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Jake Bacon, Arizona Daily Sun 

Flagstaff’s Ramsey Penza (0) takes the ball to the basket Tuesday night during play against Coconino at Coconino.


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Flagstaff voc ed squeezed for state funds

Flagstaff Unified School District and CAVIAT are joining the statewide push at the Arizona Legislature for more funding for career programs such as automotive repair, construction and engineering.

Even a small increase in funding would be of great benefit to FUSD and the Coconino Association for Vocations, Industry and Technology, said Brent Neilson, the superintendent of CAVIAT.

A lot of the funding for CTE programs comes from CAVIAT, which was formed in 2001 by a group of school districts in Coconino County. The district, which gets funding from secondary property taxes and state appropriations, had to be approved by voters. The Flagstaff school district joined CAVIAT in 2004.

The state started cutting funding to Joint Technical Education Districts, like CAVIAT, in 2009, Neilson said. In 2012, the state cut all funding for freshman-level career and technical programs.

Over the years, teachers in districts across the state have made do with less and less funding for these programs, said Dave Dirksen, FUSD’s director of College and Career Development.

“But that rubber band of funding can only be stretched so far before it snaps,” he said.

To FUSD CTE teachers that meant trying to squeeze four years’ worth of learning into three, It also meant that the district had to save up money to replace Flagstaff High School’s aging welding shop. That money could have gone to replacing outdated computers or other aging equipment for other CTE programs, Dirksen said.

“Every time I look at my budget, I would think, if I had just a little of that money from the welding shop, I could replace a 3-D printer here, upgrade a computer lab there,” he said.

But the welding lab hadn’t been updated since nearly the year Flagstaff High School had been built. The lab was too small for the classes, the equipment was aging and there is always the safety factor for both students and instructors, he said.

Even after saving for several years the district didn’t have enough CTE funds saved to pay for the entire project, Dirksen said. Money had to be drawn from the district maintenance and operations budget.

The state did restore about $30 million in funding to JTEDS in 2015, but that’s not enough to replace what was lost, Neilson said. CAVIAT and the other state JTEDs are hoping that a bill proposed by Sen. Sylvia Allen that would restore about $4.5 million for four programs -- automotive, construction, engineering and agriculture-- will be approved by both the Legislature and Gov. Doug Ducey.

Ducey did promise in his State of the State address Monday more funding for CTE programs,  although he didn’t detail how or where the money would come from.

“I know what some people will say: ‘See, you were able to make due with less funding,’” Dirksen said. But stretching that budget means putting off the purchase of new equipment that students need to use in their future careers and repairing equipment that is outdated and may no longer be in use.

“The things I could do with another year’s worth of funding,” Locke mused.

He said he could purchase licenses for online testing programs so more of his students could test for more automotive repair certificates. He could purchase new lawnmower engines for first year students to experiment and practice taking apart.

The purchase of a small lawnmower engine doesn’t sound like much, especially when they’re just used to teach students how to take an engine apart, he said. But after a few years of being torn down by students who’ve never used a wrench before, bolts are stripped, pieces are missing and sometimes things don’t get put back together the same way.

An extra year of schooling can also mean a great deal to the students taking the class.

“I would have gotten a head start on a lot of this,” said Coconino High School Senior Kami Lawrence, who is one of Locke’s students.

She’s taken classes in both welding and auto repair, but switched to auto repair only during her junior year because she didn’t have the time to take both. She’s hoping to get her certification by the end of her senior year and start working in the industry.

Shane Moore, a junior at Coconino High, is also a student in Locke’s automotive tech program and hoping to get into the industry after finishing school. If the program got additional funding, Moore wanted the shop to get more tools, there never seem to be enough, he said. He also thought additional funds could be spent on more freshman-level programs, such as showing students how to repair brakes on a car.

“I don’t know what I would have done if this program wasn’t available,” he said. “Probably just finished high school and spent time after graduation looking for a job.”

Today’s CTE classes go beyond what was once considered “Shop” and “Home Ec.” Dirksen said. FUSD offers classes at the high school level in welding, cabinetmaking, digital photography, business management, sports medicine, graphic/web design, precision machining, interior design and merchandising or film and TV.

The students in Locke’s auto classes learn more than to just fix their car. Coconino is one of seven high schools and colleges that offer Automotive Service Excellence certification program in the state, Locke said. A student who finishes Coconino High School’s Automotive Technologies can apply for and receive certification and can start work as an auto technician in any state after graduation from high school. The state mandates that all CTE programs end in a certificate.

Students in Patti Pastor’s Culinary Arts program at Flag High can compete at a state and even national level for full-ride scholarships to some of the most prestigious culinary schools in the nation.

Even students who don’t go on to a career in one of the many CTE fields that FUSD offers benefit from the programming. The classes teach important hands-on skills in science, technology, engineering and Math.

Three-quarters of the 1,500 students at Flagstaff High School will take a CTE class at some point before they graduate, Dirksen said. Most get their first taste during their freshman year, when students are encouraged to take a yearlong rotation to test-drive all seven programs. Students get a sense of what they like and don’t like and what they may want to pursue, he said.

