New opinions, deadline changes and absences <br>Unification still up in the air<br>

It was arguably one of the most controversial votes of the new year for the Cottonwood-Oak Creek School Board.

But due to the absence of School Board President Mike Mulcaire and Board Member Rudy Stadelman, the vote on school unification was tabled during Monday night's C-OC school board meeting.

Both men also were not present to hear two of the most recent legal opinions regarding district unification.

Delaying the vote was necessary, said Board Member Marilyn Sward.

"It was the only reasonable thing to do," explained Sward. "After all, the decision needs to be made by the whole board and not just three people."

Family and personal responsibilities were the reasons given by Mulcaire and Stadelman for their absenteeism.

"I had to be a dad," said Mulcaire.

"I called John (Tavasci) at 6 p.m to let him know," Mulcaire said. "My kids are my top priority."

Stadelman said his absence was due to a personal matter, but was confident his position on unification had already been expressed during last month's town hall.

Unfortunately, neither Stadelman nor Mulcaire were present when Tavasci notified board members of two new legal opinions regarding the unification issue.

"For your information," said Tavasci, "I have called Charles Herf if a new board seated in January 2000 could dissolve the adopted resolution of the existing board in January of 2001 if they wanted?"

Herf, the district's legal counsel, advised Tavasci the new board could rescind the unification vote.

Stadelman wasn't swayed; "I wouldn't make a vote with the idea that it was tentative," he said. "I think that's a cop out."

Mulcaire, however, said the prospects of a new vote provides the public to have a more decisive hand deciding the issue of unification. "I think it's an excellent idea," he said. "Candidates could run on a platform. It could turn a vote of the people through an election of the school board."

Tavasci also informed board members that he received an opinion regarding the Aug. 1 deadline for notifying the Joint Legislative Committee of the two districts' desire to unify.

"The good news is there is no deadline and the bad news is there is no deadline," quipped Tavasci. "I was really looking for closure on the issue of unification."

According to Tavasci, there is nothing in the most recent statute that addresses a specific date for districts to notify the state of an intent to unify.

For Sward, ignoring the deadline is not an option. "I don't know about this," she said. "If they want the money, the districts have to notify them by Aug. 1. I don't know anybody who wants to turn down $3 million."

If the school board decides to pursue unification by Aug. 1, a special board meeting must be scheduled so a vote can be taken.

Monday night's meeting was sparsely attended with just two community members speaking before the board regarding the unification issue.

Trishia Hance urged the board to vote yes on unification and "change the course of education in Cottonwood." She advised the board not to ignore the deadline and argued in support of curriculum articulation, program coordination, uniform procedures and policies and one district-wide mission.

Verde Village resident Mary Zampelli also spoke to the board relaying her sentiments regarding its fiduciary responsibilities to local taxpayers.

"What I'm trying to get across is to get the most out of taxpayer money," said Zampelli. "I'm disgusted with the whole picture. They don't seem to have any concern what they do with taxpayer money."

During her presentation to board members, Zampelli further defined her position on a unified district for the Cottonwood area.

"If only three representatives of the Board of Supervisors for the county of Yavapai can manage some 89 square miles with their budget and varied responsibilities...," explained Zampelli. "...it makes sense to me that one superintendent should be able to manage a school district combining three separate districts that now require the management of three different entities or at least two since Clarkdale-Jerome has the autonomy they desire."

Mulcaire said he would talk to board members and Tavasci to determine if a special meeting should be called before Aug. 1.

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