Commentary: Clarkdale-Jerome most interesting piece in consolidation puzzle

Should consolidation occur, the district would get its wish. Clarkdale-Jerome would become an independent school district, no longer co-existing within the Mingus Union district boundaries. Its property owners would pay taxes only to the Clarkdale-Jerome School District. That may sound good on the surface, but the devil obviously lies in the details.

It’s still not a certainty that school district consolidation will be on the November 2018 general election ballot.

But should that happen, the Clarkdale-Jerome impact figures as one of the most intriguing pieces of the unification puzzle.

Like Cottonwood-Oak, the Clarkdale-Jerome School District currently co-exists within the boundaries of the Mingus Union School District. That means where ever you live in the Upper Verde Valley, you pay two layers of property tax for separate elementary and high school districts.

Two of those three school districts – Mingus and Clarkdale-Jerome -- have one school each.

Should unification succeed, the Upper Verde would then have two school districts. Clarkdale-Jerome would remain as a K-8 district, outside the boundaries of the new consolidated district. Mingus and Cottonwood-Oak Creek would become unified as a K-12 district within the boundaries that now make up Cottonwood-Oak Creek.

A successful unification of Mingus and Cottonwood-Oak Creek would do away with the current dual property tax bills now received for separate elementary and high school districts.

But in the case of Clarkdale-Jerome, it also means the school would have to pay tuition for its students advancing to high school as it no longer would co-exist in the Mingus Union district.

According to Clarkdale-Jerome Business Manager Kristy Aston, Clarkdale-Jerome property owners would pay a higher tax rate than they currently do “to include the cost of tuition for the high school students” if consolidation is successful.

That much we know. What is not quite so clear is how that inflated singular Clarkdale-Jerome tax rate would compare to what district property owners currently pay to both Clarkdale-Jerome and Mingus Union under the present system.

In addition, Clarkdale-Jerome voters need to clearly understand the financial impact of having their school pay tuition for students to attend high school in the new K-12 district.

Is one tax rate under consolidation a better deal for property owners than the current education model where everyone pays two separate tax rates for elementary and high school education?

Would a singular inflated tax rate exclusively for Clarkdale-Jerome property owners cover the costs for high school tuition? Would it be money that simply follows the student up each rung of the educational ladder? Would it be a wash, or would it leave Clarkdale-Jerome with less money than it currently receives to fulfill its educational mission?

Those are among the key questions that need to be answered in the months to come should consolidation be decided by voters in November.

From the very onset of this process, the Clarkdale-Jerome School Board made it perfectly clear that their district would not take part in discussions about consolidation. If Cottonwood-Oak Creek and Mingus Union decide to consolidate, they would do so without Clarkdale-Jerome.

Clarkdale-Jerome wants to be left alone.

Should consolidation occur, the district would get its wish. Clarkdale-Jerome would become an independent school district, no longer co-existing within the Mingus Union district boundaries. Its property owners would pay taxes only to the Clarkdale-Jerome School District.

That may sound good on the surface, but the devil obviously lies in the details.

What’s most interesting is the power Clarkdale-Jerome voters have over the entire process. Clarkdale-Jerome may want to have absolutely nothing to do with consolidation, but their voters still get to vote on it.

If the vote on consolidation is close, the voice of Clarkdale-Jerome voters may speak loudest of all.

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