Joint discussions begin tonight between the Mingus Union and Cottonwood-Oak Creek school districts. Held in the C-OC District boardr oom at 1 N. Willard, board members will tackle some of the issues confronting the unified district approved for July 1, 2001.
Superintendents John Christensen of MUHS and John Tavasci of the C-OC District have recommended a chairperson be elected to expedite the joint board’s business until an official 10-member board forms this summer.
“No one has said they actually wanted to do it,” said Christensen. “I’m just assuming it may be Kerrie Bluff or Mike Mulcaire.”
Whoever is elected as the designated leader, Christensen and Tavasci have recommended the joint board approve intergovernmental agreements (IGAs) on policies ranging from transportation, curriculum, food service and personnel. The IGAs will allow the joint board immediate action on various issues facing the new unified district.
“There’s just a lot of things,” said Christensen. “Like transportation: We may not have to buy buses as often. The food service: They can help us with our service over here. For curriculum: Janet Loy and Julie Larson are meeting on a regular basis looking at textbooks and scoping sequences.”
According to Christensen, with IGAs in place, the unified board can approve an action then each board will have to vote to approve the course of action independently in their own district board meetings.
“The IGA actually allows you to make decisions rather than just making recommendations,” explained Christensen.
He also explained that both superintendents would meet with department chairmen or supervisors of each department. “We’re going to say, ‘here is the situation, come back with a plan that benefits the new district and doesn’t hurt anyone in the old district.” Then we’ll see what they come up with,” Christensen said.
One of the most dominant issues to be discussed once IGAs are in place will be the equalization of salary and benefits. These discussions, says Christensen, will be impacted by the results of the November election.
“The biggest thing will be salary, benefits and staffing. The governor’s initiative doesn’t have anything to do with staff other than classroom teachers and the joint vocational district could have a huge ramification on our district. We could receive between $200,000 to 400,000 a year to generate for vocational classes for Mingus if it passes.”
Board members will be requested to authorize Quarles & Brady as its legal counsel for unification issues. They will also be required to sign a waiver of potential conflict of interest. Christensen says the firm’s representation isn’t anything new to either district.
“Historically they’ve represented both districts for 15 to 20 years,” he explained. “It’s about consistency. We know how they think and how they interpret the law. They know us, the community and the board members.”
The firm has also issued an opinion on the division of assets between MUHS and the Clarkdale-Jerome School District.
Attorneys have recommended the development of an IGA with C-J to reconcile a division of assets; “I will have to bow to our lawyers' interpretation what the law presently is. I don’t know what the board will do, the board will have to address that.”
The agenda recommendation by Tavasci and Christensen however, states, “No-one is saying that CJ does not have vested interest and assets at the MUHS campus; what our position should be is to leave those assets there so that CJ students and ours can benefit from them.”
A recommendation that Christensen still supports, “I want everything I can get for our students at Mingus,” he says. “I don’t want to give up assets that can benefit those Clarkdale students.”
According to Christensen, Tavasci is currently in the process of forming a budget group to study other financial impacts of the unified district. “We’re going to look at it so everybody knows what it’s going to cost. If the division of assets takes away some of that incentive money, it will have a huge impact.”
Regarding the impact of a financial loss due to the issue of division of assets, Christensen maintains that dollars shouldn’t mean everything.
“Hopefully that’s not the only reason to unify,” he says. “If that’s the only reason for voting for unification than it’s only a three-year opportunity. We have to see how unification impacts benefits, transportation and the budget.”
The joint board will also discuss a proper name for the new unified district and perhaps more importantly, a decision is also scheduled regarding who will take the responsibility and leadership for unification issues.
Christensen says he’s relieved he’s not a candidate for the job.
“I’m just trying to survive as superintendent and principal at Mingus,” he explains. “My plate is kind of full.”
So, whom will the joint board appoint as acting superintendent of the unified district?
“John Tavasci said he would do it,” says Christensen.
The school board of the Clarkdale-Jerome District will hold a special board meeting at the C-OC District Office boardroom tonight at 6 p.m. prior to the scheduled 7 p.m. joint board meeting.