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Listening to concerns, advocating for schools

Teacher retention, salaries for teachers and support staff, and behavioral health issues are three top concerns among educators in Cochise County, according to a survey generated by County Schools Superintendent Jacqui Clay.

Those concerns and potential solutions served as talking points for a roundtable discussion last week when members of the Arizona School Boards Association (ASBA) visited Cochise County for an annual meeting.

Four ASBA representatives — ASBA Governmental Relations Associate Leigh Jensen, Board Support Specialist Nikkie Whaley, Associate Executive Director Tracey Benson and ASBA Past President Linda Lyonn — met with school administrators and governing board members from public schools across the county. The group listened to concerns and offered information about upcoming workshops, training sessions and pending legislation related to public education.

“My office sent out a survey to educators across the county so we could track key concerns,” said Clay, who noted that the survey is still open and results continue to come in. “I hope we keep receiving responses because it’s important that we hear from everyone.”

And that’s exactly what ASBA members want as well.

Serving as a liaison and advocate for public education, the ASBA is a non-profit, non-partisan organization dedicated to “local governance and the continued improvement of student success through training and leadership,” Clay said.

“Arizona educators are so fortunate to have such an outstanding organization representing them, and I work hard at staying connected with them so they understand the needs of school districts across our county,” the superintendent said. “It’s very important to follow legislation that impacts our county and let the ASBA know how we feel about different legislative initiatives,” she said.

The round table discussion — dubbed Harvesting Creative Ideas — served as a brainstorming session, giving all attending school districts opportunities to speak.

Following the round table discussion, the ASBA presented a school safety question.

In response to “What are your district’s biggest challenges regarding school safety?” one of the resounding concerns was the need for improved security on school campuses, especially the older facilities. Cybersecurity and concerns about cyber bullying were other safety concerns that came out of the discussion.

Tombstone Unified School District Governing Board President Keith Guin was elected as Cochise County’s new ASBA Director, replacing outgoing Director Dee Puff, who decided to step down from the position she held for over three years.

A 43-year educator, both as a teacher and administrator, Puff’s career in education started in 1972 and ended in 2015 when she retired.

Puff, who has been serving on the Palominas School District Governing Board for five years, plans to continue serving on the board.

As an ASBA Director representing Cochise County, Puff said she appreciated the professional learning she received through the association.

“You have opportunities to attend conferences as a county director and there are more opportunities to be part of the conferences and meetings,” she said. “You have the expertise of the ASBA staff to help other people in the county, and that’s a huge benefit.”

The research and data the ASBA provides its members is another resource Puff appreciates.

When asked about Wednesday’s conference, Puff said sheI felt very good about the conversations from the round table discussion as well as those from the ASBA school safety question.

Sierra Vista Unified School District is the largest district that was represented at the meeting, with board members Yulonda Boutte, Connie Johnson, Hollie Sheriff and Joy Mims in attendance. All of the district’s board members received awards for participating in ASBA training.

Apache Elementary School, a one-room school with a total of 12 students ranging from kindergarten through eighth-grade was represented by Loy Guzman, the school’s lead teacher, principal and superintendent rolled into one.

“This was my first ASBA meeting, and I thought it was great because we get to hear from other board members across Cochise County,” she said. “It’s interesting to learn about different concerns, and what the ASBA does in support of our schools and children,” she said.

Every county in Arizona elects one ASBA Director, with the exception of Pima and Maricopa counties. Because of their size, they are represented by two directors. Guin will be stepping into his new role as Cochise County’s director, replacing Puff, in December at an ASBA state meeting.

“What I enjoyed most about being a director, is that it allows us to communicate on all important legislations in our state,” Puff said. “I enjoyed learning about the concerns that other county directors had as well as learning from the ASBA staff. And most of all I enjoyed learning about the important issues that directly affect our students.”


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Vet group files brief against using military funds for border wall

SIERRA VISTA — The Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA), a non-profit, has filed an amicus brief on behalf of the conservation groups fighting President Donald Trump’s use of military funding for the border wall.

IAVA is dedicated to the post-9/11 generation of service members, including those on active duty who served domestically or during other conflicts, spouses and dependents whose “diversity represents the full spectrum of political persuasions,” according to the brief.

