A divisive Arizona school plan that is advancing in the Legislature could be a deathblow to public schools including Pine and Strawberry’s.
Senate Bill 1236 and House Bill 2291 are identical bills that would expand who is allowed to participate in the state’s Empowerment Scholarship Account Program.
At first, those bills appear to be virtuous, but in truth they would divert more funds from public to private schools at a time when the Legislature and others are pursuing greater accountability from public schools.
This school year, the Empowerment Scholarship Account Program was to disperse $10.2 million to 761 students. If SB 1236 and HB 2291 go into law, it is projected that in the next five years, the program could fund 28,000 students, stripping more than $370 million a year from public and charter schools.
Critics of expanding the program say it allows money to be spent with little or no assurance that the student is receiving a suitable education.
The program transfers a certain amount of public money to private bank accounts and gives families a debit card to spend the money on education including home schooling.
Families can also bank $2,000 of those funds for each college year.
Critics argue there will be those parents who will simply use the money to supplement their family income rather than using it for the children’s education.
“After all, no one is watching,” said a Payson teacher.
Senator David Bradley, D-Tucson, is among those who opposes the program, saying as a parent he could home-school his child, get $6,000 tax free, plus another $2,000 for scholarships and with no accountability.
The Arizona Education Association has issued a position statement saying, “The AEA strongly believes these dollars are better invested in public education where there are multiple accountability measures in place which help to ensure that taxpayer dollars are being properly spent.”
AEA President Andrew Morrill alleges the program will further diminish funding to public schools and hurt classrooms already grappling with state cuts.
Arizona School Boards Association Executive Director Tim Ogle has joined in by denouncing the program-backers’ claims that it is about school choice telling media, “It’s about the privatization of schools.”
In the midst of the controversy, State Superintendent of Public Instruction John Huppenthal stirred the ire of most every public school teacher in the state sending a robocall out to about 15,000 homes in Phoenix and Tucson promoting the Empowerment Scholarship Account Program.
“That’s right. You may be able to send your child to private schools for free,” he says in the call.
Just days later, Huppenthal obviously attempted to stem the controversy of his robocall sending out letters to many Arizona public educators saying, “I want to make it clear that I have the utmost respect and admiration for all our public school teachers ... I have great regret if any member of the public school system felt anything less than my full appreciation for what they do on a daily basis.”
David Garcia, expected to be Huppenthal’s Democratic opponent in the next election called the robocalls “outrageous” then issued a written statement adding, “If John Huppenthal really cared about public school teachers or the students they serve, he would be advocating on their behalf at the Legislature.”
The Arizona School Boards Association has filed a lawsuit over the program and a decision is pending in the Arizona Supreme Court.
High country scholars
Pine/Strawberry School Principal/Superintendent Cody Barlow announced this week the names of students who had earned third quarter Principal’s List and Honor Roll recognition.
Those on the Principal’s List are big-time scholars earning all A grades. Honor Roll students compiled all A and B grades.
Principal’s List recipients included fourth-graders Alyssa Baeuerlen, Darby MacFarlane and Sebastian Yocum.
Fifth-graders Raci Miranda, Emma Paine and Lexi Ward were honorees.
The sixth grade produced four who compiled a perfect grade average — Kendall Brooks, Adam Leneberg, Abby Ast and Lizzie MacFarlane.
From the seventh grade, Katie Poole and Mercedes Miranda were award winners.
Dakota Minear was the lone eighth-grader to make the Principal’s List.
Honor Roll recipients included fourth-graders Hector Alvarado, Angela Ayers, Angelina Blanch and Cash York.
From the fifth-grade class, Caleb Barlow and Haley Hargett were honored.
Sixth-graders Holly Carl, Jordan Wain and Cameron Taylor were cited.
In the seventh grade, Meredith Kiekintveld, Brian Wintrich, Jerusha Paine and Lars Tanner copped laurels.
Brittany Fleming and Savannah James represented the eighth-grade class.
Trails Day May 4
The Third Annual Strawberry Trails Day, to be held May 4, is expected to be bigger and better than ever.
