SIERRA VISTA — During a Thursday afternoon Sierra Vista Unified School District work session, board members and Superintendent Kelly Glass discussed declining enrollment, staffing, class sizes, multi-age classrooms, and other budget-related issues impacting the district.
In an attempt to prevent a $1.3 million budget deficit in the 2019-2020 school year, some 28 positions have been terminated, creating a ripple of concern across the school district.
Terminated employees will be able to apply for available positions through letters of interest, noted Glass, who pointed to 48 staff openings listed on the district website.
When questioned about anticipated kindergarten enrollment and class sizes, Glass said there are 154 kindergartners currently enrolled for the upcoming school year. The district needs twice that many to meet the board-recommended class size of 22.
“We need more kiddos to fill those classes,” said Glass, who also said the district expects there will be more kindergarten enrollments as it gets closer to the start of the new school year. The possibility of busing kindergarteners to sites with smaller classes was mentioned as a solution for an even distribution of students.
“We have to be very diligent in the next year about our budget,” Glass said in response to a question about the feasibility of bringing in paraprofessionals instead of busing the students.
Glass also spoke of the possibility of assigning part-time paraprofessionals to kindergarten classes where enrollment exceeds 22 children, and full-time paraprofessionals in classes that climb between 26 and 28. The higher numbers are something the district is attempting to prevent.
All class-size overages must be approved by the board, Glass said.
On the issue of the 28 terminated positions, board member Connie Johnson expressed her dismay about employees receiving pink slips and questioned why board members were not told about the terminations and why the action was taken at this time.
“In talking to our attorney, she indicated it would be better to eliminate those positions and give everyone an opportunity to apply for other vacancies within the district,” Glass said. “If we start picking and choosing who can stay and who can go, that’s not good either.”
Some of the terminated employees have already submitted letters of interest for positions that have been posted on the district website, said Assistant Superintendent Kelly Segal, and a couple have been hired for those vacancies.
Board President Barbara Williams said she is heartsick about the cuts, as she values all of the district’s paraprofessionals, and is hopeful almost all will be able to return to the district by filling other positions.
“There is nothing that is being done that violates board policy ... we will continue to observe best practices and policy,” Williams said of the decisions that have been made. “I have a great deal of faith in the personnel we work with.”
Williams also spoke of the positive things going on throughout the district, such as the $1.4 million in scholarships received by graduating seniors.
In the wake of declining enrollment and the budget deficit, the possibility of starting multi-age classrooms as a way to reach class sizes of 22 students in some of the elementary schools was discussed.
Board member Joy Mims said she does not view the multi-age classes as a negative move, but as an opportunity to offer students a positive learning environment.
New regulations in special education are requiring schools to keep children with special needs in their regular classrooms as much as possible. The students are remaining in the regular classroom for core subjects, but are sent to a resource room for specialized instruction at different times.
Each resource room can have up to 22 students without a paraprofessional, per board policy.
Resource teachers provide a number of services for children who do not need to be in the room all day. While some of the district’s resource rooms were staffed with paraprofessionals, those positions have been eliminated because of the budget deficit.
In situations where resource teachers have more than 22 students, they are assigned a paraprofessional, Glass said in response to concerns expressed by some board members.
The decision to relocate Buena High School’s Alternative Learning Center (ALC) from an isolated building into the main high school building also was discussed.
Buena Principal Kristin Hale spoke to board members about the move.
Because Buena’s discipline problem last year was what Hale described as “out of control,” school administrators recognized they needed to do something to fix the problem.
While school suspensions, truancies and absences have decreased significantly from the previous year’s numbers, Hale said there were still 650 suspensions this year at the high school.
Because students who miss school through suspensions fall behind in their classwork, school administrators are using the ALC building for the suspended students, instead of sending them home.
Hale said the high school is working on a space for the ALC students with outside access. Other than the building, nothing is changing for the ALC students, who come and go as needed and have individualized plans.
Williams said changes are always difficult, but noted there are a lot of good things happening across the district.
“I admire the hard work of our teachers, staff and administrators,” she said. “We are moving forward in a positive direction with the budget, and things will continue to improve.”
BISBEE — “It is not a stretch to say that Bisbee is dependent on tourism.”
That’s the conclusion reached by Fred Miller, owner of Copper City Inn and data collector of Bisbee’s tourism industry.
“Although impossible to verify, direct and indirect spending on tourism is about 55 percent of consumption spending in Bisbee though it is an imprecise category to be sure. That is the figure that Robert Carriera and I arrived at informally a couple of years ago,” Miller said.
Carrriera, as the director and chief economist for the Center for Economic Research at Cochise College, provides annual reports on the economy, including tourism, for the cities of Bisbee, Sierra Vista, Benson and Douglas
Miller spoke with the Herald/Review about the importance of tourism.
“One of the ways I measure economic importance is to imagine what our town would be like if tourism were drastically cut by 50 percent,” he said. “Bisbee would revert to near ghost town status. Safeway and the two hardware stores would go away, most restaurants would fail, many of the businesses would either close or limp along.”
“Lodging would be hard to find. City services would be dropped and curtailed. It would be akin to what happened when Phelps Dodge stopped mining.”
While the recession caused a marked reduction in tourism, it has been building back up in Bisbee, albeit slower than other cities in the state. Visitors affect the economy in ways that cannot be counted just by pairs of feet walking the streets or heads in beds. Tourism creates jobs and markets for services in the city.
