Tue, Oct

Keeping kids in school is the goal of parents, schools and teachers, yet in some cases that goal is difficult to achieve.

The problem with dropouts is something all schools have to deal with, so Mingus Union High School came up with a plan to create a new position to help retain students.

Anita Glazar is the student intervention coordinator for Mingus. Her focus is on freshmen who may be struggling academically, the ones who are most vulnerable to dropping out.

“So many come into high school feeling lost. This is a big school, a big change for them — academically and socially. There’s a lot more responsibility once they hit high school,” Glazar said.

Some of the incoming freshmen have not yet learned that they need to attend school, and they need to hand in work, she said.

The premise is that freshman year is the most important year, dependent upon whether the student has success or not.

“When you look at dropout statistics, we found most often the students who dropped out did not have success as freshmen,” Interim Superintendent Nancy Alexander said.

Glazar said creating her position was the idea of Alexander after Alexander talked with staff members as to what was the best use of the casino money Mingus receives every year.

“Nancy [Alexander] felt there was a gap from students who started as freshmen to the time they reached their senior year,” Glazar said.

The job she is doing is not completely new for Glazar. From 1994 through 1998 she was the At-Risk program coordinator with Shelley Kitchen. The dropout rate at Mingus was 13 percent for school year 1994-95. The following year it dropped to 6.6 percent and stayed between 3.5 percent and 6.2 percent since. The average dropout rate for Mingus for the past 10 years, including 2007-08, is 4.68 percent.

Freshmen were chosen in part because they are still at a young enough age to affect a change, Glazar said.

“They want to be noticed. They need a connection, and my job is to get that connection,” she said. “There’s always a story behind what’s happening with a student who’s failing. We have to find out what it is and work with it.”

One way Glazar plans to do that is through conferences, not only with the student but with their parents and teachers. She is trying to get every parent in for a conference.

“I want to get everyone together related to the student — parents, teachers, counselors — to work for the student’s progress and success with the student being the focal point,” Glazar said, while recognizing that people are busy.

Mingus also has a lot of support programs such as tutoring, but Glazar said many people don’t know about them. A new program is called Title I Math. Mingus will take specifically chosen students to Yavapai College for a workshop.

“We’re trying to customize this program for students who haven’t experienced success for whatever reason and turn that around,” Glazar said.

Another part of her job is retrieval and finding out why a student would leave his or her community school.

Once the position of student intervention coordinator was created, the focus of the position’s attention was decided.

“The staff and I thought the group we needed to focus on was freshmen. If they’re successful in their freshman year, the likelihood of them continuing to graduation increases,” Alexander said.

The school cannot do it all, but Alexander said any positive effect that can be realized is worth the effort.

“This is to help get the students off on the right foot,” she said.

Working with freshmen on retention is good for Mingus because it keeps the students in class, and hopefully, on to graduation.

“For me personally, every student should have a good experience in their high school years and graduate from their hometown school. People don’t go to their college reunions, but they do their high school reunions, so we know something amazing happens here,” Glazar said.

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.

The Camp Verde Unified School District is moving forward with a plan to embrace energy efficiency.

The school board last week gave the green light to APS Energy Services to conduct an energy audit of the school district’s buildings to see where the district could save money.

APS Energy Services is owned by the same parent company as APS the power company, but is a separate entity with no direct relationship with the power company.

The company will send in experts to examine every square foot of every classroom, office and storage room, said company spokesman Todd Becker, looking for places where the district is bleeding energy costs.

Becker said the audit could cost anywhere from $15,000 to $20,000 to cover the quarter-million square feet or so of school property, but the school district wouldn’t pay a cent out of pocket if it follows through with the audit’s recommendations.

Whether the school district improves insulation or just switches light bulbs, the district will save money when it comes to energy costs, Becker said. That doesn’t mean that the district would have extra money to spend on anything else at first.

Any energy savings would likely be put into paying off the bill for making the improvements suggested by the audit, Becker said — something that could take anywhere from 15 to 20 years, depending on how much work needs to be done.

Still, Becker said that APS was planning a 10 percent cost increase in 2010; the district would still save money with more energy-efficient buildings.
Becker painted his company’s services as an educational service.

