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MEETING THE CHALLENGE: District shares status with community

SIERRA VISTA — In her first “state of the district” address and breakfast Thursday morning, Sierra Vista Unified School District Superintendent Kelly Glass delivered an update of the district’s challenges and progresses through the year.

Glass, who started her position with the district in July 2018, stepped into a budget deficit that needed to be addressed to prevent negative budget balances in subsequent years. She also touched on steps the administrative team took to resolve complaints that had been filed against the district, as well as progresses with bond projects.

The meeting was packed with information and featured a number of presentations by the district’s administrative team, but was sparsely attended compared to past state of the district events.

Superintendent’s words

Through her districtwide update, Glass spoke of steps that she and the SVUSD administrative team implemented to remedy the budget problem.

“When I first arrived, we had some significant challenges that we had to work through and address,” she said. “We started the year out with a budget deficit and we were projected to continue to have negative balances in our budget for subsequent years if we didn’t make some significant changes.”

In addition to budget challenges, Glass said there were several civil rights complaints and special education lawsuits filed against the school district, as well as (Arizona) Department of Education complaints.

Glass said all the complaints have since been remedied.

“The great thing about that is it gave us the opportunity to look at all of our programs and processes and procedures that we have in our schools and in our district so we could better our services for our children.”

Changes have been made to special education and English Language Learners programs, using a data-driven approach when making adjustments.

Glass said she is proud to announce that district has no negative balances in its budget projection.

The community bond projects are continuing across the district. Along with the bond funds, the School Facilities Board is allocating $3 million in projects for the district.

Along with partnerships with the city, they are establishing a satellite program with the B&G Club at Carmichael Elementary School, she said.

Glass is planning a series of townhall meetings, with the first focusing on special education and preschool services.

Enrollment and staffing

Director of Human Resources, Kelly Segal provided a brief enrollment overview from 2017 to present as well as a staffing update.

In 2017, the district’s enrollment was 5,800. In 2018 enrollment was at 5,522 and 2019 enrollment is right around 5,543.

Segal said enrollment tends to be a moving target, which makes staffing difficult.

“One of the things that has changed in Sierra Vista over the years is that we have more options for parents than what was once available,” Segal said.

Currently, the district has 29 professional staffing positions open, which include teachers, counselors, speech therapists, etc. Those 29 positions are being filled by long-term substitutes or by teachers who are taking on extra classes.

“In the last couple of weeks, we are starting to see more and more applicants applying for our positions,” Segal said. “We also are having discussions with recruiting companies.”

Exceptional student services

At Buena High School, inclusion classrooms with a working partnership between general education and special education teachers are offered for exceptional students, said Deb Whiting, the district’s director of exceptional student services. There are resource classrooms across the district for exceptional students.

“Some of our (exceptional) students can go into the general education classroom for the entire day, with some support from that resource teacher,” Whiting said. “Some of our students need that extra support and those resource classrooms, so we want to provide for the needs of our students across that continuum.”

Classrooms for students with intellectual disabilities are available at Pueblo del Sol and Town & Country elementary schools.

Preschool students are now at one site, along with support services. Ninety-nine students are enrolled, a combination of special needs students with “typical peers,” Whiting said.

“The reason that’s really important is that the federal government and state have recognized that our students with disabilities need that modeling. They need to see the typical peers and watch the interactions.”

Whiting also talked about changes in English Language Learners in order to help the ELL students move along faster.

Finance and budget

The district’s adopted 2020 fiscal year budget of around $33 million is a conservating estimate, Stone said.

The district is down in salaries because of a decrease in employees. Benefits are up due to an increase in healthcare costs.

The numbers used for the 2020 budget are based on a forecast model. Total of salaries and benefits at 84 percent are inline with average school districts the size of SVUSD.

The budget numbers could change, based on enrollment numbers, Stone said.

‘Making Connections’

The district’s principals have teamed up to work on improving the district’s culture and climate and overall relationships through making positive connections.

Greeting students at the door every morning when they arrive at school is one step teachers and staff are taking to improve relationships.

“Just by welcoming students at the door improves academic engagement by 20 percent,” said Village Meadows Principal Nicole Gittus, who also said disruptive behavior decreases by nine percent when students are greeted.

“The idea behind this is to move away from rules, which have a negative connotation,” Buena High School Principal Kristin Hale explained. “We need to understand and have high expectations for how we treat each other. Ultimately all of these things will work together to build relationships and make connections with one another. They also set expectations for how we act with community members.”

Achievement, attendance

Romo presented AzMerit (state assessment test) results and explained what the data means for SVUSD.

Pointing to bar graphs, Romo showed that Sierra Vista typically outperforms the state average in most grade levels in math and English Language Arts.

Romo also showed trends at the different school sites, starting with third-graders.

“Third grade ELA results show that Bella Vista experienced a five percent increase from last year to this year, Carmichael had a three percent increase, Huachuca Mountain a 10 percent decrease, Pueblo del Sol a 21 percent increase, Town & Country a 13 percent increase and Village Meadows a two percent decrease,” she said.

