Unification will not go away

Unification, consolidation, reorganization or whatever you want to call it ... has once again come and gone in the Verde Valley.

In past years, the issue has been a merging of the Cottonwood-Oak Creek, Mingus Union and Clarkdale-Jerome school districts. In legal terms, this is called consolidation. When presented to voters in March 1998, it was thoroughly defeated.

Local control prevailed.

Last week, school board members rejected a proposal to merge the Cottonwood-Oak Creek and Mingus Union school systems into a single district. This process was called unification. Among its differences from consolidation was a modified law that allowed the issue to be decided by the two school boards. It was endorsed in a split vote by the Mingus Union board and subsequently rejected in a split vote by the Cottonwood-Oak Creek board.

The 1998 election had more to do with unification's rejection than did the merits of the issue. The election was still too fresh in the minds of many people. Those board members who rejected unification believed the issue already had been decided where it counted most — at the ballot box.

It is hard to argue with their logic.

But it is interesting to note that the final vote to kill unification — at least for now — came down to a single vote. Cottonwood-Oak Creek board members rejected the measure by a single vote.

You can bet this will not be the last time this issue will come before us. As far back as 1952, study groups have put forth various plans to streamline the Upper Verde's school systems. One of those plans resulted in a 1959 election to form the Mingus Union District, which put an end to individual high schools in Cottonwood, Clarkdale and Jerome.

All across Arizona, and certainly at the Legislature, folks are closely examining the basic structure of education in this state. Arizona has more school districts than most states in the Union. As a result, we spend more on education administration than most states. We rank near the bottom of the barrel nationally in per-pupil spending.

Every time annual property tax bills come due, there will be people who question the wisdom and propriety of the school system in the Upper Verde. We have three school districts in the Upper Verde, two of which govern one school each. One cannot help but question the fiscal wisdom of such a structure.

Once people begin asking such questions, another unification or consolidation drive will begin in the Upper Verde.

History, after all, does repeat itself.

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