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Letters from teachers describe packed classrooms, lack of sanitation at MHS

MARICOPA — Just three days after Maricopa High School students began their classes on Sept. 21, several letters read out in the call to the public section of Wednesday’s Maricopa Unified School District board meeting highlighted overcrowded classrooms at MHS and concerns over COVID-19.

“I am absolutely sick with worry about my colleagues who returned to in-person instruction this week at MHS,” wrote one teacher in a letter. “Many of them have large class sizes, some of them don’t have enough desks or chairs in their classrooms to accommodate the number of students in their classes, how is that safe? How can students and staff socially distance in classrooms that are over capacity?”

The teacher also wrote that sanitizing supplies were already running out with no promise of when more would arrive, and her three online classes were nearing 50 students. She totaled her student count at over 200, saying, “I have never had this many students before, and worry about my ability to deliver effective, rigorous instruction.”

Another individual wrote in to voice concerns for the staff, saying the high school had lost teachers and the “huge class sizes are not sustainable.”

When the board voted to reopen schools to in-person learning in a Sept. 3 board meeting, two board members dissented from the vote, citing concerns of the ability for staff to create a brand new schedule in just a few weeks.

Board Vice President Ben Owens had voted against the reopening and begged the public to be patient with staff as they tried to make it happen. Board member Torri Anderson had gone as far as to say the early opening was “a disservice to staff.”

Their sentiments were echoed by those letters read out by the board on Wednesday.

One 40-year veteran teacher said he had long since viewed the district as making sound decisions and said he was disappointed by the board’s recent choice to reopen schools now.

“There are many, many challenges that are yet to be met. Class sizes of 40 to 60 are happening, … teacher and student stress is through the roof,” he wrote. “Your choice was a poor one, because there was not enough time to fundamentally change the school landscape by creating an entirely new schedule.”

Another teacher described colleagues as using hand sanitizer to wipe down desks and trying to stretch a single box of wipes over several days due to shortages.

“Everything right now feels like chaos,” said the high school teacher. “Both students and teachers are at their breaking point and today was only day three, … social distance was a pipe dream.”

Concerns over the loss of teachers and staff were also a major talking point, with several individuals pointing to recent resignations as a sign that teachers are overworked.

“At this point it 100% feels to many staff as though the board and district are completely unwilling to acknowledge the differences involved with secondary student learning or the plummeting teacher efficacy and morale, as every worthy and viable solution we introduce is shot down for reasons that have nothing to do with student learning or student achievement,” one letter from a teacher concluded.

In total, eight letters were read out in the meeting that concerned the overcrowding at the high school and detailed other issues like sanitation and overall morale. Shortly after, during the board member reports, Anderson addressed the letters indirectly.

“I will say I am trying really hard to hold back tears,” Anderson paused, “because we’ve worked so hard to retain our teachers and this board made a decision that is affecting our students and I just want us to think about that.”

Later, during board President AnnaMarie Knorr’s report, she said she shared Anderson’s heartbreak for teachers.

“I know it’s not easy, but I do have to plead with this community not to make this political. Board members have been accused of making things political; nothing I have done in regards to this issue has been political,” Knorr said. “I voted to open the schools back up because I thought that’s what was best for our students and I understand the hardships.”

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Anderson family farm blocks use of land for new Maricopa high school

MARICOPA — The land selection for a second high school in Maricopa is at a standstill after it was revealed at Wednesday’s Maricopa Unified School District board meeting that an important pesticide covenant had fallen through with a neighboring land owner.

The land owner in question, Kelly Anderson, is the husband of board member Torri Anderson and was present at Wednesday night’s meeting. Kelly Anderson addressed the board and read a letter about the second high school he claims he sent to the board on May 19 that had not been read publicly.

“We feel this site is not in the best interests of the district, the city, the Volkswagen test facility and especially the surrounding farmers,” Kelly Anderson said, reading his letter. “On behalf of our family farm, I strongly oppose this location. In full disclosure we were approached by a contracted broker that the district was looking for 40 acres for a magnet-type high school due to the failure of the recent bond election.”

