Divide-and-conquer could be path to unification of Upper Verde school districts

The political version of "divide and conquer" is the newest wrinkle in the decades-old debate about merging the three school districts in the Upper Verde Valley.

Consolidation, unification or whatever you want to call it has been bantered about in one form or fashion in the Upper Verde since the early 1950s. It began with a merging of high schools from Cottonwood, Clarkdale and Jerome into the single Mingus Union School District. Since then, the issue has come and gone in various forms all centered around the one basic issue of there being three school districts in the Upper Verde, two of which govern one school each.

It has come to the surface again because of the new School District Redistricting Commission established by the state. Originally, the commission targeted Cottonwood-Oak Creek, Clarkdale-Jerome and Mingus Union as among those that should be merged into a single unified school district.

Since then, Rita Leyva, the Yavapai County representative on the School District Redistricting Commission, has concluded that Clarkdale-Jerome should be excluded from the mix.

Leyva obviously has done her homework. She believes, and probably correctly so, that voters in the Clarkdale-Jerome District will never support any kind of merger, whether it be among all three districts or with one or the other. Because of the way Arizona law reads on such school district mergers, even if voters in C-OC and Mingus districts voted for unification, Clarkdale-Jerome single-handedly could kill it.

Thus the divide-and-conquer approach. Let's say Cottonwood-Oak Creek and Mingus voters approved a consolidation. Clarkdale-Jerome then would have to pay tuition to Mingus for the students who attend the high school. Clarkdale-Jerome might then be convinced to come knocking at the door of the consolidated districts.

Here is another twist. Now, some members of the Cottonwood-Oak Creek School Board have raised objections to having Clarkdale-Jerome excluded from unification consideration. It's only fair to ask if such objections are based on a desire that the three districts should be merged into one? Or, is it because of the knowledge that Clarkdale-Jerome most certainly can, and likely will, kill the deal?

If history is any indication of what to expect, don't hold your breath for either consolidation or unification to happen. The state can only bully its way into the game up to a point. In the end, voters will have the final say.

On the other hand, the Verde Valley has changed dramatically in the past 10 years. It continues to change every day. Newcomers used to living in places with unified school districts are surprised and bemused to learn the Upper Verde has three school districts, especially when they receive their tax bill.

Stay tuned.

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