Unification ballot questions not clear

Tim Carter

Tim Carter

Yavapai County School Superintendent Tim Carter told the Mingus Union School Board Tuesday morning that he hopes some changes are made before the Unification election is held Nov. 4.

The first change is the language of the two ballot questions relating to whether Mingus Union High School and Cottonwood-Oak Creek school districts will be unified. Not only does Carter think the language is confusing, but it could cause the creation of a new high school district in the Clarkdale-Jerome school system.

Carter met with MUHS board members during the board's two-day workshop retreat Monday and Tuesday at the Verde Valley Medical Center.

"They did not seem to care about the details of how this would be implemented," Carter said of the ad hoc commission overseeing the unification votes in several Arizona counties.

The Arizona Legislature authorized the formation of the special committee to research and recommend that some school districts put the question to their voters as to whether they should be unified. The idea was to reduce the cost of administration by reducing the number of separate districts.

That committee originally identified C-OC, MUHS and Clarkdale-Jerome school districts as an opportunity to consolidate three districts into one. But the same committee decided to remove Clarkdale-Jerome from the ballot. Carter gave two reasons for the committee's decision. The first is simply that the committee felt voters in the Clarkdale-Jerome School District were certain to vote down the question. That would mean that another election would have to be held - and paid for - by C-OC and MUHS districts. The other reason is that the Yavapai-Apache Nation could object to the election results.

"You cannot change their voting rights without their permission," Carter said about the possible impact of the election on the Nation.

Mingus board member Andy Groseta said people will not understand the language of the ballot questions.

Carter agreed. "People could very easily misinterpret the ballot question."

The ballot language in question has to do with both question 1 and question 2.

Question 1 currently reads: "Should Mingus Union High School District #4 be subdivided with boundaries identical to the boundaries of Cottonwood-Oak Creek School District #6 and Clarkdale-Jerome School District #3 to become a political subdivision of the State of Arizona?"

Question 2 now reads: "Do you support the unification of the subdivided portion of the Mingus Union High School District #4 with boundaries identical to the boundaries of the Cottonwood-Oak Creek School District #6 to create one unified school district as a political subdivision of the State of Arizona to provide instruction in preschool programs for pupils with disabilities and in kindergarten and grades one through twelve?"

This is the actual unification vote. A "yes" vote would approve unification of MUHS and C-OC. A "no" vote would deny unification. But Question 2 isn't even relevant unless Question 1 is approved.

Carter said that the Yavapai County Attorney's Office says that a "yes" vote on both questions would not only unify the two districts but also create a new high school district within the Clarkdale-Jerome system. "I would appoint five board members," Carter said.

"We need some legislative resolution to this," Carter said. He said if a new district is created Clarkdale-Jerome voters will expect division of MUHS assets.

"It will be a legal mess, and it will be a mess for a long time," Carter said.

He wants an amendment to the legislation that would use language that prohibits the formation of new districts as a result of unification votes. "It flies in the face of this legislation," Carter said.

Help may be on the way.

Carter said Sen. Linda Gray, the author of the 2005 Redistricting/Unification Law, likely will propose an amendment that could clear up the language of the ballot questions, and it could also decide whether a vote on unification could create a new district.

Carter said the amendment must be in place no later than July 1.

Board members and Carter also hope Gray's amendment will clear up some other matters having to do with the information pamphlet that must be sent to voters in the districts in question. Some of those have to do with public comment in response to the pamphlet.

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