“I help save the world a little bit every day,” Becker said. He claimed that making the district’s buildings more energy efficient would help teach students about the importance of conservation.

Board member Rick Anderson said he supported the audit, but wanted to make sure that local contractors were given a fair shake at doing the work spelled out by the audit.

Becker said that local companies would certainly have a chance, but state laws might require opening bidding for work to contractors across the state.

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The new assistant principal and dean of students at Mingus Union High School plans to do whatever it takes to make the school a safe, secure environment for students.

“I want the students to feel safe and want to be here. The focus, no matter what it is, is on our students. When they feel safe and secure they learn better,” Allen Mitchell said, citing that he will work with teachers in the classroom, as well as walked the halls, the parking lot or even off campus.
Mitchell and his wife, Donna, the school’s new transportation secretary, are in transition moving to Cottonwood from north of Tucson. Along with them they brought their beta fish, which is in Mitchell’s office, and a Yorkipoo named CJ.

Mitchell was an athletic trainer and teacher of sports medicine and health at Marana High School. For the last two years at Marana, he was also the administrator on call.

“If one of the administrators was out, I would fill in until they returned,” Mitchell said.

Five years prior to Marana, Mitchell taught at Sinagua High School in Flagstaff.

He came to Mingus to fulfill one of his career goals — to be an assistant principal. It was the position he wanted next in his career path.

“I applied at several schools, and Mingus turned out to be a great fit. I’m thrilled to be here. It’s a terrific school and staff,” he said. “I plan to stay until I retire, which will be several years from now.”

The Mitchells are “RVing” at a park in the Bridgeport area as they await the sale of their Tucson home. As soon as the deal is complete there, they will look for a home in Cottonwood.

“We get wake-up calls from the roosters and the donkeys,” Mitchell said and laughed.

He is an avid fisherman having lived in the San Diego area while attending San Diego State University. He enjoyed deep sea fishing for tuna.

“Here I’m looking for some great freshwater fishing spots,” Mitchell said.
In the meantime, Mingus is his top priority dealing with the day-to-day discipline and attendance issues. His door is always open to teachers, students and parents, and his phone is always available.

“I appreciate calls from people to let me know what they think and how they think I can improve the school,” he said.

Mitchell was one of only two applicants Superintendent Tim Foist had come back for further interviews.

“He has a background of working with students in a different way than administrative that is very effective in his position,” Foist said.

He said Mitchell’s communication skills, particularly in the area of discipline, are very good when talking with students and their parents.
“By Allen’s track record here, I think he’s going to be very successful,” Foist said.

Mitchell can be reached at 634-7531.

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.

Three people waiting for news about the future of their careers with the Camp Verde Unified School District got their answers last week.

A week after the school board voted to table discussion on three potential administrative decisions, one employee didn’t get a promotion, another got to keep his job and a third found himself with a job, but at a reduced pay rate.

Teacher Lisa Mina had thrown her hat in the ring to become part-time technology director for the district.

The board voted 3-1 against promoting Mina, with board member Andrea Wrubel casting the lone vote in support of the measure.

Board member Helen Freeman said that while Mina was talented, she felt Mina might serve the district better in the classroom; she felt Mina might not be qualified to take on the school’s technology needs, something that could require a full-time professional.

The board decided to hire an employee who could fill that role and meet the needs of the district.

Stephen Rice, the district’s director for federal programs, including No Child Left Behind, will keep his job at his current pay rate even though he volunteered to take a pay cut to continue his work.

His job had been put on the chopping block to save money for the district; Rice reminded the board that his salary is paid by the federal government and has no impact on the school’s budget. Roth introduced the motion to eliminate Rice’s job with the support of board member Rick Anderson. Freeman and Wrubel voted against the proposal.

Superintendent Jeff Van Handel said that the tie vote means Rice’s contract will be renewed at his current salary.

Finally, Facilities Director Marc Johnson remained an employee of the district, though he is no longer an administrator.

Most of Johnson’s responsibilities were combined earlier this month with the transportation department; he keeps a job at a reduced pay grade. The vote was 2-1, and Wrubel abstained because she felt the issue wasn’t properly outlined on the official meeting agenda.

Roth said the board will have to continue to make tough decisions setting policy, employment-related or otherwise, for the district.

