Sun, Sept. 15

State looking at K-12 unification<br><i>State superintendent supports making it law</i>

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STATE Superintendent of Public Education Tom Horne

He also testified that unification saves money and improves education.

Unification differs from consolidation of school districts in that it involves bringing together elementary school districts with high school districts, such as unifying Mingus Union High School District with Cottonwood-Oak Creek School District, and, perhaps, Clarkdale-Jerome Elementary District.

Arizona lawmakers appear less confident than Horne that voters will support mandatory regulations regarding such things as unification, often seen as loss of local control. Also on March 3, members of the state House Education Committee approved a proposal that would put unification of elementary districts with high school districts to a vote of the people in the target districts.

If the measure becomes law, a commission would be formed which in turn would hold hearings on the districts subject to unification. The question would then be put to voters in those selected districts in 2007.

In the Cottonwood area, proposals of unification and consolidation have appeared on numerous occasions. Consolidation made it to a public vote in March of 1998. It was soundly defeated in both Cottonwood-Oak Creek and Clarkdale-Jerome districts. The proposal was voted down by 59 percent of voters in Cottonwood-Oak Creek School District and by 85 percent in the Clardale-Jerome District.

Bryan Detwiler, the newest member of the Mingus Union High School District Governing Board, said he doesn't think such a measure would make sense at this time. "They've done a cost analysis on it and found that it won't really save money," he said.

"My sense is that people locally don't want it," Detwiler said. Although he said that unification of districts probably makes good sense in Maricopa County, he isn't so certain that it would work locally.

Detwiler said that things are changing rapidly enough in the Verde Valley that the situation may change, and ideas such as unification or consolidation may need to be considered eventually. "But only if it makes sense for the students and isn't based only on money," he said. He also said the state should allow such decisions to be made locally.

Susan Foley, president of the Cottonwood-Oak Creek School District Governing Board, said she was in support of a similar proposal when she served on the Mingus Union board. "I still believe it is a good idea."

Foley pointed out that local districts are already working together and consolidating some services. "I believe it would be a good thing," she said.

She said she doesn't see unification as a means to save a lot of money. "But I believe it would be better for the children," she said.

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