Dirkesen said demand for some programs at Coconino and Flagstaff high schools is so great that teachers like Brian Locke, who teacher automotive technology at Coconino, teach classes after school. In some cases, the teachers are teaching classes with students who are on two different levels in the program in the same class period. He also has teachers who teach two different CTE classes -- one teacher at Coconino High School teaches interior design and culinary arts.

“They’ll do whatever it takes for these kids,” he said.


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HAVE YOU GOTTEN YOUR FLU SHOT?
Medical providers overwhelmed as flu hits Coconino County hard

It was right around Christmas when Jessica Drum came down with the telltale symptoms of the flu.

Fever, chills, body aches, congestion, coughing, the whole gamut. The illness lasted through the holidays and forced Drum to call in sick to her job as the public information officer for the city of Flagstaff.

“I went to the doctor and they said you have the flu and there is nothing we can do. We're seeing 30 patients a day,” Drum said.

Drum is finally on the mend, but still has a nasty cough that interrupts her every few minutes.

“It’s the sickest I’ve been in years,” she said.

She is far from alone.

The state health department has reported that influenza activity is at record levels in Arizona, to the point that it’s causing long wait lines at some hospitals across the state as they deal with a flood of flu cases in addition to other patients.

The situation has gotten so bad that state health officials sent out a notice last week telling ill people to only seek emergency medical care if they are “at high risk for serious complications or are experiencing severe symptoms.”

Statistics released last week show that statewide, there have been 7,978 reported cases of influenza this season, compared to 834 cases reported by the same time last year.

In Coconino County, the number of flu cases has shot up as well. The 243 cases confirmed by the Coconino County Public Health Services District is well above what the county had seen by this time in the season in at least the previous four years. In a graph showing weekly flu cases, the bars for this season tower above previous ones.

Local doctors, urgent care facilities and primary care providers are seeing the surge as well, with one primary care provider saying it has had to refer people to urgent care because its offices are so swamped.

County epidemiologist Matt Maurer said he’s hearing from area hospitals that their beds are so full that they are only accepting trauma and critical patients.

Flagstaff Medical Center has been at “trigger red” several times in the past month, due in part the increase in flu cases, according to Flo Spyrow, the hospital’s chief administrative officer.

That designation means the hospital limits the patient transfers it will accept from other communities and care facilities to make sure space is available to treat patients in this community, Spyrow said in an emailed statement.

“While Flagstaff Medical Center’s Emergency Department has seen an increase of flu cases, we continue to treat all patients from our community either in the ED or by admitting them to the hospital, depending on their needs. All of our colleagues are committed to caring for our community, especially in times of greatest need,” Spyrow said in an emailed statement.

Kim McCasland, practice administrator Northwoods Medical Associates, said the primary care provider has been overwhelmed with flu cases.

“We're seeing who we can, but we but can't work 24 hours a day,” McCasland said.

He said it’s now an everyday occurrence that his office will have more patients request to be seen than it has capacity to see. He said they will offer to put the patient on the waitlist and then tell them to go to urgent care if they feel their symptoms are so severe that they need immediate attention.

Sara Reeves, a nurse practitioner with East Flagstaff Family Medicine, said flu cases have really picked up since a little bit before Christmas. Reeves said her team has been able to accommodate all of the people that need to be seen and is trying to encourage their patients to come in before they get to the point where they need to go to the emergency room.

Maurer said Coconino County is seeing the same strains of the influenza virus in the same relative proportions as the rest of Arizona and the rest of the country. But as far as the effectiveness of this year’s flu vaccine, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention hasn’t released an official report, he said. Some national reports have said that the most prevalent subtype of the virus this year is particularly aggressive.

While the county health district’s tracking of confirmed flu cases helps identify trends, it represents just a fraction of the true number of people who have the flu, Maurer said. That’s because medical providers aren’t required to report the number of people they see with influenza and many people just stay home and don’t see a provider, he said.

Maurer and other medical providers emphasized that they are continuing to recommend people get the flu shot at this point in the season. In addition to helping people build immunity to the virus, the vaccine can help reduce the severity of symptoms if people do get the flu, Maurer said. They also said people should remember to wash their hands frequently and stay home if they aren’t feeling well.

By Dec. 31, the county health district had given out 907 flu vaccinations, which is less than the 1,066 vaccinations it gave out between Sept. 1 and Dec. 31, 2016, as well as the 1,220 vaccinations it gave out in that same four-month span of 2015.  The flu vaccine is also available through private physicians and pharmacies. 


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County manager severance includes $89,000 payment

James Jayne

The Coconino County manager has resigned with a severance agreement that will pay her a lump sum of $88,600 and a $10,000 contribution to her deferred compensation plan, among other stipulations.

The county’s board of supervisors accepted Cynthia Seelhammer’s resignation and approved the severance agreement on Tuesday.

The board didn't offer an explanation for why Seelhammer will receive the nearly $99,000 in severance compensation for a voluntary resignation.