The 450,000-strong membership seeks to protect the military bases at home and abroad which would have benefited from the billions of dollars appropriated for the wall, according to the brief filed on Oct. 21 with the Ninth U.S. District Court.

The diversion of those funds “endangers the well being of currently serving military members and their families and diminishes their quality of life. For that reason, IAVA opposes the diversion of military construction funding to the border wall.”

“IAVA will not opine about the merits of the national policy to build a border wall, the existence of a national emergency, or the constitutionality of the President’s declaration,” the brief states. “IAVA instead writes to provide its unique perspective on the impact of the President’s decision to divert funding from much-needed military construction projects. This diversion of funds to build a border wall exacerbates a longstanding military construction budget crunch, with profound consequences for military service members and families.”

“Those concerns became reality when on Sept. 4 the Pentagon released a list of military construction projects that are being deferred so that $3.6 billion in funding can be diverted to the border wall.

The projects being set aside would improve safety, quality of life, or work environment for military service members and their families—improvements that will not be made if the Administration’s diversion of funds is permitted to proceed.

“Putting aside the wisdom of the Administration’s policies at the Southern border, these decisions must not come at the expense of U.S. service members or their families.”

Attorneys representing IAVA are Mark Conrad, William Cooper and Courtney Assen with Conrad and Metlitzky, LLP.

Funding for military projects go through a long appropriation process, beginning with identifying the needs of base facilities.

The construction needs in each military branch pass through a multilayered chain of evaluation and prioritization before being submitted to the Office of the Secretary of Defense. The projects are further narrowed for funding to be requested. Congress then considers the appropriations.

By statute, no funds may be appropriated for military construction “unless specifically authorized by law,” which can be a many–year process as the projects make their way through the legislative steps, going out to bid, contracting and finally construction, they noted.

“Even for the highest-priority projects, it can take three or more years before an identified need makes it into a budget request, and years longer for congressional authorization and appropriations, implementation of the federal contracting process, and the physical construction of the project,” the brief states.

“The perpetual problem of underfunded military construction exacerbated by the Budget Control Act of 2011, which was passed to avert a government shutdown and has been amended in response to subsequent budget impasses.”

The brief also states the military should not be used for political motivations.

“Our American heroes, who have already sacrificed so much, should not bear these costs of the political dispute over building the wall. Diverting defense funds to the border threatens the safety of service members and diminishes their quality of work and life. Even the limited publicly available information shows the administration’s planned funding diversions place service members in harm’s way. These consequences begin at home, where service members at U.S. military bases keep the world’s greatest fighting force ready to face an array of complex threats.”

The Trump administration has said the projects are not cancelled, only delayed, although a final determination will rest with Congress, which must reappropriate the funds that have been diverted to border projects.

Attorneys also pointed out the loss of $30 million to Ft. Huachuca, a critical training site, means “cancellation of construction projects for maintenance buildings” that date as far back as the 1930s and no longer meet “Army standards for military vehicle testing and maintenance, requiring service members to work in unsafe facilities that jeopardize personnel health, security and safety.”

They go on to say the diversion of funds should be cancelled and restored by the court to allow the Department of Defense “to get this much-needed military construction back on track.”

The Sierra Club welcomes support

“This is important statement of support from the Iraq and Afghanistan veterans. It shows that the troops are the ones who should be receiving funding from the Department of Defense, not Donald Trump’s 20 billion dollar vanity wall,” said Dan Mills, Borderlands Program Coordinator.

Since the president has claimed the funds for security issues only a wall can deliver, there has been a “literal military takeover of public lands along the border, including the Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge. The land was recently transferred to the Department of the Army. These are our public lands, and they should not be militarized,” Mills said.

The Sierra Club supports former and active military service men and women and started a Military Outdoors Program on the Borderlands Team, he added.

“More than 125 military construction projects such as clinics and schools on bases have been delayed or cancelled in order to build pointless counterproductive and environmentally harmful border walls. Donald Trump’s actions on the border and his abuse of US troops is inexcusable and the harm will be permanent.”