Sat, Sept. 21

Fuss and Fight: A slice of consolidation history

With still yet another school district consolidation election coming up in November, it will be interesting to see how much history repeats itself in the coming months.

Over the past 20 years, consolidation efforts have failed miserably in the Upper Verde Valley. They've also been the source of some rather heated debate.

That's always been the case according to an interesting slice of history shared with me this week by Cottonwood's Vicki Jo Anderson. It's an original manuscript of a community profile written by Joyce Crawford in the mid-1950s. Crawford was a local kindergarten teacher. She was married to a local high school teacher. She brought, therefore, keen insight on district consolidation from both the elementary to high school levels.

Crawford wrote that original consolidation discussions were prompted by the demise of the mining and smelting industries in Clarkdale and Jerome and the resulting nosedive in assessed valuation. "In 1952 under the pressures of consolidated efforts and changing economic conditions, the school trustees from three high school districts asked an outside committee, composed of one member each from the three state institutions of higher learning, to study the Verde Valley's school situation."

The committee "in general ... recommended school consolidation."

"Consolidation efforts brought with them increased community dissention," Crawford wrote. "Clarkdale and Jerome consolidated districts in 1952, experiencing the feelings of factionalism in the process ...

"Two years later Cottonwood -- Oak Creek consolidation was bitterly fought in the latter district, with lingering feelings of ill will. Lawsuits were filed contesting the election and delaying final consolidation plans for a year.

"That same year, the Willard School Board printed a full-page advertisement in the paper, making accusations against Cottonwood and the school superintendent in particular. He countered with a lawsuit, which was withdrawn when the Willard board members published a retraction.

"In October of 1955, the residents of Willard district, dissatisfied with their school board and school arrangements, petitioned (with over 50 percent of the residents signing) to consolidate with the Cottonwood-Oak Creek District beginning July 1956."

Yea, we've been a feisty bunch over the past 56 years when someone tries to tinker with our school districts. Consolidation, unification - whatever you want to call it - have been classic "fightin' words" in the Upper Verde.

We'll be at it again this fall when voters will decide if the Mingus Union and Cottonwood-Oak Creek districts want to become one big happy family. This vote is being mandated by the state.

Already, and rather predictably, the school boards from the respective districts have lined up on opposite sides of the fence. The Mingus board and administration support consolidation; Cottonwood-Oak Creek opposes it.

Community sentiment is more difficult to gauge. There are many who believe history once again will repeat itself. Others contend that our swelling population and changing demographics offer the perfect opportunity for change.

Stay tuned.

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