COTTONWOOD - Unification and consolidation will soon, once again, be an issue for local school districts.
The Joint Legislative Study Committee on School District Unification and Consolidation finished its work Monday by voting on a list of recommendations prepared by State Rep. John Fillmore, R- Apache Junction. Although the recommendations now must go to the Speaker of the House, the result of the committee's proposals are that all county superintendents in Arizona will study the feasibility of either unification or consolidation for the school districts within their jurisdiction.
The Joint Legislative Study Committee was established by HB 2219, authored by Fillmore. The purpose of the committee was to study issues regarding unification and consolidation of existing school districts in the state. The ultimate purpose is to develop legislation to encourage unification and consolidation of existing districts.
The stated goal is to increase student achievement while reducing administrative costs and to put more money into the classroom.
Unification is a merger between high school and elementary school districts to become a K-12 district. Consolidation combines only elementary school districts or only high school districts.
School districts can use a process to unify or consolidate without election if all affected governing boards agree.
The study committee comprised legislative members from the house and senate, county superintendents, district superintendents, governing board members, business community representatives, a teacher and a school district business manager.
Tim Carter, Yavapai County School Superintendent, and David Snyder, Cottonwood-Oak Creek School District director of business services, were both appointed to the committee by the President of the Senate.
The committee was charged with completing its work and recommendations by Dec. 31, 2011. Beginning in July, the committee met during each month except November.
Not all of Fillmore's recommendations were given thumbs up by the joint study committee.
In an update of the Dec. 19 meeting, Tim Carter summarized the major points of the proposal that will be forwarded to legislative leaders. He said that, prior to the vote, each committee member, "was given an opportunity to outline what they wanted the committee to consider."
Carter said the most common comments recommended that unification and consolidation should be voluntary in nature. Recommendations also included use of a feasibility study showing both potential savings, if any, and instructional improvement. Another recommendation was for additional funding to be available to districts to help with the costs of planning, transition and implementation of unification and consolidation.
Snyder included additional funding in his written proposal.
"If State funding for unification is not feasible, give school districts wishing to unify the ability to levy local taxpayers for the costs of unification," Snyder stated.
Snyder also proposed that common school districts and high school districts with overlapping boundaries be required to demonstrate through intergovernmental agreements, consortium membership or other means that cost savings and efficiencies are being gained.
"There were no up or down votes taken on any of the proposals, as a whole," Carter said.
Fillmore's proposals passed by the study committee put in motion a statewide effort to study the feasibility of unification and consolidation of school districts.
County school superintendents shall commence a feasibility study by Sept. 15, 2013 for selected districts based on the scope established by the county superintendent.
The legislature would be asked to fund up to $4.5 million that could be used by the county school superintendents and the districts for feasibility study, plan development and implementation costs.
By Sept. 15, 2014, the county superintendent would provide a copy of the feasibility study to the impacted school districts and the State Board of Education.
On or before June 30, 2016, if the State Board determines the feasibility study shows promise, governing boards shall develop, adopt and publish a plan to unify or consolidate.
Carter said there were significant questions and details left unanswered.
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