Thu, May 23

Editorial: As is always the case with consolidation, facts are anything but clear

School district consolidation has never been a simple issue for folks in the Upper Verde.

The facts, suppositions and theories about how to consolidate our local school districts and the resulting impacts of such a merger have been twisted and turned just about every way imaginable.

Both advocates and opponents of consolidation have been guilty of picking and choosing facts, and inventing a few along the way, to justify their cause.

Who to believe when it comes to school district consolidation is like asking a politician for a straight answer to a simple question.

Confusing the issue on consolidation is not just a malady confined to folks here in the Verde Valley. Think back to the state-imposed consolidation election of 2008. At the time, County School Superintendent Tim Carter said the ballot language was poorly conceived and lawsuits were certain to follow for districts that merged under the state-mandated plan. The Verde Valley chose not to consolidate then. The school districts that did ultimately proved Carter’s prophecy to be correct.

Last year’s attempt to consolidate the Mingus Union and Cottonwood-Oak Creek districts was based on new legislation from the office of District 6 State Sen. Sylvia Allen. Over time, it was discovered the bill overlooked the impact consolidation would have on a Joint Technical Education District; in our case the Valley Academy of Career and Technical Education. Ultimately, last year’s consolidation effort ended up in the scrap heap following a legal challenge by Mingus.

This year, Sen. Allen is at it again; this time with legislation that clearly answers and resolves the concerns about the impact consolidation would have on VACTE.

Other parts of Sen. Allen’s new bill – SB1073 – are not so clear.

The biggest head-scratcher comes in subsection G.

It reads: “If a majority of the votes cast in each district that is proposed to be consolidated approve the consolidation, the districts are consolidated and become one district …”

It continues: “If parts of two or more school districts are proposed to be consolidated … a majority of the voters’ votes cast in the part of the school district or districts proposed for consolidation must approve the consolidation.”

That makes it clear as mud. Does it mean that there must be separate and distinct elections in each of the three impacted districts in the Upper Verde, and each requires approval by voters for consolidation to occur? Or, does it mean there will be just one election to be decided by the voters of the merged C-OC and Mingus districts, with Clarkdale-Jerome voters locked out of the process?

If it’s the former, then it’s conceivable a minority number of voters – those in the Clarkdale-Jerome District – could single-handedly defeat consolidation even though a majority of the total votes supported it.

If it’s the latter, the folks in Clarkdale-Jerome have every right to cry foul. It would be akin to a person successfully getting a divorce without the spouse having been served with papers.

Neither scenario offers any hope for a happy ending to this story.

But that comes with the territory when talking school district consolidation.

The facts are always fuzzy.

A blind man with a cane would feel right at home walking down this road.