Fri, Feb. 28

Editorial Consolidation task force a wise move for Mingus, Cottonwood-Oak Creek … with professional facilitator

If all goes according to plan, the Mingus and Cottonwood-Oak Creek school boards soon will have a special task force in place to make sense of the proposed merger of the two school districts.

This is a road Upper Verde education leaders have been down many times in the past. In fact, Mingus Union High School exists today because of a consolidation effort in the 1950s that merged the former Cottonwood, Clarkdale and Jerome high schools into MUHS.

That same effort excluded the Upper Verde’s elementary districts, leaving the area today with three school districts, two of which govern one school each.

And that is the very reason consolidation/unification rolls around like clockwork every few years. As stated in a 2011 report by the Arizona Tax Research Association, school district consolidation decreases administrative redundancy and duplication.

Which, in effect, creates more tax dollars for classroom instruction.

It will be interesting to see how the chess pieces will be assembled with the local consolidation task force. There are about as many ideas on that subject as there are people involved in the process. Most do agree, however, that it should be a representative sampling of teachers, school board members, parents, business and community leaders.

We would most certainly concur with consolidation advocate Andy Groseta on two points concerning the task force membership.

First, it should not include either of the existing superintendents of the Mingus and Cottonwood-Oak Creek districts. Any involvement by either district superintendent lends itself to interpretation that they are trying to protect their current job, or position themselves for a future one. Either way, it’s a no-win situation for either superintendent. As former Mingus interim superintendent Jack Keegan once said of this process, “This is when the adults get very nervous about who will be left sitting in their chair.”

Second, Mr. Groseta is also spot on about the need for a professional facilitator for the task force. Such a facilitator will be able to keep the discussions focused and orderly. He or she will be able to keep this board-advisory group in line with the requirements of Arizona’s Open Meeting Law. Most importantly, there are several people well versed in school consolidation at the two school boards’ disposal. The best of the bunch obviously is Keegan. During his run as Mingus’ interim superintendent, Keegan proved himself a keenly astute education administrator and he does not have a vested interest in the outcome of this process. Others who also deserve consideration as the group facilitator include former Cottonwood-Oak Creek superintendents Barb U’Ren, Julie Larson and John Tavasci, who also formerly served on the MUHS board. All three have deep-seated historical ties to the Upper Verde education community.

There is a wealth of talent available to serve on this task force, and a professional facilitator provides assurance that the effort will stay on the straight-and-narrow fact-driven path and completely avoid the gutter of politics.

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