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12:56 AM Mon, Nov. 19th

Consulting firm results don't surprise current superintendent, Steve Condict

Superintendent Steve Condict is picking up the pieces of what amounts to a jigsaw puzzle left for him when he took his position last August with the Peach Springs Unified School District.

Following release last Friday of the Receiver's Report, Condict said it contained little that he didn't expect.

One paragraph within the Executive Summary states, "The receiver has proposed five alternative financial plans for the State Board of Education's review. It is the receiver's opinion, given the dire financial situation of the district, that legislative relief, combined with the sale or lease of unused district real property and closure of one or both of the district's schools, is the most probable outcome of the alternatives presented. This outcome likely will result in Peach Springs becoming a transportation-only district.

Only improved enrollment, attendance and performance by the students and community will possibly change this most likely of outcomes."

It was during the August 2005 through June 2007 tenure of Gene Thomas as superintendent that the district entered into and constructed an 11,000 square foot junior high school and administration building. The district also incurred substantial operating overexpenditures and construction debt resulting in the appointment of Veriti Consulting as the receiver last August, the report states.

"Everything is predicated on getting rid of the extra school built without a bonding capacity," Condict said. "That is step one, and if we eliminate it, we can go to the next step."

The community section of the report indicates that, in order to keep all educational services in Peach Springs, four factors must improve - enrollment, attendance, behavior and performance.

The district operates on a four-day week (Monday-Thursday) due to many families allegedly traveling out of town for long weekends and removing their children from classes. In addition, families with children eligible to attend school in Peach Springs send their students outside the district to schools offering more sports programs, extracurricular activities and where there are fewer incidents of violence, the report states.

The drops in enrollment and attendance impact negatively on funding.

The current superintendent struggles to keep students under control and allegedly has met with some opposition from the governing board and community regarding his efforts to discipline students who disrupt classes. This makes it impossible to provide education for those students who want to learn, the report states.

Performance is tied into the other three areas.

Budget problems from $1.5 million of overspending during Thomas' tenure are expected to be corrected within two years. Can the four factors be achieved within that time?

"It probably will be looked at as an extension of the payback time," Condict said. "It's unrealistic within two years unless we have a large primary property tax levy.

"If the Legislature says we can increase the amount of time, it is doable given the nature of the burden of the extra building."

Damon Clarke was Peach Springs superintendent during 2003-2005. He now is in his third year as superintendent of Cedar Unified School District in Keams Canyon, Ariz.

He said Peach Springs was in the black budget-wise when he left.

"We had B bonds approved back in November 2001, and through them, were going to upgrade the track and field at the high school and add playground equipment (at the elementary school)," Clarke said. "We also were looking at adding some teacher housing, along with modular buildings for the seventh and eighth grades.

"If Thomas knew that, why do all the other building?"

The state School Facilities Board was created in the late 1990s to approve all school construction and improvement. Bonds sold before that time were Class A, but a change in statutes following creation of the SFB means all bonds now issued are Class B in designation, a spokesman for Royal Bank of Canada previously told the Miner.

Clarke said Thomas never contacted him for any advice after Clarke left Peach Springs. Had Thomas done so he would have told him to follow the B bonds plan from the election, Clarke said.

Mike File, Mohave County superintendent of schools, also was contacted for reaction to the receiver's report.

It points out Thomas' blatant disregard for advice he offered to keep the district out of financial trouble, File said.

The Colorado City Unified School District is about halfway through a three-year period in receivership.

"One difference (between the two districts) is that three administrators in Colorado City had their certificates revoked the same day the State Board of Education got the receiver's report," File said. "I'm surprised that has not already been done in Thomas' case."