Wed, Feb. 26

Commentary: Neutrality, community, easier said than done with school consolidation

It’s obvious we can throw the concept of neutrality out the window as we move forward with all involved in determining the pros and cons of school district consolidation.

Ideally, this would be an exercise in the art of negotiation. Instead, the game being played by pro- and con-unification forces is something more along the lines of tug-of-war.

Cottonwood-Oak Creek made its position crystal clear last week when its school board voted to push the consolidation question forward for public vote.

While the folks at Mingus would like everyone to believe they are on a fact-finding mission to educate both themselves and the public on what’s best for the community, their main objective is to protect the Mingus status quo.

Even Consolidation Study Committee Chairman Dan Mabery Tuesday showed his hand when he predicted the consolidation question will end up in voters’ hands, and it will be approved.

Just about everyone has stubbed their toe when it comes to neutral, objective fact-finding.

But one step the committee can take in the direction of neutrality can come by taking a heart-felt look at the meeting grounds for this consolidation tug-of-war. To date, every consolidation study committee meeting has taken place on the Mingus campus. Tuesday’s gathering was noticeably attended by strong supporters of the Mingus status quo. They were not hesitant to speak their mind. They were not hesitant in their criticism of Cottonwood-Oak Creek or the prospect of the two school districts becoming one.

They were on their turf. They had numbers on their side. They came across as bullies.

Hardly the ideal setting for those whose mission is fact-finding under the alleged banner of neutrality.

Some hard thought needs to be given to finding a neutral site for future meetings of this committee, or at the very least rotating them between Mingus and Cottonwood-Oak Creek.

On both sides of the table in this consolidation debate, the word “community” is being freely tossed about as if the community really is part of the process.

Cottonwood-Oak Creek has been accused of ignoring “community” input in asking the issue be put on the ballot. Mingus wants people to believe “community” input is a driving force in its fact-finding mission.

Don’t believe any of it. About the only “community” involvement we have seen in this year-long consolidation movement has been from the approximately 15 people associated with Andy Groseta’s grassroots committee. They are the ones who have lit the fire and are doing their best to keep the embers burning.

While Mingus likes to say its interests in this movement are to inform the community, you sure would not know it by looking at the people selected to serve on the study committee. The deck is largely stacked with current and former Mingus teachers and school board members. Mingus’ interest in this process is to protect the Mingus status quo.

As for “community,” outside of Groseta’s group, we still have yet to see the public weigh in on school district consolidation. We likely will not know what the community sentiment is on this issue until there is an election.

It takes “community” interest to make school district consolidation a “community” issue.

Until that happens, this is nothing more than a tug-of-war over dramatic change in the structure of the Upper Verde school system.

The alternative is the status quo: having three school districts in the Upper Verde, two of which govern -- and collect property tax -- for one school each.

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