BULLHEAD CITY - The Mohave Valley Daily News sent a series of five questions to the eight candidates running for three seats on the Colorado River Union High School District’s governing board.
Eva Corbett, Richard Cardone, Carlos Lopez, Pat Young, Mishaun Newman and Royanne Ortiz, along with current board members Lori Crampton and Laureen Davidson, are seeking election Tuesday.
Their answers are listed below as given, with minor adjustments for spelling and punctuation. Responses were not edited for length.
Are you in favor of maintaining the shared services agreements with the Bullhead City Elementary School District? Why or why not? Do you anticipate any changes to the agreements?
Royanne Ortiz: I am in favor of maintaining the shared services agreement between the districts. The reason is the savings of thousands of dollars per year on support services common between the two districts. I don’t anticipate any changes unless I find that it isn’t feasible to continue any aspect of the sharing or if it becomes a conflict of interest between two districts.
Richard Cardone: I would like to see the CRUHSD and the BCESD and possibly all the districts combine and become one unified district. Until that time, I think the shared services agreements are necessary to save taxpayers’ money. My concern about the shared services agreements is the overall minimalistic language utilized and the complete absence of a conflict of interest clause.
Lori Crampton: I am in favor of maintaining some shared services agreements with the elementary district. The fiscal savings is over $500,000 a year. That is administrative costs that can be reduced and those dollars back in classrooms and in teachers’ pockets. It makes sense to use the expertise of certain individuals for the betterment of both districts. The shared bus barn has been a huge savings for both and helpful for sharing personnel in an area that’s tough to recruit. I want to continue to share directors of transportation, special services, etc. I am happy for the first time the curriculum coordinates for transitioning from junior high to the high school. I do however feel that it is best that both districts have their own superintendents. They can work together for the shared services and employees, but we each need our own. We will begin the search next month for a superintendent that will lead our district in the next school year.
Pat Young: Yes, I am in favor of maintaining the shared services with the BCESD #15. When the proposal to share services was first initiated, we knew at the time that there would be financial savings. The actual savings has exceeded our expectations. It would be a financial disruption and burden if we were to change it back to individual district expenses. Our shared services has been a model for other districts interested in saving money.
Mishaun Newman: Sharing the services with the Bullhead City Elementary School District was a financially smart decision for cost savings. I understand that some teachers received raises and that is good for retention. We also need to provide them with the proper tools to teach. The elementary schools do not have curriculum or books for them to teach and many new teachers struggle with how to accomplish what is required of them. They used to have programs such as Beyond Textbooks, but this too was discontinued, leaving the teachers no resources to teach our children. Many teachers are using websites as their sole teaching resource. I personally have experienced this with my children. I do not believe the grade banding was in the best interest of the children as they are on longer bus rides and families have been burdened with children in three different schools. Many of the families in our community do not have the resources to pick up children when they are sick at a school so far from their home. It has also increased the class size of so many classes that are already filled to capacity.
Carlos Lopez: I am definitely in favor of the shared services agreements. I believe a consolidation of administrative services between the two districts saves both money and time. I do not see any reason why any changes would occur at the moment.
Laureen Davidson: Sharing services with the Bullhead City Elementary School District has saved both districts hundreds of thousands of dollars. It has allowed us to give raises to our teachers when no one else could. I sincerely hope that sharing services continues. Neither district wants to spend more money out of the classroom than is necessary. This would not work for every district; the reason it works for our districts is both boards are dedicated to making sure we support students first.
Eva Corbett: Yes I am in favor of shared agreements.
What will make the fieldhouse successful? What is the school board’s role in ensuring that success?
Ortiz: The potential for the fieldhouse to be successful depends on the marketing skills of the new manager, the overall economy, the decisions and methods of upgrading the facility, the pricing of the use of the facility and management of the operations and maintenance budget. The role of the school board is to be transparent with the public/taxpayer. Once the facility is completed, a committee of school personnel, citizens and city representatives should be created to provide recommendations to the governing board in terms of budget versus actual revenues and expenses. If success is dependent only on five board members, who may or may not have the background, education and experience to solely make decisions, it could endanger the success of the fieldhouse. There needs to be a balance, a willingness to consider outside the box ideas. This current board appears to lack a willingness to include ideas from those who are providing the revenue that paid for the construction of this fieldhouse.
