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Mon, May

Less than two years after Verde Valley voters rejected a referendum to unify three local school districts, boards for two of the three voted to try unification again, maybe as soon as the 2010-11 school year.

Supporters say the move would save $500,000 in maintenance and operation costs by the third year and lower tax rates 0.5 percent. Cost savings would be spent to improve classroom amenities and services.

Boards for Cottonwood-Oak Creek and Mingus Union High school districts each back a plan to pursue unification but wanted to hear more from constituents and school officials at a Town Hall Meeting in the new MUHS performance center Tuesday, Jan. 19.

“We’ve spent tens of thousands of dollars and spent decades studying this,” COCSD board member Eric Wyles said at his board’s Jan. 12 meeting. “This is about doing what’s right for the people we represent.”

The COCSD board voted unanimously to pursue unification.
Playing “catch up,” the MUHSD board voted Thursday, Jan. 14, 3-2 in favor, with board chairman John Tavasci and members Mike Mulcaire and Andy Grosetta in favor, James Ledbetter and Barbara Zenan opposed.

The move makes “good educational sense, business sense and common sense,” Tavasci said before the vote was taken.

“Are we going to catch up to what Cottonwood-Oak Creek has done?” Tavasci asked.

The votes start a ball rolling toward unification that could be stopped at any time before a second vote in May sends the question to Yavapai County Superintendent of Schools Tim Carter for official certification.

Before that happens, either board could pull the plug. For example, a lack of state funding to sustain raises for underpaid COCSD teachers could cause either board to change course.

Equalization of teacher salaries may be a key sticking point. On average, COCSD teachers make $10,000 less than their MUHSD counterparts. In many cases, the disparity is even greater.

Ariz. Sen. Steve Pierce [R-District 1] and Reps. Lucy Mason [R-District 1] and Andrew Tobin [R-District 1] notified the districts they will work to secure up to $1 million in special education funding to help equalize salaries as an inducement for the districts to unify.

Ledbetter told the MUHSD board Jan. 14 short-term funding from the Legislature, assuming it is approved, should be spent on tractors, not salary increases. In three years or less, the new unified district will find itself committed to paying higher salaries with no new funding to pay it, he said.

Grosetta disagreed, arguing “hope” and “luck” would play a role.

The District 1 delegation should succeed in securing the short-term funds and could start a movement to overhaul the state’s convoluted formula for funding schools, a formula which draws criticism from educators and legislators each year, Grosetta said.

“We need to get those savings into the classroom,” he said.
Another potential pitfall involves a possible civil rights dispute over the voting rights of members of the Yavapai-Apache Nation.

Because unification would mean Native American voters will represent a much smaller percentage of the total number of voters in the new, expanded district, the unification plan must also survive scrutiny by the U.S. Department of Justice Civil Rights Division, Ledbetter, a Cottonwood lawyer, said.

Once Carter certifies the question, “there’s no turning back,” U’Ren told her board Jan. 12. The measure could go to voters as soon as May, she said.

Voters rejected a proposal to unify MUHSD, COCSD and Jerome-Clarkdale School District in 2008.

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Mingus Union High School District may need to increase its line of credit with Yavapai County to more than $2 million in order to meet payroll through September, MUHS Business Manager Kirk Waddle told the MUHSD board at its regular meeting April 7.

Waddle said sources at the state Legislature told him Arizona will issue IOUs to school districts instead of funding a quarterly payment due in April from the Arizona Department of Education. A payment due for the second quarter might not be funded as well, he said.

“The state has stopped paying us,” Waddle said. “So instead of giving staff IOUs, we’re borrowing money.”

Mingus_Logo_CMYKThe district’s financial statements for the last three years are under review by Chase Bank, which will decide whether the line of credit can be increased, he said.

“This is a terrible time to be trying to borrow money,” board member Andy Groseta said, expressing concern the district’s outstanding debt obligations could hinder future borrowing.

“It’s a dilemma, but we’re not the only school in this position,” Superintendent Tim Foist responded. “We’ve done so much better at managing our money than so many other schools around the state.”

