Commentary: Consolidation a 60-year endeavor for Upper Verde

If the Mingus Union School Board eventually chooses to allow voters to decide the fate of school district consolidation, it will be a first for the Upper Verde Valley.

‘We’ve been re-inventing the consolidation wheel for 60 years and still have yet to find a way to make it roll’

In our long and storied history on school district consolidation, one of the biggest stumbling blocks in the path of a unified district has been the ability of Mingus and Cottonwood-Oak Creek to play nice.

We’ve gone to the altar on consolidation before – three times to be exact in the past 60 years. Twice before, in 1957 and 1998, voters decided consolidation issues in the form of initiatives put forth by the citizenry. We also voted on consolidation in 2008 when the state forced the measure on us.

But we’ve never voted on consolidation because Mingus and Cottonwood-Oak Creek school board members could agree the community should decide the issue by popular vote. When it comes to school district consolidation, about the only thing the two school districts have ever been able to agree on is to disagree with each other.

School district consolidation in the Upper Verde first surfaced in 1952 when the Yavapai County Board of Supervisors and area school boards appointed a survey team to study consolidation. That survey team reported back in 1953 with three recommendations: 1) consolidate existing districts, 2) establish union high school district, 3) or, leave districts as they stand. Local school boards voted to leave the districts in their existing form, although there was talk through 1957 about a merger between the Cottonwood-Oak Creek District and what we now today call the Clarkdale-Jerome district.

The emphasis shifted in November 1957 when the local “Committee For Better Schools” began pushing for one high school in the Upper Verde either by consolidation or the formation of a new high school district. A petition drive soon followed and Yavapai County School Superintendent Sarah Folsom called for a Dec. 6, 1957, election after receiving petitions with 467 names. The campaign for and against creation of a Mingus Union School District was highly divisive, with opponents taking out full-page ads in The Verde Independent, one of which claimed the new district would create such high taxes that local residents would lose their homes.

On Dec. 12, 1957, The Verde Independent reported the new high school district had been approved by voters, but another election would be needed to decide where the new Union High School District would be located. Those results appeared in The Verde Independent on Dec. 19, 1957. The story reported that, “The vote climaxed 12 days of intensive campaigning for locating the school in Cottonwood and Clarkdale.” Clarkdale won over Cottonwood by only 75 votes. Clarkdale pulled 579 to Cottonwood’s 504. Jerome got seven votes, and Cornville got four. A total of 1,101 votes were cast. Mingus Union High School remained in Clarkdale until 1960 when it was moved into the existing school buildings in Jerome. MUHS stayed in Jerome through the 1971 school year. It moved to the current campus at 1 E. Fir St. in Cottonwood at the beginning of the 1972 fall semester.

The decisions in 1957 brought about the longest run on consolidation tranquility the Verde Valley has ever seen. It would be nearly a quarter century until locals again began questioning the wisdom of having three school districts in the Upper Verde, two of which govern one school each.

A petition drive with more than 1,400 names was presented to the school boards in Cottonwood and Clarkdale in 1981, which prompted the two districts to do an exhaustive Cottonwood-Oak Creek/Verde Consolidation Study. In the end, neither school board wanted to allow voters to decide the issue. Similar efforts followed in 1986, 1990, 1992 and 1993.

The effort began again in earnest in late 1997 and this time voters took matters into their own hands, just as they did in 1957 when the Mingus District was formed by voters approving a citizen initiative. This citizen initiative election took place March 10, 1998 and it was soundly rejected by voters; 85 percent of the voters in the Clarkdale-Jerome District said no, and 59 percent in the Cottonwood-Oak Creek District likewise voted no.

Again, this campaign between pro- and anti-consolidation was highly divisive. Pro-consolidation forces were especially critical of a study released just a week prior to the vote by former Mingus Superintendent Marv Lamer and two other MUHS employees that discounted the cost savings claimed in an earlier study. Consolidation advocate Tricia Hance was highly critical of the Mingus in-house study, and especially the timing of its release. The lack of raw data in the Mingus study and its 11th-hour release did not give voters enough time to assess the accuracy of the Mingus report, she claimed.

Despite the thumping consolidation took in 1998, the issue was back before the community in 2001 after special state legislation was approved to provide incentive money for districts that chose to consolidate, and to allow consolidation to take place by vote of the respective school boards. The Mingus Union School Board rejected the measure by a 4-0 vote.

