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FLORENCE — A parent told the Florence Unified School District board that since his son was arrested at Florence High School last month, he has learned of several other safety and security issues.

“The school administration is out of control and something needs to be done,” Johnie Mendoza told the school board on May 11.

Mendoza said that on April 14, two senior boys, apparently legal adults, tried to fight his son. “Where was all the security at this time?” Mendoza asked. He said his son was the only one arrested and paraded in front of other students as an example. “Was this school policy or an administrative choice?”

When Mendoza was called, he said, he could overhear an administrator tell Mendoza’s wife his son wasn’t being arrested for the fight but for disrespecting him in front of 500 students. He said the administrator added as an apparent afterthought, “Oh, and your son did put hands on me.”

Mendoza asked why the others weren’t arrested.

“I would hate to think this was because my son is Black,” he said. “It appears to this parent that disrespecting (the administrator) is a more severe offense than two adult students fighting a 16-year-old underclassman.”

Since then, Mendoza said he has received a number of videos and emails detailing violence and sexual harassment at FHS. In one particular video, “the fight was brutal.”

Board member Roger Biede asked for an update on security at Florence High School at the next board meeting.

Pay raises

The board also approved raises, performance pay and retention stipends for teachers and other school staff. FUSD is absorbing increased costs of state retirement and insurance, for a total increase of approximately 3% for a teacher who makes $50,000, or 4% if potential student growth occurs.

Despite a 9% decrease in attendance due to the pandemic and a corresponding loss of funding, the district’s goals include competitive pay and avoiding staff reductions, Denice Erickson, FUSD chief financial officer, told the board.

Other school personnel, or “classified” staff, will receive a cost-of-living increase to their base pay of 1.23% beginning July 1, and FUSD will also cover their insurance and retirement increases.

Returning classified staff will receive a one-time retention stipend from federal COVID relief grant funds if they were employed on or before March 12. Biede asked the reason for the difference in raises for teachers and other employees.

Erickson replied, “Although the dollar amounts are different, the percentage increase for classified staff is actually greater” than for teachers, Erickson said.

In other business May 11:

  • The board approved an agreement with Akima Global Services, which will pay FUSD $3,000 per month to lease a portion of the lower K-8 campus for professional development of prison employees. The contract is for five years, with both parties having the option to terminate with 90 days’ notice.

Biede asked if the district did sufficient investigation to ensure the company’s activities won’t be uncomfortable next to an elementary school. Erickson said the activities will “absolutely not” endanger students. The company will fence off its area to be separate from the student population, and none of the training will involve inmates, she said.

  • Florence High School Student Council member Reece Rimmer expressed gratitude to the parents, teachers and town personnel whose efforts made it possible for the school to have a prom on May 8 on North Main Street. She also thanked the board and other school officials. She said at one time, they weren’t sure there would be a prom because of the pandemic.
  • Superintendent Chris Knutsen said the district lost a maintenance staff member, Paul Turley, a “larger-than-life” and “salt-of-the-earth” person, “and we’re going to miss him.” Knutsen said the pandemic has touched everyone in some horrible ways. “Hopefully we get to the end where things can somewhat get back to normal.”

Mark Cowling is the county reporter for PinalCentral and covers the town of Florence, San Tan Valley and the surrounding area. He can be reached at mcowling@pinalcentral.com.

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