Mingus board debates merits of closing school

Mingus Union School Board Member Steve Gesell, picturing Monday telling his fellow board members that keeping the school open on Thursday did not make sense to him. (Photo by Bill Helm)

Mingus Union School Board Member Steve Gesell, picturing Monday telling his fellow board members that keeping the school open on Thursday did not make sense to him. (Photo by Bill Helm)

COTTONWOOD – Mingus Union School District Superintendent Penny Hargrove gave the district’s governing board two options to consider as it considered Thursday’s scheduled walkout of the state’s educators over inadequate funding in the classroom and inadequate pay for teachers, administrators and support staff.

Though the board voted 5-to-0 Monday to close the school April 26, discussions also considered a reduced schedule for Thursday that according to school mathematics teacher Craig Mai would have led to an 80-to-1 student-to-teacher ratio.

“No way there can be a reasonable learning environment, or reasonable safety,” Mai said. “Could we look those students in the eye and say we’re meeting that expectation?”

Had the board selected the short Thursday schedule, students would have been in class for four hours, with the district communicating “to parents that we will be understaffed,” Hargrove said Monday in a prepared statement to the board.

Recognizing a “woefully unfunded school system,” Mingus Union School Board Member Steve Gesell applauded the district’s teachers’ plan to return to the classroom on Friday.

“I don’t think keeping the school open on Thursday makes sense to me,” Gesell said. “I don’t think we should do that.”

For Board Member Lori Drake, going “back and forth” on a position was her challenge.

“Education in Arizona is so sad,” she said.

Though Gesell said that education is an “honorable, noble profession,” Lozano wondered aloud “how many bills can be paid with a pat on the back?”

“I really hate to see you in this position,” Lozano said to the teachers. “I don’t believe we put you there. I believe the legislation’s promises that don’t materialize have put you there.”

Though questions from board member Jim Ledbetter leaned toward keeping the school open on Thursday, it was he who motioned that the board vote to close on Thursday “in light of the other districts” who have committed to also close that day.

-- Follow Bill Helm on Twitter @BillHelm42

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