokasch might be accused of took place in relation to his work as a coach, not as a teacher, Holder said. His resignation as coach of the wrestling team was enough of a consequence for his actions.

“He is fit to teach,” Holder said. “This has nothing to do with his teaching abilities.”

Even if he acted improperly, the money allegedly misdirected by Wokasch can be recovered. Recovery of the funds would be a better alternative than disciplinary action, Holder said.

Following Holder, several people spoke in favor Wokasch, including Klint McKean, an MUHS graduate who now teaches English at the school and wrestled for Wokasch.

“He is in all honesty one of the reasons I am a teacher and a coach,” McKean said.

Speaking for many in the audience, McKean said, his voice choking with emotion, “We are his family. I ask that you would return him to his family.”

William Holder, center, attorney for Mingus Union High School teacher Tom Wokasch who is under investigation from the Arizona Auditor General for mishandling MUHS wrestling team funds, right, talks with his client and his wife, Laura Wokasch, outside the school district meeting at MUHS on Thursday, May 13, following the board's executive session to discuss the process of handling the charges against Wokasch.

Tom Wokasch, a physical education teacher at Mingus Union High School who is under investigation by the Arizona Auditor General for mishandling wrestling team funds during his tenure as the team's head coach, listens as the Mingus Union High School Governing Board votes unanimously Thursday, May 13, to table the matter allowing for settlement talks between the district's and Wokasch's attorney to continue.

William Holder, the attorney representing Mingus Union High School teacher and former wrestling coach Tom Wokasch, speaks to the issues surrounding the accusations Wokasch mishandled team funds for years during the Mingus Union High School Governing Board meeting Thursday, May 13. Dozens of Wokasch supporters turned out for the meeting to express their faith in Wokasch's right to retain his teaching position at the local high school.

Klint McKean, an English teacher at Mingus Union High School and a fellow wrestling coach speaks to the character of former wrestling coach and physical education teacher Tom Wokasch while addressing the Mingus Union High School Governing Board during the public comment section of the meeting Thursday, May 13.

English department chairwoman Andrea Meyer tells the Mingus Union High School Governing Board that while she has not always seen eye-to-eye with physical education teacher Tom Wokasch on every issue, she has no doubts about the content of his character.

Tom Wokasch, center, and his wife, Laura Wokasch, consult with their attorney, William Holder, while the Mingus Union High School Governing Board confers in executive session during a meeting Thursday, May 13.

Bench dedicated to 13-year-old girl who died last May

Oyuky_RodriguezOyuky Rodriguez made a big impression on people during her short life.

When she accidentally choked to death May 7, 2009, the 13-year-old Cottonwood Middle School student left behind grieving parents, relatives and many friends.

Gone, but not forgotten, CMS students inspired by Rodriguez’s effort to overcome disabilities that prevented her from talking decided to erect a monument in her memory.

Exactly one year after her death, more than 40 students, teachers, friends and relatives dedicated a bench to her in front of the CMS administrative office Friday, May 7.

A special needs student from the time she entered the Cottonwood-Oak Creek School District as a second-grader, Rodriguez’s teachers helped her progress through the grades. She made many friends along the way, according to her mother, Meily Contreras.

“She was very popular,” Contreras said. “She was very well loved. Her attitude, her charisma, it was just her. She liked people.”

Rodriguez was part of the CMS inclusion program, so she was attending classes with typical able-bodied peers, CMS Principal Denise Kennedy said.

“We have fond memories of Oyuky and her hats,” Kennedy told the gathering. “She loved hats. She would wear them and share them by placing her hats on others’ heads.”

Rodriguez loved her fellow students and loved any attention she got from them, Kennedy said.

Rodriguez also enjoyed music and dancing. She frequently directed one of her CMS teachers to turn the radio on in the classroom so she could dance with him. Kennedy said.

“She would come in the morning with that beautiful smile and look at me, her head tilted, until I acknowledged her,” she said. “She was a beautiful young lady and is greatly missed.”

Contreras said she still suffers from the loss of her daughter.

Bench_dedication“It was very hard,” Contreras said. “It gets harder and harder.”

The memorial bench came as a surprise and a comfort she said.

“I really appreciate what everybody did for her, the teachers, the principal, the [CMS] Student Council, by keeping her in their hearts and minds even a year after she died,” Contreras said.

“Oyuky, our special angel, will shine in the sky like a wishing star; she will watch and protect her family and friends. Oyuky will live in our minds and hearts forever,” she told the gathering.

To help the Rodriguez family defray the $10,000 expense of their daughter’s funeral, people may contribute to the Oyuky Rodriguez Memorial Fund at Chase Bank, COCSD communications director Keith Steele said.

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