Despite budget cuts of nearly 30 percent during the last two years, the district has managed to maintain important programs like music and physical education, which are currently being eliminated in other districts, Foist told the board.

“Will the state reimburse us for the interest we’ll have to pay?” board member Jim Ledbetter asked.

That is unlikely, Waddle responded.

A spokeswoman for the Arizona Treasurer’s Office said the state Legislature is debating whether to push those payments into the next fiscal year, an accounting maneuver it used to cover payments due to state schools in fiscal year 2008-09 using funds allocated in 2009-10.

Under that scenario, the Legislature would fund the payments due for the first half of 2010 in September. MUHSD would pay down the county line of credit when those funds are received, Waddle said.

Foist said the scenario could be much worse if voters fail to approve Proposition 100, which calls for a 1 cent increase in the state sales tax.

Greg Ruland can be reached at 634-8551 or e-mail This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Extensive preventive maintenance has been the norm at Camp Verde Unified School District, as efforts have been made to prevent mold growth and remove potentially dangerous chemicals from the drinking water.

Improvements to the drainage system at the campus complex off of Camp Lincoln Road were recently tested when a water main broke; the drainage system worked perfectly, Facilities Director Stacey Barker said.

Barker was less confident about the way the school buildings had been erected two decades ago. Things hadn’t been built and painted properly, Barker said, which is exacerbating the current mold problem at Camp Verde High School and Camp Verde Middle School.

A crew needs to “sandblast the school down to its bare bones,” Barker said, to repair the damage and prevent future problems.

The schools will also get a new coat of mold-resistant paint over Christmas break, and the mold problem should be completely dealt with by the end of the current school year, Barker said.

“We want to get this done while having as little impact on students as possible,” Barker said.

In the meantime, work continues on the school’s water system.

Like many groundwater sources in the West, the school’s well contains higher amounts of naturally occurring arsenic than found in other parts of the country.

Arsenic is a chemical element that, when concentrated highly enough, can be dangerous.

Students haven’t been in danger; it was the rules that got stricter.

It wasn’t an issue for the school district until the Environment Protection Agency raised the standards for acceptable arsenic in drinking water several years ago; the district, and many others, suddenly found the drinking water was now considered unsafe by federal standards.

The district is installing a titanium-based filtering system to bring drinking water back within acceptable federal standards.

The Camp Verde Unified School District wants to make sure mold is under control at Camp Verde high and middle schools, but it’s going to take a lot of work, said Facilities Director Stacey Barker.

While air samples have shown that the growing mold problem doesn’t yet pose a health risk for students and faculty, the fact remains that “allergies are allergies,” Barker said.

To keep things from getting worse, Barker said he’s been monitoring the situation closely. It’s a problem schools across the state are dealing with and have dealt with, Barker said, who recently attended a meeting addressing the issue.

The School Facilities board, a government body that oversees capital improvement and other large-scale projects at Arizona’s public school campuses, sent some architects to Camp Verde earlier this month to start to look at the local mold problem, Barker said.

The group is going to develop a plan that will likely involve removing exterior walls at the high school and middle school and treating the mold underneath, Barker said.

Work could start as soon as October or November, Barker said.

The district is no stranger to mold problems; in recent years extensive work had to be done at the elementary school that required some classrooms to stay empty.

Barker said that he thinks there will be money available from the state to pay for the work, avoiding any huge strain on the district’s already tight budget. However, Barker did give a nod to the current financial crisis the state is dealing with and said that nothing is ever certain.

“The state can do what it wants to do,” Barker said.

In the meantime, the school district is working to keep as much water away from the school buildings as possible, water that could help accelerate mold growth.

There are plans to continue to build additional channels to divert water away from the schools, but Barker is confident an extensive redesign of the district’s drainage system won’t be necessary.

Earlier this year, a rainstorm led to extensive flooding around the schools; Barker said in June that there was no major damage and that the drainage system “did what it was supposed to do.”

