Saturday, July 26, 2014

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Brain Drain

PHM0814Flash-1-1Has Arizona declared war on public education?

During the 2013-2014 school year, Peoria Unified School District superintendent Dr. Denton Santarelli held a series of “open chats” with administrators and teachers at each of the district’s more than 40 campuses. They were voluntary, after-hours, and Santarelli didn’t expect high attendance – people are busy, he figured. To his amazement, each discussion was packed with educators. After answering questions from students all day, they had many of their own.

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Ranking Jan

PHM0714Flash-1-1As the sun sets on Jan Brewer’s governorship, PHOENIX magazine looks to the past to put her work in perspective. 22 Arizona governors in all. Ranked for your edification.

Was Jan Brewer a good governor for Arizona? A bad governor? A fair-to-middling governor, maybe in the league of Ernest “Stumpy” McFarland? Meaningful questions to ask as she winds down her historic two-term governorship.

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Helter Shelter

0614PHMHT01Phoenix received national accolades for ending chronic homelessness among veterans. But did we take a victory lap too soon?

John Conneally joined the Navy in 1976 and spent five and a half years aboard an ocean-going mine sweeper. After his service, he enrolled at ASU and joined the Navy Reserve for an additional five years. It was 1981, and the future looked bright. He went on to have a career as a computer programmer, got married and had children, and bought a house and a boat.

But 14 years after his discharge from the military, everything fell apart. “I was once a high-dollar COBOL programmer, but when Y2K ended, guys like me became a dime a dozen. I lost my home, my wife, my kids, my truck, my boat and my dog in a few months,” Conneally, 55, says. “I remember standing in the Salt River bed one night, owning only the clothes I was wearing, and screaming at God.”

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Too Few Good Men?

The dearth of male volunteers for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Arizona reflects a gender disparity in Valley volunteerism at large. Where are all the men?

The unmistakable sizzle of meat hitting hot oil buzzes through the room as eight pairs of big hands help eight pairs of little hands gently present the chicken breasts they’ve just gleefully pounded to the olive oil-coated pans in front of them. The chicken browns to a pale caramel and the little faces look up into the big ones with pride.

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For the Pill of It

Potluck-style teen pharma parties may or may not exist, but Arizona’s pill problem is real. And growing.

"See ya, Mom," the teenage boy says, cheerfully. Too cheerfully.

Instantaneously, it seems, the suburban Valley home is packed with frolicking youths – splashing in the pool, draining beer bongs, delighting in the lack of supervision. It all takes a dark turn when Junior calls the party to order. "Awright," he declares, with no small degree of formality. "Who's holding?"

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Fatal Distraction

Distracted driving causes thousands of accidents and hundreds of deaths in Arizona every year, yet there's no statewide law prohibiting it. Can it wait?

On a clear, still-sunny Monday evening in early May, 33-year-old Jorge Espinoza drives his empty fuel tanker on Interstate 8, about 40 miles east of Yuma. The truck's dashboard camera records two views: the interior cab of the truck, and the rolling ribbon of asphalt in front of the 18-wheeler. The song "She's So High," a one-hit wonder for singer Tal Bachman in 1999, plays on the radio. Espinoza's black leather wallet is propped in front of the cab camera, obscuring its view of him. The camera continues to capture the roaring drone of the wind through a crack in Espinoza's window as it crackles over the strains of the Bachman song.

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Stamped Out

Arizonans feel the SNAP of recent federal nutrition assistance cuts.

Connie McAfee has trained herself to eat only one meal a day. It’s usually dinner, which she eats at about 7 p.m. so she’ll still feel full when she goes to bed at 9 p.m.

“I wait a couple hours before I go to sleep. Then I know I won’t have to worry about eating again later. You shouldn’t have to ration food like that. This sandwich here would last me two days,” McAfee says, pointing to the plain breakfast sandwich – no cheese or mayo because she’s unaccustomed to their richness – she ordered during our interview at Denny’s.

According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, McAfee is one of roughly 1.1 million Arizonans (17 percent of the state’s population) directly affected by last fall’s cuts to the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), the official name for the safety-net program still commonly known as food stamps. SNAP received a temporary funding boost from the 2009 Recovery Act, but the stimulus package ended on Nov. 1, 2013. As of press time, further cuts are being debated as Congress negotiates a final Farm Bill and reauthorizes SNAP.

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