VW Settlement to Net 5 New Buses for AJUSD

Jan. 8th School Board meeting

By Dana Trumbull

School Buses Awarded

Apache Junction Unified School District Superintendent Dr. Krista Anderson received word on Friday, January 4, that the district had been awarded funding for five school buses through the Volkswagen lawsuit settlement. With $110,000 per bus allocated, the district will receive $550,000 for the purchase.

“The most we could get was 10% of our fleet, and we have about 50 buses, so five was the most we could receive,” Anderson explained. To qualify for replacement, buses had to be at least 15 years old, with over 100,000 miles logged. “I can promise you,” she added, “after this year, we will have about 10 more buses that would qualify. Unfortunately, there won’t be any additional funding.”

Despite being commonly referred to by legislators and the media as “state funding,” the monies for the buses are actually the result of a settlement between the US Department of Justice and Volkswagen.

In September 2015, Volkswagen executives admitted to rigging 11 million diesel vehicles worldwide with software designed to cheat emissions tests. Because of the scandal and resultant lawsuits, German automaker Volkswagen AG (VW) agreed to spend up to $14.73 billion to settle allegations of cheating emissions tests and deceiving customers.

Arizona’s share of the Volkswagen Environmental Mitigation Trust is estimated to be nearly $57 million, with funds earmarked for school buses and equipment for wildland fire crews and the Arizona Department of Transportation.

(More information HERE, as reported by The AJ/GC News on July 14, 2018.)

Officers Elected

The first order of business at the Tuesday, January 8 Apache Junction Unified School District Governing Board meeting was to elect officers for the calendar year of 2019. Jodi Ehrlich was unanimously confirmed as the president of the board, continuing in the position she has held for two years.

“I think you’ve done a really good job keeping us organized and being a leader for the board,” said nominator Cami Garcia.

“You take suggestions well and you’ve adapted well,” added Board Member Christa Rizzi. “If you’ll have us, we’d love to have you.”

Cami Garcia was unanimously voted into the position of vice-president.

Strategic Plan Indicators

Dr. Anderson introduced two new tools to help track the district’s progress toward improvement goals: the Strategic Plan Measurement Indicators and Strategic Plan Scorecard. “Over the course of the last two years, we have identified data to determine if are moving toward the goals we set in the Strategic Plan. The Scorecard shows where the district falls in accomplishing these goals, and the Measurement Indicators contain the data to support that score. This is a 3-year plan, so at the end of the 20-21 school year, we want to be able to see how we progressed from where we were in the 17-18 school year.”

A few of the areas where AJUSD has progressed toward the set goals include:

“AJUSD will increase the percentage of students who graduate from AJHS.”  On a scale of 1-5, the district currently ranks at 4, with a graduation rate “at or above 88%.”

Increasing volunteer participation scored a 4, with volunteer participation up by 30%.

The district is also making headway increasing the number of students taking the SAT or ACT tests, increasing the CTE (Career & Technical Education) certification rates, increasing employee professional development, aligning financial expenditures with the district’s strategic plan, retaining classified (support) employees and providing a salary and compensation package that is comparable to neighboring districts.

While acknowledging that there is still a lot to be accomplished, administrators are now able to track progress toward these goals, while working continuously toward improvement.

Gallup Student Poll

Assistant Superintendent Dr. Jennifer Cruz reviewed the results of an annual national Gallup Student Poll for 5th through 12th grade. This was the second year that AJUSD has participated. The anonymous survey measures student engagement, hope, entrepreneurial aspirations and career and financial literacy.

Student participation is voluntary and was hampered by timing; the 3-week survey window opened during the first week of the district’s two-week fall break. 66% of eligible students participated.

“The number of students talking about graduating from high school has gone up,” said Cruz. “Hopeful students are more likely to be engaged in school. That means they go to school more often. We want our kiddos to feel like they are on a pathway to success. We need them to be engaged, and we need them to be more hopeful about their future outcomes.”

The district plans to implement Stanford Harmony curriculum at the elementary schools in the near future. The curriculum helps teach students skills like communication, problem solving and how to interact with peers in age-appropriate ways.

“We have students who have represented us well in youth empowerment and town halls and student council leadership conferences, among other things, so we’re on our way,” said Cruz, “but we know that we have a lot of work to do.”

CCJH Course Catalog

Dr. Cruz presented the draft version of the 2019-2020 Cactus Canyon Junior High course catalog. “It is our hope that the junior high course catalog kind of bulks up, explaining the trajectory we’re trying to get to with our students as they work toward graduating high school.” Cruz stated that there are more courses being offered than will actually be implemented. “We offer the catalog, find out what the student [elective] interests are and then manage staffing according to that.”

The catalog will also include information about the Central Arizona College Promise for the Future program, reminding students and parents of the availability and requirements for this scholarship program, which is unique to Pinal County. Each year, 8th grade students are offered the opportunity to sign a promise note from CAC. Students who then graduate from a Pinal County high school with a 2.75 GPA and 20 hours of community service can get two years at CAC tuition-free. “Every one of our students has that opportunity,” commented Anderson. “We need to make sure they are aware of that.”

Other Business

The board unanimously approved the AJHS course catalog, which was presented at the December board meeting.

They also approved the Intergovernmental Agreement formally leasing Dinosaur Park to Pinal County, as approved by the Pinal County Board of Supervisors in December. The agreement will go into effect upon the sale or long-term lease of Gold Canyon Elementary School, ensuring that the park will remain available to the community for a minimum of ten years, with annual renewals available thereafter.

Read the December 2018 Administrator’s Reports HERE.

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