Mark Lineberger can be reached at 567-3341 or e-mail This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Nearly 300 people filled the bleachers at the Camp Verde High School football field Sunday afternoon, but they weren’t there to cheer on their favorite sports team.

Instead, the community organized event was what those in attendance hope will become a Camp Verde tradition.

Soft music played from loudspeakers set up on the track, and voices mingled from the audience in prayer to God for the new school year.

There were pleas to keep the students safe, to have them set a positive example for their peers and the community, and for the Camp Verde Unified School District’s leaders to be guided by wisdom in their decisions.
Many of those leaders, from school board members to teachers and administrators, were present as the crowd separated into groups for individual prayers that lasted around 20 minutes.

Organizers weren’t sure how many people to expect.

Randy Strickland, pastor at Parkside Community Church, said originally they had hoped to have enough people to surround the entire field.

They lowered their expectations when they took into account the short notice, and the fact that this was the first time something like this had been done, but Strickland said he was pleased with how many people still showed up to pray in the 100-degree heat.

Strickland said he hopes the numbers continue to grow with each new school year.

The event had to be community organized, said Superintendent Dan Brown, given the nature of issues surrounding the separation of church and state, but he was excited to see the community come together and was honored to have been invited.

Church and state separation was at the center of a recent controversy involving the Camp Verde town government after a woman complained about a cross that a local food charity had put up in the town gym.

School Board President Tim Roth, who brings a Bible to meetings, instituted a moment of silence for board meetings, stopping short of calling for outright prayer.

But the members of the community, as private citizens, face no such restrictions on expressing their faith and used Sunday’s event as an opportunity to come together and do so publicly.

“If this [event] had been done when I was in school, I would have felt a lot more secure,” Anna Bassous, a recent Camp Verde High School graduate and event organizer, said.

Mark Lineberger can be reached at 567-3341 or e-mail This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Monday, Aug. 3, was one of the most exciting days Mingus Union High School had in a very long time, according to district Superintendent Tim Foist.

The school presented a grand opening of its newly renovated auditorium, and more than 400 people showed up to celebrate.

“We are opening a state-of-the-art auditorium, and we have the biggest enrollment ever,” Foist said as he looked over the guests in the cafeteria.

Fourteen hundred students registered for classes for the fall semester. Foist proclaimed 2009-10 as a new beginning for a new year with a newly remodeled building.

Teachers, staff, community leaders and local residents who joined Mingus in the celebration expressed awe at the changes and upgrades the campus received through the $15 million bond, especially the auditorium.

Leland Wieweck was on the Mingus governing board for many years when it had met in the library. Now the library is moved from behind the auditorium to where the front offices are along East Fir Street. The windows overlook the Verde Valley.

“This is fantastic,” he said. We came out ahead,” he said about the larger, brightly lit room.

Longtime and current board member Andy Groseta said the project looks different in reality than it did on the plans.

“When you see it with your own eyes, it’s outstanding. This turned out just how we planned. I’m very pleased. I hope the community is pleased,” he said.

He talked about the school having a new entrance and gathering area for the students just outside the cafeteria.

“It’s nice, it’s clean, it’s colorful, bright, and it feels new and different,” Groseta said.

“It’s so much better and so much more than it was,” Rex Williams, a resident of Clarkdale, said.

Senior and MUHS Student Body President Lesli Kinkade said the campus looks modern and professional.

“It finally makes us look like a unified school,” she said.

Just before the crowd went to have a seat in the new auditorium, five more busloads of people arrived from Camp Verde.

“We brought every single teacher and staff member from the Camp Verde Unified School District to see the auditorium and to listen to the speaker and what he has to say we could use,” CVUSD Superintendent Dan Brown said.

The guest speaker was motivational speaker Steve Birchak, also known as “Dr. Bird.” He talked about “Tapping Into Your Best Even When You Feel Tapped Out.”

He covered subjects about civility, conscience and collaboration. Building relationships and stopping negative behaviors and thought can turn around not only one’s perspective but that of others too.

Birchak is the author of “How to Build a Child’s Character” and “The 5 Golden Rules for Staying Connected to Children.”

