Editorial: All eyes on Beaver Creek as tiny district looks to expand to K-12 school system

Beaver Creek School Superintendent Karin Ward (left) and Principal Katrina Sacco. VVN/Bill Helm

Beaver Creek School Superintendent Karin Ward (left) and Principal Katrina Sacco. VVN/Bill Helm

The latest wrinkle in Verde Valley school district consolidation discussions very well may be happening across the Valley in the tiny Beaver Creek School District.

In many ways, Beaver Creek’s education system mirrors that of the Clarkdale-Jerome School District. Both are autonomous single-campus kindergarten through eighth-grade school systems.

The big difference is that Clarkdale-Jerome is a feeder school whose boundaries lie within a union high school district. That means Clarkdale-Jerome students can attend Mingus and the district does not have to pay tuition to the high school.

Not so in Beaver Creek. Its boundaries do not overlap those of another school district and so its eighth-grade students can choose whether they want to attend high school in Camp Verde, Sedona or Mingus Union. Beaver Creek, in turn, has to pay tuition to those districts for their students to continue their education at the high school level. The annual price tag for that continuing education is $750,000.

That has prompted Beaver Creek administrators and elected officials to look at how it could expand its district to a K-12 system. Superintendent Karin Ward said the district will “probably have something” by way of high school programming in a “couple of years.”

How this plays into Upper Verde consolidation talks deals primarily with the impact a Mingus and Cottonwood-Oak Creek merger would have on the Clarkdale-Jerome District. As the law on consolidation now stands, a Mingus and C-OC marriage would mean Clarkdale-Jerome would have to pay tuition to the new district for its students who attend high school there. Pro-consolidation leader Andy Groseta is currently pushing for a change in the law that would prevent that.

But if consolidation moves forward under current law, we certainly could expect to see Clarkdale-Jerome take a page from the Beaver Creek School District playbook and expand its system to K-12.

By the same token, should this current consolidation movement fail – as it always has done in the past – who’s to say Cottonwood-Oak Creek will not take a hard look at expanding its offerings to a K-12 system? Cottonwood-Oak Creek already has gone out on a limb and asked that a Mingus and C-OC merger be placed on the ballot, and while no one has said it outright, you get the sense that many in the district believe our best education future is achieved through a K-12 district.

If they truly believe that, would C-OC’s leadership take it upon themselves to form their own K-12 district? It’s been discussed before. Years ago during another of the Upper Verde’s many failed consolidation efforts, former C-OC School Board President Marc Nielsen played that very card. If Mingus does not want to be part of a consolidated district, he said, then Cottonwood-Oak Creek should seriously look at forming its own K-12 district. It was more bluff than anything, as consolidation failed and C-OC moved forward as a K-8 district.

But if Beaver Creek can find a way to make a successful conversion to a K-12 system – and this definitely is an effort that is more action than talk – you can bet Clarkdale-Jerome and Cottonwood-Oak Creek will ask themselves if little Beaver Creek can do it, why can’t we?

For decades, Beaver Creek has been the one school district in the Verde Valley that has flown under the radar. Not so today. Education leaders in Rimrock are taking some bold steps right now, and don’t think for a second it is going unnoticed.

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