Cardone: The fieldhouse’s ultimate fate and financial solvency rests on the original business plan when the bond was formulated, which if elected will be thoroughly and critically reviewed. The fieldhouse may be successful if the venue becomes recognized as a regional multi-purpose facility, with a realistic financial plan, stricter school board oversight and more public online transparency. We must all try to make this extravagant taxpayer expenditure successful.
Crampton: The fieldhouse will be successful with the right combination of student use and outside use for revenue rental. We need the right management and good oversight. The first year will be a learning experience on some costs. And adjustments will have to be made. Having a healthy sponsorship base helps with the general operating costs. The school board’s role is to ensure we hire the right superintendent that has the skills to oversee the management of the Fieldhouse. We need to be sure we have the right manager in the job as the fieldhouse manager. That can manage operations and marketing. The school board will have to watch the budget very closely and be active in recruiting sponsorships in these early days to help ensure success. Currently, I have been very involved in the construction phase to help ensure we are on time and on budget. We are achieving both of those goals.
Young: I believe management is the key to success of the fieldhouse. Superior management will keep the fieldhouse revenues high and the expenses minimal. Management will include open communication with the community, regional and state activities interests. I also support open dialogue with the public interest, district oversight and fieldhouse management. There is too much misinformation already distracting from the positive potential that the fieldhouse can bring to this community and school districts. At this time, it is impossible to anticipate changes to any agreements.
Newman: The fieldhouse was voted in by a very narrow margin. This has become something much larger and financially burdensome project than was initially presented. I do not believe the public was aware of this magnitude of a project. I am very hopeful it will succeed at this point. How the board is to ensure that is a question that should have been answered by the previous board who voted this in. Having a building in progress and saying it is on budget is one thing. The major question is how we are going to maintain, cool, promote, manage and utilize this facility in the future. I can see the benefit for the students in a climate-controlled facility. However, there should have been a large pre-planning project to ensure financial independence and security. This facility should not take vital resources or funds from our schools or our community.
Lopez: I think the fieldhouse has the opportunity to be very successful for the community, but the key to success lies with proper management and coordination of the facility. I believe that the role of the school board, in context to the fieldhouse, is to coordinate with the general manager and create a dynamic that is beneficial for both our students and our community. We can accomplish this by having the schools coordinate with the school board as to what events they would like to hold during next semester and forward that information to the general manager so that promotion, planning, and marketing, can be planned well in advance. We can also generate revenue for our district by renting out/hosting events for clubs and organizations, such as tournaments, concerts, public speaking rallies, community club events, dances, festivals, and much more. The fieldhouse is not going away, so it is extremely important to creatively find ways to utilize our facility for the benefit of our district.
Davidson: The fieldhouse is the shining star in our district. Colorado River Union High School District board has been diligent in making sure the fieldhouse comes in on time and on budget. When someone says we can continue to have football and soccer games in the heat, I cannot understand why they would want to. Our students have been endangered by the high heat we live in. We want what is best for our students, we want to be number one in the nation, not number 48. The fieldhouse will provide students an opportunity to learn many skills that can carry them into the future. We take very seriously creating change that moves us into the future, not holds back. If we don’t make major changes, there won’t be major changes.
Corbett: Did not respond.
What are the biggest challenges facing the CRUHSD, and how should the district meet them?
Ortiz: The biggest challenge is preparing the students for graduation with the knowledge and skills needed to enter the real world of adulthood. They appear to be protected from realities of life. How many high schools graduate a class with 11 valedictorians? The standard test scores reveal a substantial need to improve mathematics skills. Meeting the challenge is the need to teach through various methods and techniques such as critical thinking skills. It also appears that coping skills are also lacking. The district can meet these challenges by hiring leaders who understand these deficiencies and demonstrate the needed corrective actions through other institutions who have documented best practices.
Cardone: The biggest challenge is the educational endeavors that must be prioritized to make both high schools competitive and educationally proficient. The district can meet this challenge by updating the curriculum, focusing on teacher retention, and ensuring that all our teachers have the tools necessary to deliver state of the art, competitive education to each and every student.
