Sat, May 25

Joint school boards discuss unification
State's touted benefits aren't so easy to support

The School District Redistricting Commission is making its unification recommendations based on two assumptions -- improved student achievement and reduced administrative costs.

But according to local school administration officials, those assumptions aren't so easy to support.

The school boards of Mingus Union, Cottonwood-Oak Creek and Clarkdale-Jerome school districts met in joint session Thursday night to discuss the commission's recommendation that those three districts be unified.

The unification decision will not be up to the school boards. Instead, the question will be put to the voters in those districts.

"We're here tonight to discuss the facts surrounding unification," said Julie Larson, superintendent of C-OC. She told the joint boards that the issue of unification has been going on locally since the 1930s. She said the administrations from the districts want to discuss the matter in a neutral manner.

Barbara U'Ren of C-OC presented the available research that could be found on the commission's assumptions, admitting at the beginning of her presentation that not much research is available.

On the topic of curriculum articulation, the matching up of coursework from one grade level to another, U'Ren's research showed that curriculum misalignment isn't as much a problem as the commission believes.

She said that a certain amount of mistrust exists between entities. She also pointed out that teachers' and students' expectations are not always aligned.

On the matter of student achievement, district size isn't so easy to credit one way or another. U'Ren shared information on a study based in Colorado. In that state, school district size did not have a significant relationship on student achievement. In New York and rural Texas, student achievement was higher in larger districts. But much of the difference can be explained by students' socio-economic status.

According to information U'Ren checked, students in low-income areas achieve at a higher level in smaller school districts.

"The literature really is mixed," U'Ren said.

Sharyl Allen, superintendent of Mingus Union High School District, presented some comparisons on the predicted cost savings of unification. She talked primarily about administrative personnel. "That's really what we're talking about," she said.

Based on comparisons done locally, unification would result in savings of approximately $244,000. But the same comparison estimates that additional personnel costs associated with unification of the three districts would go up about $500,000. According to those figures, unification for the local districts would result in higher administrative personnel costs.