The Arizona Legislature continued to press the issue of consolidation/unification between 2005 and 2008 when it formed a special committee to research and recommend that 78 Arizona districts put the question to their voters as to whether they should be unified. The three school districts in the Upper Verde Valley were among those targeted in this state-mandated election. The Clarkdale-Jerome District was later removed, although its voters still cast ballots as part of the Mingus Union District.

Ultimately, local voters rejected the consolidation question, as did most every other school district in Arizona. Interestingly, in an election characterized as a strong-arm tactic by the state, the margins between Yes and No votes locally were much closer than they were in the 1998 election. As summarized in an October 2008 Verde Independent editorial, “The people in the Upper Verde Valley need to be the ones who devise the framework for what school district unification will become, not the State of Arizona.”

That’s exactly what was attempted in 2010 when the Cottonwood-Oak Creek and Mingus Union school boards agreed to a new round of talks on school district unification. In a 3-2 split vote in January 2010, the Mingus Union School Board agreed to take the first steps toward unification with the Cottonwood-Oak Creek School District, and C-OC also agreed to once again test the unification waters. Then MUHS Board President John Tavasci, Jr., said, “Moving forward with unification makes good sense.”

Six months later, Cottonwood-Oak Creek School Board voted 4-1 to withdraw from consolidation talks, citing no confidence in the Mingus Union High School administration.

All of which brings us to today. It’s now been a year since former Mingus School Board President Andy Groseta established his grass-roots committee to once again press for a marriage of the Upper Verde school districts. Clarkdale-Jerome quickly said “No thanks,” and Cottonwood-Oak Creek ultimately decided to ask the county school superintendent to call for a November 2018 election for a consolidation of the Mingus and Cottonwood-Oak Creek districts.

Should Mingus follow suit, it will mark the first time in local history that the two districts have been able to see eye to eye, and allow voters to decide the issue. Don’t hold your breath on that happening.

We’ve been re-inventing the consolidation wheel for 60 years and still have yet to find a way to make it roll.

Upper Verde school district consolidation history

1952: Yavapai County Board of Supervisors and area school boards appoint survey team to study consolidation.

1953: Survey team brings back three recommendations: 1) consolidate existing districts, 2) establish union high school district, 3) or, leave districts as they stand. School boards vote to leave school districts in existing form.

May 9, 1957: The Verde Independent reported “Cottonwood School Lay Study Committee was accused of betraying a trust by Cottonwood-Oak Creek School Trustees when the group submitted a report urging the board to consider consolidation with Verde District 3 schools in Clarkdale.” The board of trustees subsequently announced it would not approach Clarkdale about consolidation.

Nov. 7, 1957: The Verde Independent ran a Page 1 story announcing: “Committee For Better Schools asks immediate action for one high school” either by consolidation or the formation of a new high school district.

Nov. 28, 1957: The Verde Independent reported, “Qualified school electors of Verde District 3, composed of the communities of Clarkdale and Jerome, and Cottonwood-Oak Creek District 6, composed of the communities of Cottonwood, Cornville, Bridgeport, Clemenceau and Smelter City, will go to the polls Dec. 6 to decide on the formation of a Union High School District, which would provide one high school for the entire area.” Yavapai County School Superintendent Sarah Folsom called the election after receiving petitions with 467 names.

Dec. 12, 1957: The Verde Independent announced the new high school district had been approved. Another election in December would decide where the new Union High School District would be located. Those results appeared in The Verde Independent on Dec. 19, 1957. The story reported that, “The vote climaxed 12 days of intensive campaigning for locating the school in Cottonwood and Clarkdale.” Clarkdale won over Cottonwood by only 75 votes. Clarkdale pulled 579 to Cottonwood’s 504. Jerome got seven votes, and Cornville got four. A total of 1,101 votes were cast. Before the new Union High School District was official, the name was changed to Mingus Union High School District. The high school remained in Clarkdale until 1960 when it was moved into the existing school buildings in Jerome. MUHS stayed in Jerome through the 1971 school year. It moved to the current campus at 1 E. Fir St. in Cottonwood at the beginning of the 1972 fall semester.

Early 1981: Petitions with 229 Clarkdale-Jerome resident signatures and 1,212 Cottonwood-Oak Creek resident signatures are presented to both school boards, which in turn request the state prepare a consolidation study for both districts.

