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Sun, July 21

Override colors shared services struggle

County School Superintendent Tim Carter: “In tough economic times, it makes all the sense in the world to unify services. The model is there; it’s used in counties across the state. We know for a fact that shared services does indeed save funds.” VVN/Jon Pelletier

County School Superintendent Tim Carter: “In tough economic times, it makes all the sense in the world to unify services. The model is there; it’s used in counties across the state. We know for a fact that shared services does indeed save funds.” VVN/Jon Pelletier

COTTONWOOD - School officials are revisiting the shared services debate at a time when both the Mingus and Cottonwood-Oak Creek districts are asking voters to once again approve 10-percent budget overrides.

County School Superintendent Tim Carter said the two issues can be isolated from, and yet very much related to, one another.

"In tough economic times, it makes all the sense in the world to unify services," Carter said. "The model is there; it's used in counties across the state. We know for a fact that shared services does indeed save funds."

Unification can only come about through the governing boards or voters, who have rejected the idea more than once. Those who oppose consolidating the districts argue it is a loss of local authority, Carter said.

"You're taking away their local control, their authority to talk to their local board, taking away what they see as that independence," he said. "You can maintain all of those governance pieces and still consolidate services, and it'll be basically the same savings."

A report on shared services issued by the Yavapai County Education Service Agency shows, very broadly, where these funds could be saved among not only Mingus and C-OC, but with the Clarkdale-Jerome School District as well.

The report estimates an annual savings of between $80,000 and $160,000 through "bulk buying and storage," but C-OC Business Manager David Snyder said current buying practices already take advantage of bulk discounts, and each district's need for paper, for example, will remain constant regardless of unification.

The real savings would come from consolidating administrative positions. Snyder said recent research into exact amounts to be saved has not been done, but there's no way shared services or unification could make up for the nearly $1.5 million that would be generated if the overrides pass.

Even if $200,000 in administrative costs were eliminated, the override request would stay the same in order to better fund teacher salaries.

"If your whole focus is to save money by unification, it doesn't make sense because you're probably not going to save a lot of money," he said. "The important thing is curriculum alignment so the kids coming from Clarkdale, coming from Oak-Creak, have the same thing going into high school as the kids from the middle school."

Snyder said the community needs to be educated about the benefits of unification as it relates to improving education, not saving money.

"Your boards can say yes, we want to unify, it's in the best interest of taxpayers, students, staff, employees," he said. "Or the community can say that. You'd have to surmise that either we have boards that aren't willing to do that or for whatever reason don't want to go that direction, or there's not good enough voice from the community saying, 'This is what we want.'"

Mingus stands to lose about $560,000 if the override does not pass, and Business Manager Kirk Waddle said there are no other funds to make up for that deficit.

The districts share some services currently, like a special education director, and will continue to share positions with other districts as administrators retire, Waddle said.

"Shared services is just an efficiency step that we're going to take to try to remove any redundancy, but both districts are at such a skeletal level already," he said.

The districts will discuss more ways to share services at a board meeting July 11.

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