Board president Matt Ryan said Seelhammer had mentioned the idea of leaving the county over the holidays and turned in a letter announcing her intent to resign about four days ago.

Seelhammer was hired in 2013. On Tuesday, she said she was not sure what the future would hold, but told county employees she was grateful for the opportunity to work with them. Before she joined the county, Seelhammer worked for the company Interim Public Management.

After the board's decision, Seelhammer did not return requests for comment on her future plans or why exactly she decided to leave the county.

Ryan complimented her work on professional development for employees, her leadership in the 2014 tax measure to increase funding for county roads and the purchase of state trust land at Fort Tuthill.

Seelhammer has an annual contract, Ryan said, and her last employment agreement was signed June 20, 2017. The board was in the midst of a yearlong review of Seelhammer’s performance but hadn’t completed it before she announced her resignation, county spokesman Matt Rudig said.

The severance agreement commits the county to providing a positive reference about Seelhammer to other potential employers “highlighting her accomplishments in the position of County Manager.”

“Further, the parties agree to release a statement stating: ‘The Coconino County Board of Supervisors and County Manager have reached an understanding on the services of the County Manager and the Manager will be leaving per the terms of a severance agreement on January 9th to pursue other professional opportunities,’” the agreement stated.

Much of that language is standard for severance agreements, said George Pettit, a professor of practice at the school of public affairs at Arizona State University. The six months in severance pay that Seelhammer will receive “isn’t uncommon,” Pettit said.

INTERIM APPOINTED

The board of supervisors appointed the county’s special initiatives director to serve as interim county manager. James Jayne started working at Coconino County in August after spending 14 years at Navajo County where he was the county manager.

His years in the manager position led supervisors to choose him to temporarily fill Seelhammer’s role, Ryan said.

Ryan said nothing in Jayne's interim contract precludes him from applying for the permanent county manager position.

When he was at Navajo County, Jayne said he wasn’t specifically looking to leave his job. But he said Seelhammer reached out to him and they talked over a period of time “about what capacity I could bring to Coconino County,” Jayne said in an interview Tuesday.

Ryan said Jayne is well-respected in county management around the state. The board was creating a new economic development position around the same time the county was given the opportunity to recruit Jayne, Ryan said. The board originally allocated $77,000 per year for that position. But the role Jayne ended up filling was expanded and modified to become a lead management position with a much higher salary: $152,699. He was the only finalist to be considered for the job, Rudig wrote in an email. Jayne's salary as interim county manager is now $170,000, while Seelhammer's was $177,199.98, according to a public records request made last year. 

Sen. Sylvia Allen, a former Navajo County supervisor, had good things to say about Jayne’s previous work as county manager.

He is wonderful at organizing, team work and building employee morale, Allen said.

Jason Whiting, a current Navajo County supervisor, called Jayne one of the strongest managers in the state of Arizona. The county has been facing an ongoing financial struggle with the closure of the paper mill in Snowflake and the closure of one unit at Cholla Power plant. The county’s most recent budget cut $2.5 million in spending and added a 5-cent property tax increase.

Whiting said that during budget discussions and on other matters, Jayne would offer a well-informed opinion that was well-researched with good data.

Matt Ryan said the county has not yet begun a recruitment process to find Seelhammer’s permanent replacement.


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Lawsuit against NAU shooter Steven Jones settled

 A man charged with a deadly shooting at Northern Arizona University has settled a negligence lawsuit against him and his parents.

Steven Jones has said he acted in self-defense when he fatally shot 20-year-old Colin Brough and wounded three others on the Flagstaff campus in 2015. Prosecutors said Jones was the aggressor.

Nicholas Piring, Kyle Zientek and Nicholas Prato were wounded. None of the victims was armed.

The lawsuit filed on behalf of Brough's parents, Piring and Prato alleged that Jones was immature, prone to outbursts, disrespected authority and never should have been allowed to have a handgun. It sought damages for the emotional and physical toll on the victims and for medical and other expenses.

Jones was punched in the face after he and two pledges from his fraternity rang the doorbell of an apartment and ran away as a prank. He then retrieved a .40-caliber handgun from his car, authorities said.

The civil case was short-lived, being dismissed about five months after it was filed in late June. Attorneys on both sides declined to comment on the settlement this week, saying the terms are confidential.

Each side is responsible for its own attorneys' fees, according to court documents.

A jury deadlocked on criminal charges against Jones last May. He is scheduled to face another criminal trial in March — a date thrown into question after one of his attorneys withdrew from the case for medical reasons. Coconino County Superior Court Judge Dan Slayton recently appointed a public defender as lead counsel.

Public defender Brad Bransky said Tuesday that he will need a month or more to get up to speed and determine if he's ready for trial by March. Jones has rejected previous plea offers and said he wants to go to trial.

Prosecutor Ammon Barker said he will work with Bransky to ensure he has what he needs.

"The victims have been waiting for resolution on this case for some time," he said.


Taylor Mahoney, Arizona Daily Sun 

Cynthia Seelhammer