Miller says the way forward needs to include putting a bed tax increase on the 2020 ballot and “a public conversation about tourism in Bisbee in order to give direction to the city council as well as to forge the way forward regarding visitation to Bisbee.
“Tourism brings economic gains for our city and cultural insights for visitors, but it can’t be at the expense of people living here,” he added. “There has to be a balance between opportunity and preservation.”
Bisbee has many delights to offer, from eclectic events to quaint accommodations and fine dining. Unfortunately, there is no one in the position to set the tourism wheel in motion.
The Visitor Center manager resigned in December after bringing the city to prominence, noted Miller. He, and other business owners, would like to see the city put more money into the position to attract someone who would continue to promote the area.
Sierra Vista, which has taken a proactive stance on developing tourism, has marketed the city and recognized the importance in bringing visitors to the city. Finding new ways to attract them is an ever-expanding objective.
Judy Hector, marketing and public affairs manager, said, “With a fresh focus on sports tourism, the city is actively improving our sports facilities and seeking tournaments to host.”
“Last year, we hosted five tournaments” she said. Those events brought in more than $200,000, and this year eight planned tournaments could bring in an estimated $350,000, she said.
“Ongoing facilities improvements, coupled with our excellent weather, are paving the way for Sierra Vista to become a city of choice for regional tournaments in the Southwest,” she added.
The city is finding success in sports tourism with the Sky Islands Summit Challenge, now in its third year, she said. The interest in the hike up the Huachuca Mountains’ highest peaks, Carr and Miller, continues to grow.
In 2018, 136 athletes gave the challenge a shot. It was a 156 percent increase over the first year, and 50 of them were from the Phoenix and Tucson areas. Overall, out-of-town hikers outnumbered local participants.
“Sierra Vista Tourism is partnering with the city’s economic development, sports and leisure divisions to cross-promote Sierra Vista, aiming for more impactful messaging,” Hector said.
“Likewise, we are planning to place lifestyle advertising in target markets that research shows are shared by both our tourism and economic development efforts. This will help position Sierra Vista as a great place to live, while more focused economic development efforts can address our pro-business amenities.”
Sierra Vista does not collect a bed tax. Instead, overnight and long-term lodgers pay an extended-stay tax on all rental units to include hotels, motels, apartments and home rentals over any length of time, Hector explained. The tax is collected regardless of length of stay.
In 2018, the tax generated $866,663, which goes into the city’s general fund, she continued.
“More than the amount collected is invested in economic development activities, to include tourism marketing, business attractions and sports tourism, along with other economic development projects,” she said.
In the 2018 calendar year, Sierra Vista collected $2.3 million in tax revenue from restaurant and bar sales, one of the statistics she uses to track the economic impact of tourism.
She works closely with the Cochise County Tourism Council and the Arizona Office of Tourism. “The bottom line is that efforts by Sierra Vista, Cochise County and the state tourism office all increase visitation.”
“This data is the result of just a slice of Sierra Vista’s tourism marketing efforts, as we are also working with travel writers and placing paid advertising in other media.”
In Benson, Bob Nilson, Tourism Department, said, “I have always based my Benson marketing plan off the Cochise County Visitor Study 2012-2013 done by NAU.”
“The majority of the people coming here are looking for historical points of interest as well as National Parks. I do target the RV people from the cold north region as well as Canada as we have 1,100 RV parks.”
In 2017, the city saw an 11.1 percent increase in hotel/motel receipts, for a total of $4.743 million.
Amanda Baillie, county public information officer, said in a recent presentation to the Board of Supervisors, “Tourism is Arizona’s number one industry.”
In Cochise County, travel spending brought in $326 million which supported 3,630 tourism-related jobs, she stated. Through the use of various social media sites, YouTube and soon podcasts, interest in the county is growing. The developing wine industry in the county is also creating a buzz.
According to the AOT, in 2017 some 43.9 million visitors spent more than $22.7 billion in Arizona, generated more than $3.3 billion in tax revenue for the state and provided 187,100 jobs.
What did the travelers do while in the state? In 2017, 84 percent said they were on leisure trips, with 16 percent were in the state on business, states the AOT website. Three–quarters of the them were non-residents with a median age of 45. Growth continued in the leisure segment, with a 3.5 percent gain in the fourth quarter of 2017. State and National Park visitation increased which created an increase in leisure and hospitality jobs and lodging demands.
In the Tucson and southern Arizona region, 6.5 million people stayed overnight, grabbing 17 percent of the visitors to Arizona, the AOT says. The region bested the state in leisure travel with 88 percent coming for pleasure. The average age of visitors was 50. They came for the shopping, the national and state parks, fine dining and trips to landmarks and historic sites.
An AOT 2017 study found the wine tourism industry created over $56.1 million in total economic impact and created over 640 full-time equivalent jobs. Nearly $4 million in local and state taxes were generated from wine tourism, which includes the wineries of Willcox, Elgin and Sonoita. All totaled, there are 426 wineries in the state.
How do people hear about wineries? The survey put brochures in the top position, more effective than some forms of social media.
Cochise County and its cities are all vying for the tourist dollar and are putting their heads together to promote tourism in all its forms and colors in every way possible to attract vacationers. If they can get them to Cochise County, the options are endless.