Flagstaff Unified School District had a year full of financial fluctuations to account for previously unmet needs, especially as the Red for Ed movement for improved teacher pay and school funding was in full swing throughout March and April. It also implemented various internal improvements for students.
When teachers throughout the state voted for a mass walkout on Thursday, April 26, the district hastily created contingency plans that provided necessary child care as well as breakfasts and lunches for students in need of them for the duration of the six-day walkout, during which FUSD schools were closed. FUSD teachers and students resumed normal schedules the following Friday, after Arizona Governor Doug Ducey signed legislation granting teachers an average 19 percent pay increase within three years.
When the district started work on an updated compensation package for teachers, administrators and staff following Ducey’s legislation, the Governing Board negotiation committee first intended to give equal percentage of increases to these district employees; however, to account for administrators’ already higher salaries, the committee decided to give administrators a 7.5 percent increase in pay, which would allow teachers to receive their full 10 percent increase, $6,750 and $5,000, respectively.
For some, these changes just did not come soon enough, though. Jeff Taylor, the 2014 Coconino Teacher of the Year, announced in March that he and his family would leave the state at the end of the 2017-2018 school year because of factors including the low pay and increased class sizes that became characteristic of Arizona teachers. Taylor taught AP chemistry and environmental science at Flagstaff High School. He was also the chair of the AP Academy at FHS.
For unrelated reasons, administrators also departed, leaving the associate director for Communications and Public Relations and director of Transportation positions open for several weeks. Zachery Fountain, from Dysart Unified School District in Surprise, started as the assistant director for Communications and Public Relations in early December. The director of Transportation is still to be determined.
Repairing and rebuilding
According to the H2 Group’s investigation of FUSD properties in the early weeks of the year, various district school buildings are in need of physical updates totaling $95 million in repairs and replacements. Kinsey and Killip Elementary Schools, two of the district’s oldest buildings, were recommended for full replacement, a more cost-effective approach than renovation.
The project list further increased as two juveniles, a 13-year-old and 15-year-old, broke in and damaged the interiors of both Killip Elementary School and Mount Elden Middle School in the first week of August. Killip was broken into twice: the second time, the suspects caused enough damage that the school was forced to close that day. The two were arrested and placed in the Coconino County Juvenile Detention Center, facing charges of burglary, aggravated criminal damage and interfering with an educational facility.
To fund these school restoration projects, a $75 million bond and 15 percent property tax renewal – named Propositions 423 and 424 – were introduced for the November election. Both propositions passed, providing funding for building upkeep as well as a one-to-one technology initiative to provide all students with technology. The district is still determining how the funds would apply to the possible replacement of a school.
Academically, FUSD had cause to celebrate: five schools improved by at least one letter grade this year. Leupp Public School moved up from a D to a C, Cromer Elementary School and Knoles Elementary School both improved from a C to a B, Sechrist Elementary from a B to an A, and Kinsey Elementary from a D to a B. Nearly all of the evaluated schools earned more points than last year, with an average growth of 5.31 percentage points across all schools.
Thanks to a combination of federal and district funding, five FUSD schools were able to offer free nutritional breakfasts and lunches for all students this year, eliminating the need for a lengthy application process and reassuring parents that they need not pack their child’s lunch if they do not have the time or money to do so. Participating schools include Killip Elementary, Kinsey Elementary, Leupp Elementary, Thomas Elementary and Summit High School.
A revised tradition
The high school sports community was abuzz this October as the annual rivalry varsity game between the Coconino Panthers and Flagstaff Eagles was hosted at Coconino High School’s Cromer Stadium for the first time in more than 40 years. The game, won by Coconino, was also used to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the school’s first graduating class and 1968 state championship football team. The evening included a pregame festival of food and music as well as an official recognition of the championship team at halftime.