Upper Verde school district consolidation is much like a 24-hour television marathon of The Twilight Zone.
“I’ve seen this one before.”
For decades now, we’ve done countless re-runs of our own personal soap opera called consolidation.
Get ready for another one.
This past week saw a series of emails exchanged between Mingus and Cottonwood-Oak Creek personnel about setting up a joint meeting of the two school boards. In the words of MUHS Board Member Lori Drake, the meeting “would be a prime opportunity to discuss the mutual concerns and benefits of consolidation for our students.”
The problem with this is that we’ve done it before. Not just with the two current school boards, but with countless versions of their elective predecessors. As current Cottonwood-Oak Creek School Board Member Jason Finger recently explained, school district consolidation has consumed most of his board service for the past 12 years.
Upper Verde school board members, both past and present, have been very good at talking about consolidation, but they have failed miserably at actually moving forward with it. Both Mingus and C-OC have been guilty of having cold feet when the other was ready to step up to the matrimonial altar. Mingus was the willing dance partner in 2010 when then MUHS President John Tavasci Jr. said, “Moving forward with unification makes good sense.” It took only a few months for Cottonwood-Oak Creek to call off the engagement, citing no confidence in the Mingus Union High School administration.”
Fast forward to 2018 when Cottonwood-Oak Creek’s board voted to ask the county school superintendent to call an election on school district consolidation. It was Mingus’ turn this time to do everything in its power to make sure that didn’t happen, culminating with a successful legal challenge to stop an election prompted by a citizen petition process.
It bears emphasis that local voters have had the chance to voice their preference in the past for a unified school district vs. layered taxing districts for six Upper Verde schools. Never has that happened with the unified blessing of our elected school boards.
We first voted on consolidation in March 1998 in an election prompted by a citizen petition drive. We again voted consolidation down in November 2008 in an election dictated upon the local electorate by the state. As summarized in an October 2008 Verde Independent editorial, “The people in the Upper Verde Valley need to be the ones who devise the framework for what school district unification will become, not the State of Arizona.”
We came “this close” to voting on it again in November, but Mingus prevailed in a legal challenge to stop the election.
So here we are again. Our local school boards want to have a meeting to talk about consolidation, when nothing in our history should give confidence that they actually will accomplish anything.
If our local school board officials want to inspire public confidence on this issue they need to quit with the meaningless talk and actually do something.
Both boards need to have a public vote -- in the affirmative -- asking the Yavapai County School Superintendent’s Office to put the consolidation question on the ballot.
Ultimately, as has been the case throughout our history, consolidation is an issue that is best left up to local voters.
They are smart enough to figure out the best education model for Upper Verde Valley schools.
-- Dan Engler