Crampton: The biggest challenge facing our district right now is a national crisis. That is finding, hiring and retaining highly qualified teachers. We live on the border of Nevada and California. They can pay $10,000-$20,000 more per year. Who wouldn’t go? Arizona is not competing in teacher pay. The funding per pupil in the state of Arizona is 48th in the nation, for being the lowest. People are always complaining to me about the lack of qualified teachers. If we could hire them, we would. It is very difficult to recruit to our area. It’s very tough to make it on a beginning teacher salary. We as a district have worked very hard to continue to give raises in spite of the climate. By sharing services, outsourcing the janitorial and food services which saved over $300,000. The Ducey 2020 plan is great for the teacher pay issue, but the per pupil funds are still severely lacking. We also need to be able, as a district, to trend to an ACT testing structure and not whatever the current testing is for Arizona. That way our students are preparing for something that places them on a national playing field and for their futures. I think the students would take the testing more seriously and be more committed if they saw a true beneficial purpose in the testing. I think you would see an increase in the test scores.
Young: Teacher recruitment and retention: I would work to develop an incentive plan to attract new teachers to the area. Attend historical productive teacher fairs to recruit teachers. Support programs that encourage local students to pursue teaching careers in BHC. Create encouraging incentive opportunities for teachers to remain in the area. Develop a community based teacher recognition program to recognize excellent teachers.
District/school public relations: Create more opportunities for public input and public participation with school information systems. Make a concerted effort to highlight student, school and district achievement. Publish district financial plan and financial budgets. Create community incentives to school and district activities.
Emotional and social learning: Students need more than just academic knowledge to succeed in college, careers, and personal and public life. They need to understand their own skills and abilities, manage their emotions and behavior, communicate effectively, negotiate conflict, care about others, and make responsible decisions. Focus on the entire school and community to promote healthy and confident students and adults. School climates and environments that support the well-being of educators, staff and students.
Chronic absenteeism: Chronic absenteeism can be a product of poor achievement in school, bullying, domestic problems and other social and emotional issues. There is a plan in place to address chronic absenteeism. Not everyone in the plan is following the proposed guidelines. Most of the resistance is from the legal side of the plan. I would bring all parties together to discuss the plan and its goals. Everybody must be on board for the plan to be successful. The plan has a tremendous success record in other school districts. I am confident it would work if everyone would commit to the program.
Newman: The biggest challenges facing our schools is retention of quality teachers and providing our students a curriculum that is challenging and keeps our students in competition with charter schools. In the last year, we have fallen below the local charter schools in the grades for our schools and in the past few years we have lost many quality teachers to them due to the climate in the public schools. Mohave Accelerated Learning Center has even been able to increase their dual enrollment program to be able to provide their students the ability to achieve their associate degree at graduation of 12th grade. We have limited dual enrollment at this time. This is a major challenge; we need to step up to stay in competition with not only local charter schools but other public schools that we are falling behind as well.
Lopez: I believe the biggest challenges facing CRUHSD stems from our challenged community integration and the effects that has upon teacher and student retention. We live during a time where Arizona is deeply politically motivated in education and teacher funding, while our district feels the effect of those debates in our Tri-state area. From my research, CRUHSD teacher base salary starts at $33,600, while both Clark County and Needles begin at more than $40,000 at base. What keeps our teachers from driving 30 minutes in either direction for a larger paycheck? MALC also outperforms our district grades and student retention. In speaking with many people in our community, I have found that many parents have their child on a lengthy waiting list (often more than a year) in order to get into MALC while keeping their child in the public-school system for the meantime. If our district cannot compete economically with the other districts to retain our teachers, and if our parents feel as though they can give their child a better education elsewhere, we must show our community, as a district, the greatness of our schools, in order to compete. We can do this by becoming more online accessible, having active Facebook and YouTube accounts that show sports, art, music, etc., performed by our kids. We can create newsletters both online and for the paper that feature a selected student/teacher or both to promote an accolade or goal in their lives. We can let our student councils come up with ideas and community events so we can integrate our students into the community as well. There are plenty of ideas if you are imaginative. The fieldhouse will also make our events more centralized.
Davidson: Biggest challenges and major projects roll into the same meaning. Each major project is a major challenge. The school board is always aiming to moving forward. There are people who have the opportunity to help our schools, but choose to slow down every project for their own personal reasons. Instead of being able to move quickly on projects we must spend time weeding through objections.
Corbett: Employing a strong marketing team, expansion of culinary arts, technology of stadiums transformation.
