TRUSTED NEWS LEADER FOR COTTONWOOD, CAMP VERDE & THE VERDE VALLEY
Thu, Nov. 21

Letter: This program is actually a savings for school district

Editor:

As I am about to leave my "adopted home" for 30 years, I feel compelled to thank the residents of this grand Verde Valley for allowing me the opportunity to serve them and their endearing children The Mingus Union students have kept me young at heart and left me with a million amazing memories. They have taught me more than I could have ever imagined and I truly hope that they feel that way about me.

Before I depart from this extraordinary establishment, I must share my thoughts with the taxpayers about some of the misunderstandings being distributed through our public information process. First of all, the retirement health benefit, so often mentioned in the paper, was not initiated by only the staff members at Mingus. It was a joint decision made by the school board, administration, and staff to save the public money. I would like to use myself as an example of how this program works. By my retiring in June, the district will easily realize, in only one year, enough savings to pay for my insurance. Simply put, by allowing an experienced teacher with a higher salary to retire, and replacing that teacher with one who is lower on the salary schedule, a huge amount of money is saved. This program is actually a district savings.

Secondly, this program is not funded by the taxpayers in "addition" to all the benefits our staff receives. Our staff has elected year after year to continue this taxpayer savings effort by voting to request smaller raises or freezes of our wages and benefits. I, myself am on only the 17th pay grade level after 30 years. Those freezes were my choice, as they have been for all of the staff at Mingus.

Third, and most importantly, in all that time we have never jeopardized the educational opportunities of the students of the Verde Valley. Since I was hired at Mingus, many years ago, we have not only maintained one of the highest standard of excellence in the state, we have improved on that effort. We have added more fine arts programs, more English, math, social studies and science classes. We have an outstanding CTE program. We have increased the sports offerings also.

We now have soccer and swimming programs and a full time athletic trainer. All of our sports programs are the envy of most school districts in Arizona, for sure in the Grand Canyon Region. We offer over 25 clubs and in most cases the advisors are unpaid.

Our students earn almost $2 million each year in scholarships, both academic and athletic, saving their parents the anguish of possibly telling their children that they might not be able to live their dream. We are one of only a few districts in the state that doesn't have "pay to play" and have refused to cut programs, despite the fact that we lost much of our revenue when Sedona formed their own school district.

I am extremely proud to say that in a small way, I have helped to encourage Mingus students to become doctors, lawyers, computer scientists, business owners, artists, musicians, athletes, trades workers, teachers, and even board members. I definitely don't want to forget all the tremendous commitments of the many young Mingus students that are protecting my right to live and work in this great country. I would like to close by stating that I, too, am a taxpayer who has raised children here and will always continue to support the dedicated and unselfish efforts of the staff of the Mingus Union High School district.

John J. Uidenich

Teacher, coach, bus driver, mentor, tutor, and club advisor

Cottonwood

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