Editorial: School closure debate was exercise in civil discourse with emphasis on civility

Closing down a school is usually a nightmare for a school board and its administration.

We saw it with the tug of war between the former Tavasci School and Cornville’s Oak Creek School. We’ve seen it with the declining enrollment problem in the Sedona-Oak Creek Unified School District and the threat of closing the Village of Oak Creek’s beloved Big Park School.

We saw it again this year with the realignment of three schools consolidated into two kindergarten through eighth-grade schools in the Cottonwood-Oak Creek District. The fallout of that decision will involve the shuttering of Cottonwood Elementary School, with a portion of the facility being converted into an early childhood learning center.

For Cottonwood-Oak Creek, shutting down one of its schools was not nearly as threatening as its impact on staffing. The district likewise feels Sedona’s declining enrollment pain and has 30-plus empty classrooms throughout the district this year. Closing down a campus was the responsible thing to do.

The struggle for Cottonwood-Oak Creek involved personnel. Superintendent Steve King wanted to see this transition through without having to lose employees. Credit him for being loyal to his staff.

A divided school board, however, saw this campus closure as an opportunity to trim administrative costs and re-channel those dollars into the classroom primarily through improved teacher salaries.

In the end, the two sides found middle ground in a principal-assistant principal model for the two schools. It did not represent the degree of austerity sought by some board members, but still resulted in an overall cost savings of $180,000.

The best outcome in all of this was when we closed down a school without the debate becoming ugly. This was truly an exercise in civil discourse with an emphasis on civility. Superintendent King picked the right fight in choosing Cottonwood Elementary for closure. This no doubt would have played out differently had Cornville’s Oak Creek School again been on the chopping block.

On the issue of personnel, the issue was fiercely, but respectably, debated. Compromise was reached, and the bottom line was improved.

This one was well played by the community, teachers, administration and school board.

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