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Jake Bacon, Arizona Daily Sun 

Coconino’s Dana Parker serves during play against Millennium Tuesday afternoon.

Ben Shanahan, Arizona Daily Sun 

Shelby Barton (left) and Steven Turco take a break from their lifesized chess game to pose for a photo Friday evening at the Kikori Con Anime Convention held at the Little America in Flagstaff.

Ben Shanahan, Arizona Daily Sun 

Aaron Pruett made his way to the Little America Hotel from Show Low Friday evening dressed as Dust from Dust Elysian Tail in order to attend the Kikori Con Anime Convention.

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Flagstaff Council passes over local affordable housing developer for Illinois bidder

The Flagstaff City Council approved the sale agreement for three city-owned land parcels to be developed into affordable housing at its meeting Tuesday night.

The agreement was awarded to Illinois-based Brinshore Development, which was one of three organizations to respond to the city’s request for proposals for the project, which was issued in August. A selection committee with six members then chose Brinshore as the winning bidder, housing director Sarah Darr told the council.

That didn't sit well with a local bidder, Devonna McLaughlin, the executive director for Housing Solutions of Northern Arizona. During the public comment period at the meeting, McLaughlin said she was disappointed in the city’s choice of Brinshore, when Housing Solutions and a partner developer, Gorman and Company, also submitted a proposal.

McLaughlin said her organization’s proposal would have delivered 68 affordable units with some units designated to benefit the homeless. The proposal also offered a long-term lease from the city for 65 years, if the city decided it did not want to sell the parcels.

Brinshore does not have any properties in Arizona, unlike Gorman and Company, McLaughlin said, and there was no priority given to proposals that had references from within the state.

Brinshore’s developments are mostly located in the Midwest, with one on the East coast.

Despite McLaughlin’s concern, the council unanimously approved the sale, which includes the city receiving a total of $2.02 million for the properties. Under the agreement, Brinshore has three years to obtain the award of the tax credits. Brinshore is required to hold neighborhood outreach before the final site plans are submitted to the council.

The probable funding source for the affordable units will be the Low Income Housing Tax Credit program, and Brinshore has about 60 properties that have utilized the program, Darr said.

The city has nine apartment complexes that were created using the tax credit, which total 746 units. All of the properties created in Flagstaff hold only affordable units, Darr said in a report to the city council over the summer. The largest Low Income Housing Tax Credit development in Flagstaff is Oakwood Village Apartments, which offers 200 affordable units designed for families.

The project includes three sites scattered throughout the city, with one on West Street near the Safeway plaza, another on Izabel Street near the skate park and the third on Lone Tree Road at Butler Avenue.

As part of the agreement, Brinshore has to create a minimum of 74 units across the three sites, which are estimated to include 8 studio units, 33 one-bedroom units, 12 two-bedroom units and 24 three-bedroom units. In the early discussions about the project, Darr told the council the city has a high need for studio and one-bedroom units. At least one of the developments will be targeted to the elderly.

Flagstaff Unified School Board opposes guns in schools

The Flagstaff Unified School District Board and superintendent have come out against the idea of arming teachers or staff with guns in a letter to parents earlier this month.

Arizona Revised Statutes currently do not allow guns to be carried on the grounds of public schools or universities unless the person is a law enforcement officer. Although several legislators have proposed several bills since 2008 that would allow guns to be carried on campus, all of those bills have failed.

The board and superintendent sent a letter to parents regarding concerns about students walking out of class on March 14 and 24 and April 20 in remembrance of the shootings in Parkland, Fla., and the Columbine High School shooting. According to the letter, students who participate in the walkout will not be punished as long as they do not disrupt school operations and are respectful of others who do not participate in the walkout. Students at Flagstaff and Coconino High School are planning to hold a memorial walkout for the shooting victims.

The second to last paragraph of the letter states, “We oppose suggestions to bring more guns into our schools by administrators and teachers.” The letter then states that the district board and superintendent would rather have additional funding for school security, reasonable restrictions on access to weapons and increased funding for mental health services and school counselors.

FUSD Superintendent Mike Penca confirmed the district’s stance in an email.

