Unification approved by Cottonwood-Oak Creek School School Board

It's said one man can make a difference.

On Thursday, Rudy Stadelman was that man.

During a special meeting to decide the controversial unification of the Cottonwood-Oak Creek and Mingus Union school districts, Stadelman voted yes.

"It's a 180-degree turn but under the circumstances I'll have to support unification," explained Stadelman, who until Thursday had remained opposed to the unification measure.

Board members Terry Lay and Buddy Rhodes remained opposed to unification. C-OC School Board President Mike Mulcaire and board member Marilyn Sward supported it.

Sward has led the pro-unification crusade since her appointment to the board in December of last year.

"I didn't have any idea that Rudy was going to change his mind," she said of the surprise turn of events. "But I'm pleased. Everyone knows I've been in favor of unification all along."

Until Thursday, however, Stadelman was indecisive. "Mike (Mulcaire) said he's changed his mind back and fourth on this issue several times over a period of years. I, on the other hand, feel like I've agonized over this issue several times over the last several days."

His uncertaintly turned to decisiveness Thursday.

"It has been my concern that unification would do nothing but jeopardize a well-run district and would not benefit this district a great deal," said Stadelman "But I was reminded by a parent that our children don't stop being our children when they graduate eighth grade and go on to Mingus."

Stadelman admitted that the process of unifying the two districts could be painful but in the end would be a productive change.

"I think we have one of the best-run districts in the state," he explained. "No district is more poised to pull off the inherent morass than ours is."

Verde Village resident Tom Henry was surprised by Thursday's decision.

"I'm not pleased the board was bullied into taking the action they did," he said. "Rudy led everyone to believe he was not in favor of unification and then he worm-turned, so to speak, and let us down."

Henry clarified that he was not anti-unification but opposed to a process that was void of a complete assessment of the risks involved regarding Clarkdale-Jerome's investment in the Mingus Union district.

"I just don't feel comfortable with jumping in by Aug. 1. It just doesn't make economic sense. Clarkdale is going to come out a winner on this financially."

Mingus Union teacher Mike Westcott had a more practical view of the unification vote.

"Because they've chosen to do it, maybe we'll get some complete answers," he said. "I just wish we could have had answers to some of these questions. Maybe it's not such a big deal how we get the answers, just that we do."

Those answers apparently prompted Stadelman to change his vote.

"I knew Rudy was still weighing the issue," explained C-OC Superintendent John Tavasci. "He was talking to a lot of people and asked me a lot of questions about the division of assets and assessed valuations."

Buddy Rhodes remained unconvinced.

"It's better for the kids is a sound bite," he said. "There is no hard evidence it's going to be better. I think students are going to get lost in the shuffle and I think the board is remiss ignoring the vote of the people with no more facts than what we have at this time."

During the meeting, both Mulcaire, Stadelman and Lay suggested that many parents had come forward to express disappointment in their students' experiences at Mingus Union High School.

"I've talked to parents from Mingus who have had a lot of problems and some have told me they are not going to return. I just don't think we should get into Mingus' problems," Lay said before her no vote was cast.

"I was concerned about the negative things said about Mingus," countered MUHS Principal John Christensen. "If there's real concern I would like to know specifically what those concerns are."

Meanwhile, Christensen and Tavasci already have begun the process for the transition to a unified district.

The two met Friday morning for three hours to work out a plan of action.

"We are going to meet with the two board presidents and two business managers," said Tavasci. "We are going to talk to the two presidents and see if they want to create an intergovernmental agreement to share services and develop next year's budget so we can start the process of working together sooner."

"John and I are going to do all the administrative things to make this work," said Christensen.

The 10-member board officially will begin business in July 2001 unless challenged by the newly appointed board members in January.

According to Cottonwood-Oak Creek legal counsel, the new boards of Mingus and C-OC will have an opportunity to rescind the previous board vote if they so choose.

That's an option that sits well with Rhodes.

"If there's a negative feeling by the general populace, it will show up in November," he said. "If that's the case, we'll be revisiting it with the new board and it can be canceled."

Tavasci hopes that doesn't happen.

"I have to believe we can go forward on every front: financially, staffing, curriculum, equipment, everything. You set a goal for the most outstanding K-12 district in Northern Arizona and beyond. I cannot accept the premise we will step backward."

Tavasci also would accept the job of superintendent of the new unified district.

"I hope I can get that opportunity," he said. "It's what I do for a living."

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