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Despite opposition, Kingman school district cuts Mt. Tipton

Contentious issues faced the Kingman Unified School District board Tuesday night, including a controversial budget proposal and the resignation of a popular administrator.

KINGMAN - The Kingman Unified School Board voted 4-1 Tuesday to address a $1.1 million budget gap using a plan that closes Palo Christi Elementary, moves some elementary school students and restructures Mt. Tipton School from a pre-kindergarten through high school to a pre-kindergarten through sixth-grade school.

Board member Laurie Barthlow voted against the plan, saying she wanted more time to understand the budget numbers.

Mt. Tipton parents and some students, including the school valedictorian, protested the restructuring.

"We had the best scores in the district," said Wolfgang Lee, who has nine children who went to the school. "We worked with the board to save that school. Maybe the best thing is to become un-unified from the district."

Emily Clement, the valedictorian, said she stayed at the school because of the athletic programs. She wouldn't have been able to do that traveling back and forth to Kingman. The teachers at the school also helped her excel in her schoolwork and earn a full four-year ride to college.

"My big problem with closing Mt. Tipton is that I can name at least two kids that can do (the Kingman Online Learning Academy)," said student Arianna Nelson. "You will have kids move or drop out. They need attention from a teacher, not a computer screen."

In a prepared statement read to the board, Superintendent Roger Jacks acknowledged that KOLA would not work for all students at Mt. Tipton and some would have to be bused to Kingman.

Jacks also pointed to a letter from the University of Virginia's Darden/Curry Partnership for Leaders in Education, which recommended moving Mt. Tipton to a kindergarten through sixth-grade school because of the district's difficulty finding high school and middle school teachers with certifications to teach more than one subject.

Parent Donna Wickard requested a full audit of the district's financial figures for Mt. Tipton.

Board member Charles Lucero pointed out that the Arizona Department of Education and the federal government audit the district several times during the year and no material findings had been made against the district since 2007. Those audits are also public documents, he said.

Wickard pointed out that the school's Arizona Instrument to Measure Standards results for the last three years have been dropping in almost all categories except 10th-grade math, 10th-grade science and 8th-grade math. Those three teachers were transferred to the Cambridge Academy accelerated learning program in Kingman, she said.

"Have you looked at my plan?" she asked the board, referring to a plan she proposed last month during a public meeting in Dolan Springs. According to Wickard, her plan would restructure the district and save it approximately $2.4 million.

Board members Jeri Brock and Debbie Francis said they had reviewed Wickard's plan.

Brock said it would be unrealistic to bus students to Mt. Tipton from Kingman.

Rebecca Smith, another critic of the restructuring, pleaded with the board to take more time before making a decision.

"We can be closed next week just as easily as we can be this week," she said.

Barthlow said she spoke with Smith one-on-one about Tipton's budget and agreed to compare Smith's findings with the district's findings.

"I thought it would be easy," Barthlow said. "That was foolishness on my part. I'm still very overwhelmed, and that's my shortcoming. I don't think Mrs. Smith is wrong or Mrs. Hubbard [the district's financial director] is wrong.

"I can't shrug my shoulders and just vote."

Lucero, however, said he was ready to make a decision.

"This is a smart plan. It maximizes our resources and leaves us financially healthy," Lucero said. "I have 110 percent confidence in the finances provided to us."

Francis said she, too, had confidence in the numbers provided to the board, even though she didn't fully understand them.

And Brock added that the school board can't please everyone.

"There's no good solution that will make all of us happy," Brock said. "We just have to do the best we can do."


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