The Camp Verde Unified School District was planning ahead while the cash-strapped state government debated where it wanted to make cuts, but district leaders warn more cuts are coming.

Waiting on the state was a lot like flying without a safety net, according to Superintendent Dan Brown, but the district is taking a conservative approach to budgeting issues.

The state told the district to expect between $250,000 and $300,000 in cuts to its soft capital fund this year, said Director of Operations Chris Schultz. Soft capital money is used for things like student desks, projectors and other equipment.

It’s looking to be a final number of around $277,000 in cuts, Schultz said, but the district planned ahead and prepared for this by not counting on that money when it drew up its budget for the 2009-10 fiscal year. The local cuts were part of $140 million withheld from school districts across the state, Schultz said.

“We were ready for that,” Schultz said. But the state is considering making even further cuts after the new year.

Yavapai County School Superintendent Tim Carter is warning local districts to be prepared for anywhere between $350 million and $650 million in further statewide cuts this fiscal year.

“We’re working on getting prepared for that right now,” Schultz said. How much of a loss that means for Camp Verde will depend on how the final numbers from the state pan out.
Schultz said the district is taking its employees’ opinions very seriously while preparing for the expected cuts.

That means the district wants to consider what each department would cut if it could instead of just ordering cuts from the top.

“Our philosophy is that it’s the state that’s doing this to us,” Schultz said. “We don’t want to do this to [the staff]. We want to work with them and with what they’ve decided.”

To that end, Schultz said each department is being asked to make a list of priorities of what it would cut first if it had to.

Those lists will guide the district in making future budget recommendations to the school board, Schultz said.

Of course, something may still have to be negotiated. For instance, Schultz said.

“These are significant cuts,” Schultz said. “We’re trying to do this in the most rational way possible.”

Mingus Union High School and Cottonwood-Oak Creek Elementary school districts recently entered into their second intergovernmental agreement.

The elementary district will provide services to the high school in the new agreement for transportation management. They already provide food services for Mingus students, and have for many years.

“I don’t think you have to unify to save money but you do have to think out of the box,” Mingus Superintendent Tim Foist said.

Foist and COCSD Superintendent Barbara U’Ren think the agreement will be beneficial for both districts and the taxpayer.

By pulling money from education Foist said the government and the state are forcing districts out of the box.

“This IGA is a starting point for us to say this is what we can do this year. It’s a good move,” Foist said.

According to the draft IGA, Cottonwood-Oak Creek will provide direct reporting, driver training, safety training, driver hiring [on an advisory capacity] and report quarterly to the Mingus governing board.

Mingus approved the draft IGA at the board’s Aug. 13 meeting. COCSD board approved the document at its Aug. 11 meeting. The IGA will now be given to the districts’ respective counsel for review.

“I think it’s a great opportunity for both districts. We already have the food services and that’s working well,” U’Ren said. “We hope to have some things that will make it good for taxpayers.”

Foist, U’Ren, Mingus Business Manager Kirk Waddle, COCSD Business Manager David Snyder and Debbie Wheaton, director of transportation services for COCSD, created the draft IGA, according to U’Ren.

“We’ll bring the two districts together and see what’s working best and combine them,” she said.

Foist gave an example. Mingus has a hoist that can lift an entire school bus so mechanics can more easily work under the bus when necessary. It could be used for both bus barns, he said.

Wheaton will take care of the reports for the Arizona Department of Education and some driver and safety training. She’ll also work closely with Dennis Chambers, U’Ren said. Chambers is the Mingus coordinator of operations.

U’Ren and Foist emphasized bus routes will remain the same and elementary students will not be on buses with high school or middle school students.

“As we move forward with our transportation services, I believe the only change parents might see is the voice of our dispatcher at the office here,” Foist said.

Looking to the future, Foist said he would like to start a Verde Valley-wide consortium on services that could be shared.

“All of those boards and all of that leadership, we can come up with wonderful ideas we can bring to the table,” he said.

The agreement is effective for one year from Aug. 5 until Wednesday, Aug. 4, 2010. The IGA has a termination provision in which either party may provide the other with a 30-day written notice of termination.
Financial responsibilities are still to be determined.

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.

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.

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