Math results show that Bella Vista experienced a 20 percent decrease from one year to the next, while Carmichael experienced a 12 percent decrease, Huachuca Mountain a two percent increase, Pueblo del Sol a 20 percent increase, Town & Country a four percent increase and Village Meadows experienced a slight one percent increase.

Romo said the trends are used to see where the district needs to improve in different programs, with math as a focus.

“An understanding of number sense across the district is a definite concern, and we have several teams attending training with the University of Arizona...” she said.

When discussing the results for Joyce Clark Middle School eighth-grade math scores, Romo applauded a 32 percent increase from the previous year.

“One of the contributing factors is that we did not have long-term subs in math, but we had certified math teachers,” Romo said.

Attendance has been an issue across the district and something Romo wants to address. Chronic absenteeism is a concern.

“We really need to work together on improving our attendance,” she said. “We’re working on a systematic way of improving our communications. Let’s make kids want to be here and support them when they’re here.”

Community reaction

While overall public reaction to the meeting was good, the low attendance did not go unnoticed.

“I thought the school district provided a lot of really good information, but was disappointed that more people did not attend,” said Bruce Dockter, who served on the bond oversight committee which he co-chaired with Jerry Proctor. “I think it’s apathy on the part of the community. When I see poor attendance at an event like this where parents have an opportunity to learn about our local schools, it makes me think they are not as involved in their children’s education as they should be.”

Mayor Rick Mueller also commented on the low number of people who attended the address.

“Attendance was lighter than I expected, but one of the things I see is that when things are moving forward in a positive direction, people aren’t concerned,” he said. “When there are problems, people tend to show up for these kinds of events. Even though that’s good news for the school district, I think we all need to work together to make the schools better through community wide participation.”

Former Sierra Vista City Councilman Tom Reardon praised the school district administrative team for their accomplishments.

“I got a lot out of this meeting,” he said. “The school district is making a herculean effort to correct the shortfalls we’ve talked about for years, and it’s refreshing to see the progress. It’s great that the community supported the school district’s bond initiative. We’re now seeing measurable results.”

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Bull horn use at Ironman Ice Competition debated by council following petition

BISBEE — A Bisbee businessman and several Bisbee residents presented a petition to the mayor and city council requesting bull horns or amplified announcing be prohibited during the running of the Ironman Ice Competition, an event organized in conjunction with the Bisbee 1000 Great Stair Climb.

The Mayor and Council discussed the petition as required.

The Ironman is run on the staircase between the building owned by Bisbee Vogue, Inc. (BVI), and Andrew Laws’ business, Czar Minerals. Laws alleges BVI’s use of the bull horn and the gathering of spectators and racers in front of his business prevent customers from entering his store.”

“I have no chance of making money that day,” he said.

Also, the petition requested the council to discuss removal of the murals and signage indicating the Ironman stairs painted by local artist Judy Perry.

Laws told the council he is continually bothered by people taking photos on the staircase, of his home above his shop and of he and his wife while they are in their yard. He also objected to the continued announcement of sponsors of the event.

BVI attorney Jana Flagler pointed out the Ironman has been held for years on the stairs and reminded Mayor David Smith and Council members Anna Cline, Joan Hansen, Leslie Johns, Bill Higgins and Loius Pawlik all the permits for the Bisbee 1000 Great Stair Climb, the Ironman and the beer fest were all approved back in May. She stated firefighters and Fort Huachuca military personnel run the Ironman in full gear making the challenge even more difficult.

“We’re just 32 days away from the Bisbee 1000,” Flagler said. “We need the bull horn to maintain safety and crowd control.”

Laws said, “To claim there’s a safety issue is ridiculous.”

Police chief Albert Echave was brought into the disagreement and he said BVI was willing to use a microphone and a speaker set up on the deck above the non–profit’s headquarters to assuage Laws. “BVI is willing to stay away from the front of his business,” he said.

Smith pointed out he knew of instances of the use of the bull horn to “aggravate the situation.”

Laws objected to the move of amplified equipment to the second story deck and said it would make things worse. He asked the council to make BVI announce information only from the County Court House on Quality Hill, a few hundred feet away, where the awards ceremony for the Bisbee 1000 is held.

Johns suggested a compromise on the use of the bull horn and suggested BVI announcers stay away from the front of his business. “I don’t know if we need to get involved in a disagreement between neighbors,” she said.

BVI board member and treasurer Linda Moore told the council sponsors have to be recognized during the event. “It puts money into the health and wellness of the community.”

Smith agreed, “We promote the stairs for health and as an attraction for tourism.”

Moore said she was not sure BVI could get the sound equipment for the deck as they did not reserve it, since the board of BVI thought the use of the bull horn was agreed upon.

Higgins declared it was all too loose and he wanted a definite answer on whether or not BVI could get the sound equipment. “In the past, I’ve witnessed first–hand abuse of the bull horn. I hate to turn you guys loose when I don’t know what you plan to do.”

Smith explained to Flagler and Moore he was required to bring the petition before the council for discussion, and asked if they could come back on Tuesday, Oct. 1, the next regularly scheduled meeting of the mayor and council, with a definitive answer about the sound equipment.

The mayor and council voted unanimously to table the discussion until the Oct. 1 meeting.