“You are correct, the board and I do not support suggestions to arm staff with guns,” he wrote. “State funding for school safety has been reduced in past years. A restoration of funds could support FUSD’s efforts to upgrade security measures such as cameras, check-in systems and to monitor door access. Funding could provide additional training for staff and students on safety protocols, trauma-informed schools, and kindness initiatives. Additional funding could be used increase students’ access to counselors, mental health services, and to add (safety resource officer) positions.”

The district has several safety measures in place in all of its school, including armed resource officers, regular drills for active shooter situations and vestibules that force visitors to walk through the school office before they can enter the building.

Arizona teachers mull strike -- but not this year

PHOENIX -- The head of the statewide teachers union said Wednesday a strike may be necessary to get salaries closer to where he believes they should be.

But not this year.

"A lot of work has to be done, a lot of storytelling has to happen so that people understand what the real issues are," said Joe Thomas. The president of the Arizona Education Association told Capitol Media Services that centers on "support and respect."

"Part of that comes as class size, part of that comes as a salary that keeps you in the state," Thomas explained. And he said the 1.06 percent hike for this school year approved by lawmakers and a promise for an identical amount next year, is not going to cut it.

"Our teachers need to see something north of 5 percent," Thomas said, something to bring salaries close to what they are in surrounding states.

But Thomas conceded that still leaves the question of whether anything will change if the estimated 50,000 public school teachers -- or a significant share of them -- abandon their classrooms for the picket line.

The issue arises in the wake of teachers in West Virginia securing a 5 percent pay hike from state lawmakers there after walking off their jobs. Education Week reports average salaries there already are close to $2,000 higher than they are here even before the new boost.

Thomas said that did not go unnoticed here. But he also said that his conversation with counterparts in West Virginia convinces him that kind of action doesn't just happen.

"It's months of discussions that lead to that frustration level," he said.

Thomas said some of that was on display in Arizona Wednesday by teachers around the state who wore red to express their beliefs that their needs and the needs of classrooms are being ignored. He said that is a "statement of awareness that there are issues in our schools that people really need to start paying attention to."

"And if that doesn't work, well, then I don't know what we'll do next year," Thomas said.

The last teacher strike in the state didn't work out so well. That was in Sierra Vista in 1980 when slightly more than half of the district's 300 teachers walked out at the beginning of the school year.

They were back in class a month later after schools remained open and the teachers were told to accept the school board's last offer or be replaced. And the base salary remained unchanged.

Thomas, who moved to Arizona from Oklahoma 21 years ago, acknowledged this state's general antipathy to unions -- and strikes.

"I don't think I've ever really seen that a statewide action could have the support, even among the teacher ranks to be successful," he said. "But I'm really questioning that right now."

What's changed, Thomas said, is that teachers have seen year after year of state leaders ignoring not only the fact that salaries here are the lowest nationally but that Arizona has the third highest number of students per classroom.

"I believe they're frustrated to the point where they just don't believe they have many options left," he said.

At the same time, Thomas said, the general public needs to be educated on what teachers already know is happening in Arizona

"We have people that turn on a Facebook, or any social media, and see advertisements out of Clark County, Nev. every single day that tells them 'You're going to earn $11,000 more dollars and, by the way, we have just as much sunshine as you do in Arizona,' Arizona has to wake up to that," he said.

"A lot of work has to be done, a lot of conversations, a lot of storytelling still has to happen so that people understand what the real issues are," Thomas explained.

Ultimately, though, the association's rank and file will have to make some decisions.

"What teachers have to figure out is their level of frustration, their level of risk, and what it is they want to get," he said.

One thing that is different than West Virginia, though, is that Arizona has what is likely the largest charter school system in the nation. These schools, which can be run as for-profit or non-profit operations, are permitted to hire whoever they want to teach.

That raises the question of whether a labor action by professionally trained teachers in traditional public schools would falter if their charter school counterparts refused to join.

Thomas, however, said he thinks there would be a unified front.

"I think they're paid from the same meager funds and their salaries are just as poor as teachers in the district school are," he said. "I don't think that if you work in one or the other that you have a very different understanding of the respect you're getting from the state."

Jake Bacon, Arizona Daily Sun 

Mike Penca stands inside his office at the Flagstaff Unified School District offices on Sparrow Avenue.