Although voters in local school districts likely will have the final say on unification, the Cottonwood-Oak Creek Governing Board will soon go on record opposing the idea.
The board must respond to the Redistricting Commission by Sept. 15. During a July board retreat, the governing board directed Superintendent Barbara U'Ren to draft a letter stating its position. The board's position is that any positive results of unification would be outweighed by the negative effects.
U'Ren's letter groups the board's opposition into five categories: funding, loss of elementary programming, student achievement, loss of governing board control and philosophical differences (between districts).
Under the heading of funding, the differences between C-OC and Mingus Union High School in salary schedules and benefits worry the governing board and administration. According to research done by the C-OC administration, the discrepancy between the two districts' salary schedules is dramatic. Across the board, Mingus Union teachers are paid considerably more than C-OC teachers. The letter states that the cost to bring C-OC teachers up to the same level as Mingus teachers would be about $750,000 a year.
U'Ren told The Verde Independent there is no state funding source to cover that cost.
Retiree benefits are another area of significant discrepancy. Mingus Union basically provides free health care for retirees. Many retirees also get free health care for their dependents.
Trying to equalize salary, benefits and facility deficiencies would, according to the C-OC board, cause a loss of some elementary programs, including music and physical education teachers. The district also would lose nurses, counselors and librarians.
Of the many negative points listed in the letter, one point that always seems to be of considerable interest to district voters is loss of local control. U'Ren's letter points out that currently three separate boards control the districts in question. Those boards are accountable to their district constituents.
At least to some degree, that local control would be diminished if C-OC were unified with Mingus Union and Clarkdale-Jerome districts.
The board asked to have a couple of minor changes made to the letter before approving it.
Board member Lori Simmons said she liked the detail included in the letter. "It shows we put a lot of thought into it," she said.
Board president Randall Garrison agreed and said that he appreciates all of the thought that went into preparing the letter.
During the same discussion, the board approved holding two public meetings to discuss redistricting with community members. The first meeting, scheduled for 6 p.m. Sept. 12, will provide general information about unification. A second meeting will be scheduled later.