He went on to say that the family’s land ultimately was not chosen for the location. Torri Anderson would later confirm this, stating they had been removed from the consideration in February. However, this was not known by other board members until Wednesday night.

Kelly Anderson also alleged the board had not responded to his letter or contacted him before now.

“I’m here to protect my wife, I’m here to protect myself, because we do not know what was said about us in that (executive) session, and more importantly, the community does not know what the board directed staff and legal to do about my letter,” Kelly Anderson said. “This letter is four months old, President Knorr. I have not heard from you regarding my issues or concerns about the site.”

The executive session in question occurred at a May 13 board meeting, where Torri Anderson recused herself from the session due to her conflict of interest. The three remaining board members, AnnaMarie Knorr, Ben Owens and Patti Coutre, made the decision.

The Andersons’ property is across the street directly north from the Cortona site at the intersection of Farrell and Murphy roads. Anderson-Palmisano Farms is the only neighbor to refuse to sign the pesticide covenant, an agreement with the district that there would be no pesticide use within a quarter mile of the school and a requisite for the land application to continue.

Mark Rafferty, partner for the Facilities Management Group, confirmed there is no way around the covenant.

Superintendent Tracey Lopeman took the board back through the process of land procurement they had spent the last year completing, reiterating the timeline before bringing the board abruptly to the present.

“Tonight, we find ourselves without land,” she said. “We’re at a critical point, because we need to open a high school in July of 2022 and we are needing to engage the School Facilities Board regarding the land application. Everything we’ve done to date is relevant and specific to the site selected in April.”

In order to continue with the timeline, the district would need to submit a final land application in November with the covenant and other requirements.

Knorr addressed the fact that Torri Anderson’s husband is the land owner in question, and asked if Lopeman had gotten in touch with the Andersons. Lopeman began to say that Kelly Anderson had been contacted, but Torri cut in.

“No, I’m telling you nobody has called and I find that extremely offensive, and it is below what this district expects,” Torri Anderson said.

“My understanding is not only the broker but the attorney has reached out,” Lopeman responded. “I’m careful about interfering in the process because I have committed to making sure this is, from our perspective, clean. I have not engaged in any negotiation with any prospective seller because that would be tainting the process.”

MUSD hoped to receive the pesticide covenant last Thursday to stay on track with the land application, having already completed the first two pieces.

Lopeman estimated that without the covenant, the timeline would be set back six months and said it would seriously jeopardize the goal to open in July 2022. She also noted the fact that the only high school in Maricopa is currently 600 students over capacity and the end of a portable unit lease correlates with the projected opening date of the new school.

When it began a search two years ago, the district sought a property of about 60 acres. Since the land choice process began in January though, land prices have skyrocketed 20-25%. Construction costs have also gone up about a half-point every month.

“The land is red hot,” Rafferty said. “We’re not going to find more opportunities, we’re going to find many fewer opportunities and those fewer opportunities are going to be more than they were in January.”

“We’re going to be losing several acres because we can only buy $3.7 million worth of land,” Coutre said. “It’s very disappointing to start this process over. It’s very, very disappointing.”

Owens estimated a loss of $2 million in funds as a result of value change on the land and a six-month delay should they have to pick new land.

“With that $5 million that we as a board authorized to make some of those upgrades,” Owens added, “we’re going to see less of that $5 million go in to be able to actually do what it’s supposed to do.”

The board had voted unanimously last month to approve a $5 million loan to help cover the additional needs the high school would have.

At that meeting, Anderson had asked just before the vote, “If for some unforeseen reason, we have to go search a different site — I’m just, pie in the sky — will this resolution be transferable to another property? Because it’s $5 million and I just want to make sure, because right now it’s dedicated for the Farrell and Murphy road(s) second high school.”

MUSD Business Director Jacob Harmon had replied the monies would be used by the discretion of MUSD once voted in.

It was unclear at first what the reasoning was behind Kelly Anderson’s belief that the Cortona site was not in the best interests of the community. Knorr reiterated the importance of the consent and requested that Lopeman continue attempting to receive the pesticide covenant.

Torri Anderson mentioned some of the off-site costs associated with the high school, like road construction and maintenance.

“I would like to see a number for those road costs,” Torri Anderson said.

