Unification not a new idea in Arizona or Cottonwood

Unifying school districts in Arizona has been big news for the last couple of years. Based on the recommendations of the School District Redistricting Committee - an ad hoc task force created by Senate Bill 1068 in 2005 - 76 districts have been targeted for unification into 26 districts. Voters in the target districts will decide for themselves Nov. 4.

Voters in Mingus Union High School and Cottonwood-Oak Creek school districts also will make the same decision that day.

Unification efforts have been mostly dormant since 2000 and 2001 when the last two school-district unifications occurred in Benson and Kingman. That same year, the governing boards in C-OC and MUHS passed unification resolutions. But, while Benson and Kingman successfully completed their separate unifications, the effort in Cottonwood died.

There isn't much about the Benson unification that Cottonwood area voters can go to school on. Benson Elementary School District and Benson Union High School District had been, since the mid-1940s, sharing the cost of a single superintendent and sharing a district administration office and staff.

Unification into the Benson Unified School District was almost a formality since the community already thought of their schools as a unified district.

The 2001 unification in Kingman more closely parallels the unification question between C-OC and MUHS, which voters will soon decide.

Governing boards for Kingman Elementary School District and Mohave Union High School District unanimously voted to unify the two districts into the Kingman Unified School District. The unification brought together seven elementary schools and two high school campuses (one was a freshman-only campus).

One thing that was very different in 2001 than it is today, was the incentive money the state offered districts to help them through the transition into a unified district.

"You've lost all of the unification assistance money," said Betsy Parker, assistant superintendent of KUSD. "Now that's gone."

Parker, who was the superintendent of the elementary district prior to unification, said the $2.5 million assistance money for the first year of the unification was very important. "It was mostly salary equalization," she said. It would have been much more difficult without that money, Parker said. "The teachers wouldn't have supported it."

Looking back, Parker said the unification has been good for everybody. "Good for the kids," she said. "That's the most important."

Parker said that money savings was part of the motivation behind unification. "We sold it with the savings as a benefit," she said. Now, in 2008, she believes the unified district has saved money. "It's a good thing we did it."

Mike Ford, the former superintendent of the Mohave High School District and the first superintendent of Kingman Unified School District, said he thinks the two school boards and administrations likely would have gone for unification even without the state's assistance money.

"We wanted to unify because we thought we could offer better K-12 education," Ford said. He said it wasn't done for money saving but "to improve education."

"I would never put it in an economic sense," Ford said. He explained that any savings from unification would go into equalizing salaries between the two unified districts. "I don't think I ever addressed the fact that we'd save money."

Ford is now the president of the Kingman campus of Mohave Community College, but he believes the unification he helped bring about was the right thing to do. And he says the community still supports the unification.

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