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Education
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FUSD voters will decide on bonds Nov. 3
 06.22.20

FLORENCE — Voters in the Florence Unified School District will be asked to approve $75 million in bond funding for upgrades and repairs to schools in Florence and San Tan Valley in the Nov. 3 general election.

The school board approved a resolution calling for a special bond election last week. State taxpayers already provide capital funding for buildings and other durable purchases, but many Arizona school districts find it’s not enough.

“There’s a lawsuit going on right now because of the massive capital underfunding that’s going on, in addition to the SFB (state School Facilities Board) not providing enough money for building construction and renovation of existing facilities,” FUSD Assistant Superintendent Adam Leckie said. “All the districts are underfunded unless they have bonds and overrides in place to shore up existing capital funds they get from the state.”

A newspaper column earlier this year, written by the Arizona Center for Law in the Public Interest and attorneys arguing the capital funding lawsuit, said school districts all over the state are challenged by aging buildings and inadequate funds to repair or replace them. The authors said the Arizona Constitution requires the state to maintain a “general and uniform” system of public schools.

The column continued that: the state provides only half of what it costs to build a new school; the state’s facilities, security and technology standards haven’t been meaningfully updated since 1998; and funding for repairs is inadequate and unavailable until after a responsible district would have already fixed the problem.

In Florence, FUSD staff are hoping to receive about $5 million in state capital funding but have already identified $17 million in air conditioners and other building repairs and upgrades needed in the next five years, Denice Erickson, FUSD chief financial officer, said. Leckie said the district had a “life cycle audit” done to identify its long-term capital needs.

The district hopes to replace a few buses each year to keep the fleet in good condition, Erickson said. She and Leckie said the district must also keep its educational technology up to date. According to the sample ballot accompanying the board’s resolution, bond funding may also be used for construction-related costs, to buy or lease school lots, to improve school grounds and adjacent ways, and buy furniture, equipment and technology.

This bond issue would cost the owner of a $250,000 home in FUSD about $202 per year. The bonds would be paid off over a 24-year period so that future taxpayers would share in the cost, Erickson said.

Aug. 5 is the last day to submit arguments for or against the bonds to the Pinal County school superintendent, to be included in the voter information pamphlet.

FUSD voters last approved a $25 million bond issue in 2017, and that money paid for new school buses, student computers and other technology upgrades, security cameras and other security equipment on campuses, track repairs and upgrades at the high schools, updated playgrounds at K-8 schools, an enlargement of the Fernando Ortega multipurpose room at Florence K-8 and other repairs and improvements.


Police working for 'trust and legitimacy' in Florence
 06.18.20

FLORENCE — In a country reeling from allegations of police brutality and racism, local police are committed to doing their jobs with professionalism and respect, officials said at a community meeting June 16.

Police Chief Bruce Walls and top staff met with about 35 residents to answer questions and learn “how to better serve you,” Walls told the group. He said without trust and legitimacy in the community the police can’t do their jobs. He said he wants them to be “not a warrior, but a guardian for the community.”

Someone asked if the Florence Police Department uses chokeholds or other restraints on suspects as seen in viral videos of other departments, including in Arizona and other states.

Walls said it’s not taught in the police academy, Florence officers don’t do neck restraints, and it’s not a typical police practice. Walls said he wants a sergeant to be present at every arrest to ensure they are handled correctly.

Lt. Terry Tryon added, “We have never been taught the chokehold; we were always told not to use it. It won’t be tolerated.”

Someone asked about the “8 Can’t Wait” use-of-force policies that advocates claim reduce police violence. Deanna Husk, support services manager, said they make a difference. “We do have those policies” and there will be “zero tolerance” for not adhering to them. Walls said he has appointed a civilian to the department’s use-of-force board for a citizen’s perspective on those issues.

Husk said the department is working toward accreditation that “holds us to a higher standard” and shows they are following policies.

Walls said there will be no discrimination against individuals “in custody or out of custody.” Even someone being taken to jail should be treated with respect, he said. The chief said he’s looking at the arrests officers make, asking questions and making corrections. No one is more powerful than a police officer who has the ability to take away someone’s civil liberties, “and with that comes responsibility,” Walls said.

Someone asked what percentage of Florence police officers live in town. Walls replied that it’s important for him to make sure officers are “engaged” and have “ownership” in the community, but it’s not necessary that they live here to have that. Walls said he personally lives south of town, not in the town limits, “but I have ownership in the town.”

Tryon said the department recently moved from a 10-hour to a 12-hour schedule, “so you’ll have eight to 10 people who’ll work your beat. You’re going to see more people.”

Walls said the 10-hour shifts sometimes resulted in only a couple of officers on duty for the entire town. The 12-hour shifts allow the department to have four or five officers on the street plus a patrol sergeant.

Someone else asked what happens when an officer shows bias. Walls replied administrators can look for patterns in officers’ traffic stops and “make sure they’re not targeting a particular race.” If they spot a problem internally or if an officer is found to have a sustained complaint the officer could be subject to discipline.

Local police are also helping with code enforcement, and neglected properties eventually became a hot topic at the meeting. Walls described his own attempt to talk with a resident about an untidy yard, only to be met with angry retorts.

“I didn’t want to get in a big argument” and left a note, Walls said.