Knorr and Lopeman stated those numbers had been announced during the summer, and both a work study and truth in taxation session had been conducted. Torri Anderson said her concern was with the use of taxpayer funds, citing her “conservative” concerns.

Owens would clarify that the tax will not affect Maricopa homeowners and will only affect certain primary land owners.

“As a homeowner, in Maricopa, my taxes wouldn’t be impacted by $7 million in adjacent ways so that we can build a new high school so that we can better the city of Maricopa, correct?” Owens asked.

Harmon confirmed.

Anderson then clarified her stance further and made some requests, asking for photos of neighboring plots of land.

“I would also like to see something within the school district boundaries, because this property is not within our school district boundaries, and I know that that is my contention with this property,” Torri Anderson said. “We may spend more money per acre for the land but the infrastructure is there.”

Mishell Terry, spokesperson for MUSD, had confirmed back in May that the high school would not be in school district boundaries and would instead be in the Casa Grande Union High School District. However, the school would still be within the city boundaries.

“The school will be built by Maricopa Unified School District, and MUSD students who live within MUSD boundaries have priority admission,” Terry stated. “We will enroll students from neighboring districts when space is available. In Arizona, an open enrollment state, it is common to welcome students from other districts as long as there is space available.”

Coutre then addressed Anderson directly, pointing to her long history in Maricopa and asking, “Where do you envision finding 60 acres that’s not in a floodplain that won’t have that much infrastructure?”

“— That we can afford?” Knorr added.

Anderson claimed she had known about two other lots, but “Ben did not talk to them.” Anderson was not involved in the search for the high school property as her property was involved in the land purchase.

“It’s unfortunate that you were conflicted out of that, but you were not there so you can’t understand the extensive amount we went through,” Knorr said. “You’re so opposed to this site, can you explain to me what makes it so much worse than your farm which is next door that was offered?”

Anderson did not wish to discuss the matter “from the dais” but said their property was removed from consideration in February and they were asked not to involve themselves in the land acquisition after that point. That was new information to the board.

The board members involved in the land acquisition pointed to the fact that Maricopa is growing predominantly east, and most other property in the area has floodplain issues, as key factors that led to the decision on the Cortona site.

The high school land item was for discussion only at the Wednesday meeting, and Lopeman said that if nothing changed before the next meeting Oct. 14, the district would be able to put an action item on the agenda to move forward with acquiring new land.

Knorr encouraged the district to continue reaching out to the Andersons in hopes they would change their mind.

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Jimmy John’s to join Sprouts in new Sonoran Creek development, other stores rumored

MARICOPA — The first Jimmy John’s in Maricopa will soon grace the community with its freaky-fast delivery and “free smells” as part of the brand new Sonoran Creek retail development.

Thomas Stassi will head the location, which he says is scheduled to open in summer 2021. A real estate agent by trade, Stassi lives in Scottsdale and made the jump to Jimmy John’s with his business partner and brother Michael.

Stassi hopes that by 2021 he’ll be the owner of not only a Maricopa location but also another Jimmy John’s in Pinal County. As for why he chose the sandwich company, he says the company’s promise of stellar customer service was a big factor.

“It’s all about quality, speed and customer satisfaction itself,” Stassi said. “I’ve always been driven to a company who’s been wanting to grow and always supports their franchisees and their partners. You know, Maricopa has the perfect opportunity for that.”

The new location will offer all the usual fixings of a Jimmy John’s, with the exception of drive-thru, and is tentatively scheduled to be open 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily. When Stassi needs a bite to eat, his go-to Jimmy John’s order is the Beach Club with “extra tomatoes and cucumbers and extra Jimmy peppers.”

Stassi says he saw a breadth of opportunity for growth in Maricopa and seized on the opportunity when it became available.

“Maricopa is the third largest growing city here in Arizona and that tight-knit community where everybody’s a family over there is what I really strive for,” Stassi said. “I’d like to establish myself not only as a business over there, but somebody who’s part of the community.”

The location will be within the Sonoran Creek development on the southwest corner of John Wayne Parkway and Edison Road, “right next to that Filiberto’s store in the strip of where Orange Theory is,” he added.

