Letter: Focus of school district unification needs to be on improving educational achievement, not money

Editor:

As a 24-year resident of the Verde Valley, I am pleased to see that school district unification is once again being proposed for our communities. There are many bright and educated teachers, support personnel and administrators in school districts no matter the organizational pattern. There are also civic-minded citizens who serve on school boards and are committed to volunteering their time (they aren’t paid, you know) and knowledge to benefit the youth of their districts. I am convinced that a unified school district, unless it becomes too large as happens in some cities, is the most effective organizational pattern.

I’ve worked in unified, elementary and union high school districts.

While a principal in the Washington Elementary District in Phoenix, our graduates fed into the Glendale Union High School District. We had good professional relationships with our high school counterparts, but it was literally impossible to coordinate the goals and objectives of our curriculums. Different boards of education and different central administrations have different goals.

When I was superintendent of the Yuma Union High School District, I had the same kind of experience. We had good personal and professional relationships with most of the leaders in the four elementary districts that fed into our union high school district, but we were never successful in coordinating curriculum goals and objectives.

As assistant superintendent in the Prescott Unified District, my experience was quite different. It was easy to develop a fully articulated curriculum from the primary grades through secondary in all the basic subjects.

Having seen efforts for unification fail in Phoenix, where 13 elementary districts fed into two high school districts, as well as here in the Verde Valley soon after we moved here, I believe that failure was largely due to stressing the wrong outcome … saving money.

Admittedly there are problems in an effort to unify, including differences in existing salary schedules of the affected districts, having one school board rather than three and deciding how to develop a new district administration. I believe the effort has a better chance for success if the focus is on improving educational achievement and outcomes through curriculum coordination rather than on conceivable fiscal savings, which assuredly will happen when services are consolidated as a result of unification.

Dr. Robert L. Browne

Retired Arizona school administrator

Clarkdale

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