Fri, May 24

School boards begin <br>business of unification

The meeting room of the Cottonwood Oak Creek District Office was filled to capacity Wednesday as two local school boards met to discuss a variety of issues before officially merging July 1, 2001.

Before any decisions could be made, confused board members required several clarifications from C-OC Superintendent John Tavasci regarding the methods of approving actions.

Because the 10 members are not officially unified, Tavasci explained, actions must be ratified by the joint board then referred back to the individual boards for approval.

The first order of business was the nomination of Tom Mulcaire as the joint board's spokesperson. "I'm not ready for this," laughed Mulcaire in response to the motion's approval.

Before approving an intergovernmental agreement designed to expedite the merger of the elementary and high school districts, board members also agreed to retain Quarles and Brady as joint counsel.

Responding to Tom Mulcaire's inquiries about retaining separate counsel for the unified district, board member Rudy Stadelman rebutted, "Anytime, with both boards, there is a potential conflict of interest. Even with new counsel, you can't avoid that." Stadelman added that Quarles and Brady had provided excellent legal counsel. A new firm, he said, would need to be re-educated regarding district business, which would incur additional expense to the unified district.

Intergovernmental agreements were supported by both boards to be later approved by the Yavapai County Attorney’s Office.

"The IGA allows for departments to start working immediately," advised Tavasci.

Board member Buddy Rhodes questioned the financial implications of requiring the two districts’ staffs to begin working together to combine services. "It takes away from the business they're now acting on. It's not something in their current job description," he said.

"The IGA makes it part of their job," retorted Tavasci.

Both boards awarded Tavasci the leadership position of acting superintendent of the unified district. For Rhodes it wasn't a difficult decision: "We already know his number," he said.

As acting superintendent, Tavasci took the leadership role on the issue of division of assets. Advising the joint board, he said that although he could agree that Clarkdale-Jerome residents have a vested interested in the Mingus campus, those assets should remain. This opinion is supported, said Tavasci, by former Arizona School Boards Association attorney Tom Pickrell.

Although questioned by MUHS teacher Chip Currie regarding Pickrell's relationship with the district and Mingus' receipt of a contrasting opinion by its legal counsel, Tavasci remained firm in his conviction to retain the assets of Clarkdale-Jerome.

According to an opinion issued by Quarles and Brady, Clarkdale and Mingus should enter into an intergovernmental agreement (IGA) to determine how to divide up assets.

Board members seemed to be more receptive to pursuing discussions with Clarkdale-Jerome Superintendent Bill Kelly regarding the assets division instead of following Tavasci’s recommendation.

"I don't want to be adversarial," said Mingus board member Kerrie Bluff, who also recommended further discussions with Clarkdale Jerome. "It's a shame we haven't done it sooner."

During the meeting, Tavasci told board members he had not had any discussions with Kelly. Kelly disputes the claim the two have never spoken about the issue.

"Yes, in just a general discussion, we've talked. We've expressed our views," said Kelly. "If he was referring to an in-depth discussion item by item, no we haven't done that but as to a person-to-person visit for 15 minutes, yeah we've talked about it."

Kelly said he attended the board meeting as an observer and understands the administrator's position.

"In November it may become a mute point," he said, referring to six board seats up for grabs in the upcoming election. "You never know how the voters are going to vote."

The unified board is also in the dark as to the name for the new district. During the meeting it was agreed that students should decide the name of the district after discussion turned to removing Oak Creek from the official name.

"A name should be inclusive of all areas in the district," said MUHS Assistant Principal Janet Loy, "Students should have a voice in the naming of this district."

The unified board agreed that students could participate in a contest to name the district. It was the same approach used when students such as Tom Mulcaire decided to name the Cottonwood high school Mingus Union.

"The kids got the right," he said.

Referring to the prospect of students becoming particularly creative in their ballots, Mulcaire quipped, "We just got to throw out the nasty ones."

Discussions regarding the financial impact of unification were addressed by Tavasci, however many issues were relegated to a budget group that Tavasci recommended not form until after the November election.

"Wait until after November. I'm hoping to put together a budget committee starting in January."

The committee will address the impact of combining staff compensation packages as well as the financial impact of such issues as decreases in excess utilities, transportation support, and capital outlay control limits. According to a study conducted by Certified Accountant John Todd in February 1998 during the consolidation effort of the same year, a deficit of $868,295 would have applied to the consolidated district's budget.

Tavasci claims that figure is not applicable to the joint unified district budget, but he advised the board that he would ask Todd about excess utility and transportation calculations.

Both boards agreed to meet jointly every fourth week of the month on alternating Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday evenings at 7 o’clock in the C-OC District board room.