October 1981: Cottonwood-Oak Creek/Verde Consolidation Study released, which addressed programs, financial advantages and disadvantages and the local political climate on such a school district merger.

Late 1981: Both school boards decline to move forward with a consolidation election.

Feb. 20, 1986: Local school district administrators call joint meeting to discuss consolidation. Mingus Union Board President Hamp Merrill characterized the gathering as “a meeting of anti-consolidation.”

Aug. 16, 1990: Local school boards hold joint meeting to discuss continuity, social concerns and special needs students. Consolidation is added in the week prior to the meeting at the request of Cottonwood-Oak Creek board members, who were in the process of hiring a new superintendent.

June 9, 1992: Cottonwood-Oak Creek Board, after ending contract school bus service, has joint meeting with Mingus to discuss jointly operating transportation services. No decision was reached. School boards agree to meet again in 1993 with Clarkdale-Jerome to renew transportation services discussion and also discuss whether additional funding, available through consolidation, would assist with the transportation questions.

Oct. 22, 1992: A meeting is called to discuss consolidation issue among potential new board members and current existing board members. The meeting is canceled after a candidate forum is scheduled on the same date.

Jan. 28, 1993: Joint board meeting on consolidation with Mingus, Cottonwood-Oak Creek and Clarkdale-Jerome ends with no action taken.

Oct. 8, 1997: Consolidation talks begin again at the request of a citizens group interested in seeing the consolidation question finally put to a public vote.

Dec. 12, 1997: Yavapai County Recorder’s Office confirms the success of a consolidation election petition drive, and a March 10, 1998 election is called.

March 10, 1998: Upper Verde school district consolidation is soundly rejected by voters: 85 percent of the voters in the Clarkdale-Jerome District say no, and 59 percent of the voters in the Cottonwood-Oak Creek District likewise voted no.

March 12, 2001: Consolidation discussions are renewed after special state legislation is approved to provide incentive money for districts that chose to consolidation, and to allow consolidation to take place by vote of the respective school boards. The Mingus Union School Board rejected the measure by a 4-0 vote.

2005 to 2008: The Arizona Legislature authorized the formation of a special committee to research and recommend that 78 Arizona districts put the question to their voters as to whether they should be unified. The three school districts in the Upper Verde Valley were among those targeted in this state-mandated election. The Clarkdale-Jerome District was later removed, although its voters still cast ballots as part of the Mingus Union District. Ultimately, local voters rejected the consolidation question, as did most every other school district in Arizona, although the margins were much closer than they were in the 1998 vote. As summarized in an October 2008 Verde Independent editorial, “The people in the Upper Verde Valley need to be the ones who devise the framework for what school district unification will become, not the State of Arizona.”

January 2010: Cottonwood-Oak Creek and Mingus Union school boards agree to a new round of talks on school district unification.

Jan. 15, 2010: In a 3-2 split vote, the Mingus Union School Board voted Thursday night to form a resolution to proceed with the first steps toward unification with Cottonwood-Oak Creek School District. The C-0C board passed a similar resolution in January. There has been a general consensus between both boards that unification likely won’t happen without financial aid from the state. MUHS Board President John Tavasci Jr. said, “Moving forward with unification makes good sense.”

July 14, 2010: Cottonwood-Oak Creek School Board votes 4-1 to withdraw from consolidation talks with Mingus, citing no confidence in the Mingus Union High School administration.

January 2017: Former Mingus Union School Board President Andy Groseta announces formation of a grass roots committee to consolidation the Upper Verde Valley’s three school districts. The Clarkdale-Jerome School Board quickly announced it was not interested in being part of such a merger. The Cottonwood-Oak Creek and Mingus Union school boards agree to the formation of a special committee to establish a list of pros and cons on school district consolidation.

Dec. 7, 2017: Cottonwood-Oak Creek School board requests county school superintendent call a November 2018 election for the consolidation of the Mingus Union and Cottonwood-Oak Creek School Districts

-- Verde Independent archives

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mcinsw 9 months, 3 weeks ago

It is so simple consolidation should be a no brainier. As I was informed by one of my college professors many years ago, if you put educators in charge of education you will pay dearly. They are a fraternity that will resist losing power and will use most any means to retain the power that they have over the electorate. We as the voters must force a vote and vote for consolidation, and vastly reduce the cost of redundant administration.

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