Orange Theory has yet to be announced as a prospective retailer, but spots seem to be filling up fast in the new 85,000-square-foot development.

Maricopa already has a few other chain sandwich companies, but Stassi says Jimmy John’s is unique in the sandwich-making industry.

“The personal interaction with the customer themselves is what I enjoy,” Stassi said. “What most don’t know is, Jimmy John’s is one of the only individual sandwich companies that don’t utilize third party services — just because of the freaky fast slogan.”

Jimmy John’s strives for delivery in under 15 minutes.

The Jimmy John’s will join Filiberto’s, Sprouts, Discount Tire, Brake Masters, The Joint Chiropractic and State Farm Insurance in the new development — with some spots still to be announced.

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Anglin Dairy to possibly become new residences off State Route 238

MARICOPA — Anglin Dairy, located on State Route 238 and Green Road, is in talks with the city and Planning and Zoning Commission to rezone their land for possible housing in the future.

The Maricopa Planning and Zoning Commission heard from RVi Planning + Landscape Architecture on behalf of Anglin Dairy on more of the site details at a Sept. 14 meeting, gearing up for the rezoning to be brought before City Council Oct. 20.

The property is a 493.71-acre, L-shaped stretch of land north of SR 238 and currently functions as an active dairy and farming operation. To the north, the land borders Gila River Indian Community vacant land. To the west is Ak-Chin Southern Dunes Golf Course and to the south and east is mainly vacant land with some agriculture.

The recommended rezoning was for discussion only at the meeting, including a public hearing portion. The commission heard a proposition to change the existing combination of low-density residential, medium-density residential and mixed-use land to a master-planned community.

According to Ryan Wozniak, senior planner for the city, a master-planned community would include a mix of smaller and larger plots of land.

“Residential areas, adequate open space, schools, churches, neighborhood facilities (come) under a Master Planned Community envelope, which is supposed to be more thought out, more balanced, better transitions, no arbitrary lines as to where one designation goes versus the other designation — so a potential win there,” Wozniak said.

This change in zoning was a request of the applicant, Richard Anglin, owner of Anglin Dairy, DA Holdings LLC.

“The applicant came to us looking for justification as to why that amount of mixed-use, ‘Maybe a master-plan community?’” Wozniak said. “Giving us more of a variety of mixing of uses on the site rather than these hard lines would make sense.”

The application comes as the city’s continued growth threatens to encroach on the farming area. One of the city planner’s goals to minimize these conflicts in land use is by implementing the overarching master-planning community.

Commissioner Ted Yocum agreed with the applicants, saying, “The use of this site as a dairy right now is becoming non-compatible considering the direction we seem to be going in that particular area.”

He also made his goal to diversify housing clear, citing an overwhelming majority of single-family homes already in Maricopa and the need for more variation in housing.

He compared Maricopa’s 99% single-family homes to Phoenix’s average of 64%, and stated over the next 10 years, around 22,000 new buyers and renters will not be in the market for a single-family home, opting instead for alternative types of housing currently underrepresented in Maricopa.

“We are certainly highly overstocked, percentage wise, in single-family detached homes versus the number of multi-family homes that — from a buyer’s perspective and a renters perspective — are (needed) to meet that demand,” Wozniak said.

Commissioner Dan Frank mentioned his appreciation for the current low-density zoning.

“My concern is that we’re getting kind of monolithic — not so much anymore with the apartments coming in,” Frank said. “Almost everything we’re getting is medium-density product, it just would be nice to get some more diversity the other way, a little bit of a larger lot kind of product.”

Frank also called the commission’s attention to the Vekol Wash, which will impact the area and need addressing should the rezoning be approved by the council.

Wozniak also stated during his presentation they are currently conducting a traffic study that would show the impacts of traffic at the entrance to the property. Supporting documents confirm this and mention a roundabout could be a solution.

“The City and ADOT support a possible roundabout at the intersection of Smith Enke Road (SR 238) and Green Road that would be able to accommodate truck and trailer traffic,” the document states.

An overpass might also be suitable for the area, and site planners are also considering a fourth leg to head south on Green Road.