What major projects would you like to see undertaken over the next four years?
Ortiz: There is one major project that I would like to see undertaken. It is the evaluation of the curriculum for each grade level and then compare it with the curriculum of the high schools in Iowa. Iowa is considered in general to have the best performance indicators for education in the country. Establish metrics and set goals to achieve them.
Cardone: If elected, the major project I would like to address is the security situation at both high schools. Our most vital commodity in our society is our youth. We must be proactive in as many ways as possible to ensure their safety not only during school but at all district sanctioned events. Providing the highest level of security available will allow our students and parents to place their focus on their educational and athletic pursuits without fear of tragedy.
Crampton: I would like to see an increase in the dual enrollment classes offered at River Valley and Mohave. With the teacher turnover, we have lost some abilities in this area. We need to recruit with this in mind. Or incentives offered for current teachers who get qualified. A continued expansion of the already impressive career technical education. With the fieldhouse, there will be many opportunities available for videography, catering and venue management.
Young: I would follow with continued oversight on the fieldhouse project. I would support continued commitment to the instructional plans that are in place with the schools. The plan is showing student achievement is on the rise.
I would like to see a more detailed plan for teacher recruitment and retention.
Newman: I would like to first and foremost see a recruitment program for quality teachers and a curriculum with the proper tools for our teachers to be able to teach our children. We need more special needs teachers as the SPED programs require more than one teacher. We need to modernize our classrooms with multiple modalities for teaching that still includes books. We encourage children to read yet provide them with no textbooks in many grades. This is a major challenge, we need to step up and be better for all our children’s future.
Lopez: Although I feel as though the Anderson Fieldhouse is enough of a project now, I would like to see some new ideas on additions, big and small, for River Valley High School.
Davidson: I would like to see all classrooms modified to meet current and future technologies. Classrooms must adjust to look like the 21st century. The other major project is keeping the fieldhouse running successfully. The safety of our students, staff, and teachers continues to be a priority by the entire board.
Corbett: No more major projects over the next years.
What is your level of confidence in district administration? In your view, are there additions or changes that should be made?
Ortiz: This is a difficult question for a person not currently on the governing board when it involves the level of confidence. I haven’t interacted often enough to feel confident, however, I have been treated with respect by both superintendents and had all questions answered. My major issue has been communication especially with the website and access to budgets and agendas. I guess changes would be to increase transparency. Financial issues should never be a topic that is avoided or made difficult to locate. Additions I recommend are more reports on major projects and a separate report on the fieldhouse in a format understandable by average taxpayer. School administrators get wrapped up in the education process and overlook the facts of where the source of the revenue that pays the expenses of the education system. This year the property owners look at their tax bill and see that it has risen substantially. The administration needs to promote their successes when they happen. The administration needs to include those taxpayers in the process. It isn’t just parents who are interested in the welfare of the students, the taxpayers want to know that their taxes are creating responsible young adults who can think for themselves, know their own history and are willing to support themselves after they graduate.
Cardone: The district administration has just undergone a tumultuous turnover. The new interim superintendent has not been in office long enough to render judgement. If elected, I hope to work with Benje Hookstra or whomever becomes the permanent superintendent.
Crampton: I am very thankful for Benje Hookstra stepping in at this very difficult time and helping our high school district. His leadership and excellent budget skills have been appreciated. I feel each district needs their own superintendent. They can work together, but each maintain their separate job of leading their schools. We are beginning the search for a superintendent next month who will continue to lead us in a very exciting time.
Young: I believe that Benje Hookstra is an excellent superintendent. The principals are excellent as well as the district staff. Progress should not be interrupted with frivolous ideas and personal emotional agendas.
Newman: I am looking forward to hiring a new superintendent who will share the vision so many parents envision for their children. I see a bright future ahead.
Lopez: As it is now, I am confident in our district administration, and I am eager to see what Hookstra will implement in the coming years. I believe a lot of people in our community were taken back by the reports of Riley Frei’s movement to construction manager and resignation thereafter. I didn’t mind Frei, he was my superintendent when I graduated Mohave High School in 2012, but I believe that it was time for a change in our community and I am happy to see Hookstra as our superintendent.
Davidson: I have faith in the administration we have right now. I am looking forward to hiring a superintendent who will be an asset to our district and our community.
Corbett: I think we need a stronger, younger superintendent.