Editorial: Dual overrides add fuel to school district merger debate
Some will say they are separate and distinct issues, but the doubling up of override extensions for Mingus Union and Cottonwood-Oak Creek should be part of the renewed debate on school district consolidation.
With multiple school districts that have overlapping boundaries in the Upper Verde, a single school district would remove the prospect of voters making either-or decisions when it comes to tax-and-spend ballot measures.
Mingus and Cottonwood-Oak Creek put special emphasis on the decades-long voter support they have received with the current overrides. Further, they are careful to remind folks that the November ballot measures are override “extensions.” Tax-wise, they maintain the status quo; they will not cause an increase in property taxes.
But let’s face it, the Average Joe does not make such fine distinctions when they see the word “override” on the ballot. Few understand there is a difference between a maintenance and operations override vs. a capital override. Many consider overrides and bond issues one and the same. And when multiple school districts that draw from the same voter pool come at you with either a bond or override seemingly every two years, you can’t help but wonder when voters will say enough is enough.
That very thing happened in November 2014 when Cottonwood-Oak Creek and Mingus pitched a bond issue and capital override on the same ballot. Further complicating the issue was a Yavapai County ballot question seeking a sales tax increase to build a county jail. All of which came at a time when not all were convinced we were seeing some light at the end of the recessionary tunnel that began its squeeze play in 2007.
In the end, local voters found favor with Cottonwood-Oak Creek. The Mingus override and the county jail sales tax measures were rejected.
The mindset that override “extensions” are a given in the Upper Verde plays like an over-confident gambler who is dealt a pair of deuces. Voters are not obligated to vote yes, especially when put in the position of having two different school districts asking for money at the same time.
In fact, voters are not obligated to say yes at all. In Camp Verde, for example, voters emphatically rejected budget override questions in 2007 and 2012.
And some schools find ways of getting the job done without ever asking voters to pitch in a little more. A classic case in point is the Beaver Creek School District, which has never had an override.
In the case of the Mingus and Cottonwood-Oak Creek overrides, yes, we should support both of them. State aid to local schools is not what it once was. There has been a continuous shift from the state to local taxpayers to make our schools the best they can possibly be. We need to do that.
But for Cottonwood-Oak Creek and Mingus, they need to realize that their sales approach on such tax-and-spend plans would be more palatable if voters were being asked once, not twice at the same time, to say yes.
It’s the same pond of voters, and not all of those fish are going to bite both hooks.