Like death and taxes, it seems we just can’t get rid of the issue of school district unification and consolidation in the Verde Valley.
In 2012, the long-debated and hotly contested debate on this marriage of school districts will come before us again on two fronts.
First, in early January, the Mingus Union and Cottonwood-Oak Creek school boards will meet to discuss the sharing of administrative services between the two districts.
Second, the Arizona Legislature is requiring county school superintendents in Arizona to study the feasibility of either unification or consolidation for the school districts within their jurisdiction. The stated goal of this Joint Legislative Study Committee is to increase student achievement while reducing administrative costs and to put more money into the classroom. Committee members include Yavapai County School Superintendent Tim Carter and Cottonwood-Oak Creek School District Director of Business Services David Snyder.
It’s doubtful if either effort will shed new light on the subject in the Upper Verde Valley. Over the past three decades, we have beaten this horse to death with the status quo always winning out over unification or consolidation.
But if it is to have a chance at all, for once we need to see some bold political leadership on this issue. Too often in the past, our elected school boards have acquiesced their responsibility on this issue to their administrative staffs. The administrators, in turn, have come up with studies that reflect negatively on unification and in effect protect their jobs.
This trend became ridiculous during the last unification effort when Mingus and Cottonwood-Oak Creek got into a petty fight over the quality of school lunches served by C-OC.
Over and over we have seen what happens when school boards let their administrative teams get too involved in the decision on unification/consolidation.
Meanwhile, there are hundreds of examples – make that success stories -- all over the state of unified school districts. Likewise, we can look to communities like Kingman and Benson that have successfully negotiated the waters of unification/consolidation and have come out of it for the better.
Unless the Mingus and Cottonwood-Oak Creek school boards, and even the Clarkdale-Jerome board, enter this next round of unification with a new attitude, we should expect the same outcome we’ve experienced over the past 30 years.
If it is to happen at all, it will be from bold political leadership.