Local_sports
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Olsen taking time to make decision on future
 03.22.20

CASA GRANDE — Central Arizona College pitcher Mat Olsen was supposed to be spending Tuesday getting ready for his start against South Mountain College.

Instead, the 19-year-old former Florence Gopher spent the day playing the Diamond Dynasty mode on “MLB The Show 20” game on his PlayStation 4. The video game was a gift from his girlfriend.

“It’s kind of something we are all dealing with,” Olsen said of the season’s cancellation due to the COVID-19 pandemic. “You go from one day where you are practicing every day. I’m preparing for my start for South Mountain and then the next thing you know, the season’s been canceled. It’s kind of something that we are still trying to get used to, and we’re all going to have to make some adjustments.”

Last week, the NJCAA announced that all spring sports — and its men’s and women’s basketball national tournaments — were canceled. This came on the heels of the NCAA announcing a similar decision when calling off its men’s and women’s March Madness tournaments.

The result has the sports world, from pros to preps, in a state of limbo as medical experts and government officials work to try and figure out how to deal with the coronavirus.

“It really does suck,” Olsen said. “I think you have to turn it into a positive as much as it is a negative.”

One of the positives for Olsen is to weigh his options on what’s next for him. Prior to the season, he made a verbal comment to play at the University of Arizona along with potential options of returning to the Vaqueros or entering the MLB draft.

However, as with the sports world, those options are up in the air.

He said the NJCAA would grant an extra year of eligibility, just as the NCAA is leaning to do for its spring sports athletes. But then there’s the MLB draft, which could be in jeopardy as high school baseball seasons across the country are being postponed or canceled and scouts are unable to go to games and evaluate players.

“I’m going to have to make a pretty tough decision come July or early August,” Olsen said. “We don’t know what is going to happen with the draft at this point, if it is pushed back. I personally can’t see them canceling it because organizations have to fill those rosters. I definitely see them still doing it; I just think it’s a matter of when.

On Wednesday, Ronald Blum of the Associated Press reported MLB is considering skipping its 2020 draft, scheduled to run June 10-12.

“It’s up in the air. Being 19 years old, I’ve never had to live through anything like this. It’s different for sure,” Olsen said.

In the meantime, Olsen is doing the best he can. He continues to work out, doing long tosses and hitting the gym every day.

His gym of choice has been 24/7 Fitness in Coolidge, but in light of the governor’s order on Thursday to close all gyms, along with restaurants and bars in counties effected by the coronavirus including Pinal County, Olsen will have to look elsewhere to stay in shape.

“If worse comes to worse, I have a couple of weights at my house, and push-ups and sit-ups will do the trick,” he said. “If things keep going the way it’s going, everyone is going to have to be creative.”

Olsen wouldn’t say if the NJCAA and the NCAA’s decision to cancel the entire spring sports season was an overreaction or if he felt they should’ve played a wait-and-see-approach similar to what the Arizona Interscholastic Association is doing.

“Obviously we want to play, so we’re not going to agree with it, but at the end of the day, we really don’t know what they know,” he said. “They could know more. It’s tough for me to say they overreacted. There’s probably not one guy that is happy the season (is) canceled, but at the end of the day, I’m pretty sure they had to make a tough decision. They probably made the decision that was best for our health. You have to look past baseball to see what’s best for everyone.”

In the meantime for Olsen and the rest of the CAC baseball team, it will always be a matter of what if when thinking back to this season. CAC was trying to win its second straight national championship.

“I not only felt good at what I had going, but what we had going. I thought that we were about to play our best baseball. I thought we had a legitimate chance of making another run,” Olsen said. “It’s tough. People don’t realize when you get into a groove and it’s every single day, and your off days are legitimate off days where you need them. Now you find yourself at home and whatnot.

“It’s tough, but I’m going to make the adjustments and make a decision on what’s best for my future here in the upcoming months.”


Covid-19
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Lamb stands by opposition to stay-at-home order despite getting COVID-19
 06.19.20

CASA GRANDE — Following his announcement that he had tested positive for COVID-19, the whereabouts of Sheriff Mark Lamb or who else might have been exposed to the virus through his public appearances has been unclear.

PinalCentral has attempted to contact Lamb on multiple occasions since Wednesday’s announcement made over Facebook that he tested positive as part of precautionary measures taken by the White House before he was to meet with President Donald Trump. Lamb said it is likely he came into contact with someone with the coronavirus during a campaign event on June 13.

The Pinal County Sheriff’s Office had closed its offices to the public earlier in the week before Lamb announced he tested positive.

Neither Lamb nor Pinal County Supervisor Mike Goodman, who attended the event, responded to requests for comment, including about Lamb’s previous stance that Gov. Doug Ducey had overreached in his decision to put Arizona under a stay-at-home order or that he would not enforce said order in Pinal County.

However, a New York Times reporter was able to track down Lamb as the sheriff was driving through New Mexico in a rental car from Washington, D.C., in order to limit his contact with other people. He told the Times that during the drive he is wearing a mask and wiping gas pumps with sanitizer while keeping his distance from people.

He also denied to the Times that what occurred on June 13 was a campaign event, instead saying it was an opportunity for people to obtain a sign that promotes his campaign. He also said those at the event were personally responsible for their own health.

“I think everybody understands we are all putting ourselves at risk,” he told the Times.

As for his previous position against Ducey’s attempts to slow the spread of COVID-19, he told the Times he stood by his decisions.