Sue Myers, a former Pine-Strawberry Schools and Payson Unified School District superintendent explains the day.
“The event is sponsored by the Pine Strawberry Fuel Reduction Committee,” she says. “It is designed to promote the trails system in and around Pine and Strawberry as well as promote our area as a ‘gateway community’ to the Arizona Trail.
“This free annual event, now in its third year, seeks to promote the safe and fun use of our trails system and to encourage hikers to visit Pine and Strawberry.”
For 2014, Myers adds, “the event will include the ever popular Hiking with the Llamas sponsored by the Ranch at Fossil Creek and featuring their llamas, a Bradshaw Meadows Hike, a Guided Bird Watching Bike, a Bike Hike of the new trail, and numerous activities at the Pine Trailhead”
On the Bike Hike entrants will mountain bike over the Bearfoot Trail that local volunteers have been working on for several months.
White-tail on the move
During most Rim Country winter seasons, white-tailed bucks must deal with cold, snow, and the scarcity of food. Bucks normally have a hard time of it during the winter, especially since they are run down after going through the rut season.
But this year, the winter was unusually mild and bucks seem to be thriving as the spring, a time of renewal for all deer, arrives.
In Pine Creek Canyon, where white-tail thrive, hikers, visitors and homeowners are seeing an unusually large number of good-sized bucks that are almost passive in nature.
Several weeks ago, I spotted a marvelous buck that seemed unconcerned that I was snapping his picture.
During my 27 years as the Payson Roundup sports reporter I was often responsible for news coverage of the Rim Country Optimist Kids Fest that is held each spring at Green Valley Park.
Reporting on it was not really work — it was actually fun to watch youngsters land their first fish and possibly gets hooked on the sport.
With the 2014 Kids Fish Fest set for 8 a.m. to 3 p.m., Saturday, March 29, aspiring local anglers will want to begin gearing up for the free activities at GVP. No fishing license is needed for those youngsters who register for the activities and for those who don’t have rods and reels, loaner fishing equipment will be available.
Arizona Game and Fish officers will be on hand to conduct fishing clinics and give friendly advice.
Organizers also promise there will be a “huge” silent auction and a raffle.
The Rotary Club will host the food booth, serving up scrumptious hot dogs, hamburgers and more.
Call Joan Young, (928) 472-2264, for more information.
Also on the children’s agenda is a special showing of “Mr. Peabody and Sherman” at 10 a.m. tomorrow, Saturday, March 22, at the Sawmill Theatres in Payson.
Tickets are $5, which is a saving of $2.50 to $4.50 per admission.
Most importantly about the event: all proceeds support scholarships for local students through the Friends of Rim Country Gila Community College.
Yesterday, Thursday, March 20, the Pine Strawberry Water Improvement District held a board of directors meeting. (No results available at press time).
The regular agenda items included an annual report on operations from Brad Cole of the district’s water management company CH2M Hill.
The agenda also included discussion on awarding a $137,915 contract to Paul R. Peterson Construction to rehabilitate the district’s 300K tank.
The general construction company that does remodels and repairs is based in Phoenix and in the past three years has had no complaints lodged with the Better Business Bureau.
Also on the agenda was a motion to appoint Lawrence Bagshaw, Russell Brock, Richard James, Trent McNeeley, Paul Randall, Sam Schwalm, Don Smith and Tom Weeks to a Citizens Budget Review Committee to provide advice during the preparation of the 2014-15 budget.
All will be candidates for seats on the new PSWID board when it is elected in May.
Currently the Gila County Board of Supervisors is serving as the PSWID board of directors due to the resignations of five former members.
Early birds get the movie
The best advice for local youths hoping to catch the viewing of the movie “Frozen” at 1 p.m. today, Friday, March 21 is to arrive early at the Isabelle Hunt Memorial Library in Pine.
At one of the most recent library-hosted movie showings, some children had to be turned away because fire codes limit the number of persons that can attend.
Refreshments will be served, but children should bring their own pillow to be comfortable on the floor.