MARICOPA — Maricopa City Council members and Maricopa Unified School District board members see eye to eye on extending the district’s budget override.
Councilman Vincent Manfredi has served on the council for seven years now. He said he used to be against overrides, but he is very passionate about supporting the MUSD override.
A year or so before the current override was passed in 2016, he was told more teachers and technology were needed. In 2016, this was made possible with the override passing, along with the alternative high school RAM academy.
Manfredi said if RAM existed back when he was in school, he probably would have graduated on time. He didn’t like going to school.
He shared the story of a student he knew who graduated a couple years ago with the help of RAM. The student’s family felt disappointed because he was failing his classes, but then he enrolled in RAM and was able to graduate on time.
Manfredi said he got to see the pride on the student’s family’s faces. He believed there were more family members at the graduation from this student graduating than Manfredi’s family for his daughter. They both graduated at the same time.
“School is number one for how you lead a good life,” Manfredi said.
He said the school had gotten about 70 teachers from the money received each year with the override in place. Every student received a computer and modern technology for the teachers and classrooms, so students can learn “the way they learn today.”
He said the graduation rate increased from 69% in 2016 to over 80% this year. The students have received higher reading scores as well.
“When people tell me it’s just throwing good money after bad, I say I’m a realist,” he said. “I’m a person that understands that without proper education you cannot have a proper civilization. It’s that simple.”
Manfredi gave credit to former state Rep. Bret Roberts, R-Maricopa, for all his hard work in getting the override passed in 2016. He said without him, it wouldn’t have happened.
“We understand education, we understand the impact it plays on your community, on your property values, on your crime rates, everything,” Manfredi said. “It’s about our community we want to give to our children as we move on.”
Councilwoman Amber Liermann said she’s worked for 18 years at MUSD. There are currently 25 counselors at MUSD, but before the override there were half that many.
“My day looked like me driving from school to school the whole day because kids were in crisis and there were not enough counselors to address the needs of those students,” Liermann said.
She said now she’s able to build relationships with the students and they trust her because she can be there for them when they come to her office. She said the override makes “a huge difference.”
Councilman Henry Wade said the override is three things: RAM academy, smaller class sizes and technology.
“I spoke earlier about community and that’s what this is all about,” he said. “This is not about money, it’s about being the best community we can be.”
He said MUSD has been very fortunate to have Superintendent Tracey Lopeman “leading the ship.” He’s also proud of all his council members standing up and supporting the override.
Vice Mayor Nancy Smith said she’s a conservative when it comes to finances and taxes. She said for previous overrides prior to the one in 2016, she voted no because she didn’t feel confident that the administration was going to do what they said or that the improvements would be made.
Smith needs to know the facts, not just have people say what they need such as technology, RAM or more teachers. She wants to know what improvements were made with the previous money.
“How good is that, that our elementary students’ reading levels have improved significantly year over year since the override passed?” Smith said. “Someone asked me ‘what does more teachers have to do with it?,’ it’s because you have more teachers, less overcrowding in the classroom, more attention to the students, thus they make better improvements in their reading level. It’s easy.”
She said she’s seen other class scores, such as math, at the high school improve as well.
“I was totally impressed, blown out of the water — 69% graduation up to over 80%,” Smith said. “We should just applaud the city of Maricopa and the students and the parents and the teachers for that type of magnificent growth.”
She clarified that with state Proposition 208 there wasn’t more money received. She said “schools are basically getting the same money.”
Councilman Bob Marsh came at the override from a different angle. He’s worked for major corporations all his life. He said he saw Maricopa as a city “ripe” to get a division of multiple corporations within the decade. Site selection committees that judge cities heavily on their ability to educate their employees’ children.
“Those people want to live in a city that has a super education system where their kids can get educated,” Marsh said. “If we don’t pass this override, we’re saying to those site selection committees that ‘we don’t support education,’ ‘don’t come here.’ I don’t want that to happen.”
Mayor Christian Price, at the end of the council members’ speeches, said that everyone knows he supports the override as well.
Torri Anderson, a MUSD board member, said when she started on the board, they identified why students weren’t doing as well in the classroom. They identified three things: reduce class sizes, retain teachers and have an alternative program for the students who don’t fit into high school.
“In order for our students to create success and to believe in themselves, we need to push for an alternative learning program, which is our RAM academy,” Anderson said. “And I am so proud that we were able to put that in through this override. So, I’m asking you to please vote yes.”
The money doesn’t go anywhere except to the places designated for the funds, which are technology, RAM academy and hiring teachers.
“I hear every day ‘how do you know it’s working?’ Well I know it’s working because first our teachers are happy, we’ve retained them, our student achievement is up and most importantly our graduation rates are up,” Anderson said. “That’s what it’s about.”
Ed Michaels, a committee member for the override, said all registered voters in the Maricopa school district would receive a ballot in the mail, starting on Oct 6. Election Day is Nov. 2.
A secure drop box for ballots is located at the county complex Building 100, 19955 N. Wilson Ave., on the outside of the building. There is only one question on the ballot.