The theme for the opening school year was Our Best Year Ever, which MUHS Principal Marc Cooper said will be carried through each successive year.

“We want every year to be the best year ever,” he said in his first speech in the new auditorium.

He used the Spanish term “no mas” — no more. No more construction interruptions, no more teachers traveling with all of their supplies because of lack of classrooms, no more skeleton library, and no more need to have performances in the cafeteria.

“We now have more than an auditorium. We have a concert hall,” Cooper said to the 400 people who sat in the new maroon and gray seats.

Lu Stitt can be reached at 634-8551 or e-mail This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

There’s going to be a few changes next year at the Camp Verde Unified School District.

The school board last Tuesday approved an administration restructuring plan that, among other things, will see a new principal at Camp Verde High School.

Bob Weir, a current wrestling coach, teacher and Career Technology Education director, will take over chief administrative duties at the high school. Weir will replace Principal Chris Shultz, who is taking on a new job in the district as director of operations.

In this job, Shultz will be responsible for working with budgets and finances, business and food services, enrollment, technology, the physical plant and other important duties. The job will also share some of the duties of the district’s business manager, a position that will be eliminated when current manager Montie Morris retires in August.

The district will also be creating a part-time position called “Finance Coordinator,” to be filled by Amy Romero, a community liaison.

The job, as the name implies, will involve working with numbers.

There’s also a new principal at Camp Verde Middle School, to replace Dan Brown after he was given the job as the new superintendent for the district.

Russ Snider, the former principal at Sedona Red Rock High School, will hopefully be coming out of retirement to take the job, Brown said. The middle school will still continue to benefit from the leadership of Danny Howe, Brown said, who has worked for the district for years.

Brown said that the restructuring, approved 5-0 by the board, was part of a plan to use people where they have the greatest strengths.

“Some have inquired about the wisdom of placing individuals in positions rather than utilizing the interview process,” Brown wrote in a letter to the district’s employees. “I believe we are at a tipping point. We have the right people. I don’t believe that they were necessarily in the right seats on our bus. Are they now? I believe time will tell.”

The plan also provides some financial savings in a cash strapped budget, more than an estimated $17,000 over the course of the 2009-10 school year.

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“This has been, and is, a great class,” Mingus Union High School Principal Marc Cooper said.

As he reflected on the 2009 graduating class, Cooper said it is the first class he has really known since coming to Mingus more than five years ago. He has watched the progress from freshman year on through. Getting to know them as a class and individually has been a lot of fun, and their accomplishments are astounding, he said.

“They, as a class, were highly performing for four years; they were part of seven state championships in sports and 15 regional championships — eight in their senior year. They earned $1.4 million in scholarships, and 22 of them received the AIMS tuition waivers to the state universities,” Cooper said.

What that means is that those 22 students of the 235 graduates reached the exceeding level on the Arizona Instrument to Measure Standards in reading, writing and math. The graduates’ performance falls in line positively with Valedictorian Erin Wylie’s statement that she can guarantee they will not find success by sitting around waiting for it to come.

Wylie said everyone can achieve and succeed. It is just a matter of finding one’s niche.

“Everyone is brilliant at something. Everyone has something they can do better than most of the people they know. Everyone can use that ability to prepare themselves for any opportunities that come their way,” Wylie said.

She said succeeding in high school is a wonderful thing, but what really matters is what one does from this day forward.

“It’s what you make of your life when you are the only one in the driver’s seat,” Wylie said.

Salutatorian Jeremy Glick acknowledged that hard work and good choices are what will lead to success, spoke on the all work, no play theme, and said there is no way to predict what the future will bring.

“Enjoy yourself. Have fun and relish the unexpected and life’s little mysteries. We have so much opportunity to do whatever we please that it’s hard to see why you can’t enjoy yourself every day,” Glick said.

After tossing mortarboards following the graduation ceremony on the football field, and after the hundreds of relatives, friends, teachers and classmates finished the congratulations and hugs, the graduates and a few of their friends headed for Clarkdale and the Operation Graduation Party.

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