Last gasp for unification?

Where do we go from here?

With three new Mingus School Board members potentially poised to turn the tables on district unification in January, Thursday’s joint unified board meeting would seem like an exercise in futility.

But acting Superintendent John Tavasci says he’s been directed by both governing boards to oversee the unification process and that’s just what he’s intending to do.

"I hope to answer questions the new board members have," he said. "To be a source of accurate information."

Responding to the unified board’s invitation, Clarkdale-Jerome Superintendent Bill Kelly and his governing board will also be in attendance.

"They haven’t asked me one thing other than to come to their board meeting," said Kelly. "They know what our position is, you’ve printed it a couple times. Our position is the right to assets."

Kelly contends he can not provide precise numbers on asset division, but estimates primary and secondary assessed values should be considered at 13.6 and 13.9 percent, respectively.

"There would have to be an audit to determine which is which to come up with an accurate figure," he said.

But not everything boils down to dollars and cents, said Mingus Union High School Superintendent John Christensen.

"One issue would be what are they looking at in terms of the monies, but also, are there ways to help coordinate with them, anything under a unified district that we could assist with or they could assist us. Just because they’re not a part of us doesn’t mean there aren’t services we can share," he explained.

Kelly’s posture is equally conciliatory, "I will go in a positive mode," he said. "I don’t want to break down bridges so we can’t work together. We need to work to provide good programs for kids and let personal feelings subside."

Denise Briedenbach also is looking for cooperation regardless of the progress of district unification. As food service director for the elementary district, Briedenbach is hoping the unified board will continue to support the high school’s participation in the National School Lunch Program.

"My bottom line is I need to know if I will be helping to run the program at Mingus," she explained. "I need to know whether to go forward. I can’t send applications when it’s still up in the air."

The high school’s inclusion in the elementary district’s food program will potentially impact hundreds of students currently participating in free and reduced meals in the middle school who have no follow-up program available when entering Mingus.

The high school campus is already listed as a site with the C-OC District, however, an IGA has yet to be approved by that district’s board, which gives a green light to the application process.

"The Mingus board has approved it but my board has not," said Briedenbach.

And neither board has perused the results of policy changes resulting from the combining of the high school and elementary districts.

But according to Tavasci, weeklong meetings with Arizona School Board Association staff are scheduled to begin Jan. 24 and may shed some light on the results of the consolidation of policies.

"Ninety percent of the policies are similar but even so we’ll go through every single one," Tavasci said. "It’s grueling."

Tavasci foresees the greatest changes will be in the personnel section. "Things like leaves, salary schedules, benefits, retirement, sick and professional leave and those kinds of policies," he explained.

But like any population governed by specific rules and standards, the unified district will also rely on a unified mission to supply direction for its staff and students.

"It’s the thing you want people to remember about your school," said Christensen. "It’s the driving force for a school district." The high school superintendent is leading the development of a unified district mission statement and has requested board members return their proposals by Dec. 15. He maintains a mission statement is an appropriate starting place for the new unified district for it defines its goal and purpose.

"The whole district is responsible for student performance, it’s not just high school," he said emphasizing the impact of AIMS testing. "We can do that unified or not but there will be more emphasis on student achievement at K-8 level (if unified) because they’re going to hold us accountable. It becomes more and more important to work together."

According to Tavasci, the uncertainty surrounding district unification is creating a challenge for those staff members whose job it is to pursue the merging of services.

"It takes a 110-percent commitment to tackle the work load," he said. "There’s a reluctance on the staff. It’s a huge job to do and many feel that unification is not going to pass, that it’s going to be defeated. We need to be given direction from our new governing board. That’s the board’s role. This is what we want our school to look like and you go do it."

Thursday’s meeting includes an introduction to the six new school board members of the Cottonwood-Oak Creek and Mingus Union Districts.

The meeting begins at 7 p.m. at the C-OC District Office, at the corner of Mingus and Willard.

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