Commentary: How is consolidation better for all students?
My name is Jason Teague, and this is my ninth year as an Art and Online Teacher at Mingus Union High School. On August 11th, in a Verde Independent letter to the editor, Don Godard asked why the Mingus board and staff are opposed to consolidation.
It seems like such a simple question, doesn’t it? Why wouldn’t Mingus be in favor of shared services? Why wouldn’t Mingus be in favor of lower administrative costs? Why wouldn’t Mingus be in favor of saving the tax payers of the Verde Valley $1 million to $2 million a year (depending on who you are talking to)?
I can assure you, if there could possibly be that kind of savings coming to the combined school district, virtually every teacher at Mingus would be in favor of consolidation. The cuts that the State of Arizona has made to education funding has caused every classroom in the Verde Valley to live on crumbs for years. We would be fools to walk away from a sustainable surplus like this, especially if it came to the new district year after year.
The problem is that once you start to crunch the numbers, the “savings” to the new unified district do not add up.
Last spring, the business managers for Cottonwood-Oak Creek and Mingus Union worked together to write an analysis of what the financial implications would be by consolidating the two districts. They projected that the savings from cutting administrative positions and sharing services would be approximately $360,000 per year.
These business managers also projected that the newly formed district would have bills that COCSD and MUHSD do not currently have. These expenditures include up to $1 million in capital repayment to the Clarkdale/Jerome district, $850,000 per year towards salary equalization, and a loss of $170,000 per year in transportation funding.
Let’s conservatively say that $1 million of extra revenue is how much the new district will have to find every year to operate on a balanced budget after consolidation.
Let me remind you that every educator in Arizona has been wrestling with the lack of funding for over a decade. The Arizona Legislature has cut educational funding so much that the schools are already struggling. That is why the districts come to the local voters with bond and override elections. $1 million is a lot of money for a school district to lose. The Mingus campus would absolutely see some cuts to funding. Let’s say that Mingus shared just $500,000 of that yearly loss. That is the salary of 10 teachers, GONE!
I ask you, which teachers and programs at Mingus are expendable? Certainly not mathematics, English, science or history.
Sen. Sylvia Allen promises a legislative fix to the V’ACTE mistake of SB 1254, but we don’t know what that fix is going to look like until after we vote on consolidation. We can assume the CTE classes might be spared. The programs that could be lost are, as always, the electives: performing arts, visual arts, and extra curricular activities. These are award-winning programs, and they are the very classes that make Mingus the premiere high school in the Verde Valley. Students and their families choose Mingus Union High School because these programs are healthy, vibrant, and serve our students and community
As a community, are we willing to charge our students to play sports? Are we willing to charge our students for the chance to create and show original works of art? Are we willing to charge our students for the opportunity to perform in an amazing theater production? Are we willing to tell our students and our community that only the wealthy kids can benefit from these award-winning programs? Are we willing to watch class sizes increase to 30-40 students in each class room? As a community, are we willing to pay more in taxes every year?
The simple fact is that the money must come from somewhere.
Proponents of consolidation have said that the above scenario is just one possible way that the unification of COCSD and MUHSD might pan out. They have promised that there are other models for consolidation, and in the long run they’re sure that there ought to be savings.
But here’s the rub.
When they are directly asked to show us how this will work, they are uncomfortably silent. They don’t know, and it appears to me that there is no plan. They say that it will be the job of the new board to decide what the finances of the new district will look like.
This is the most frustrating part to me. For months I attended to the Consolidation Committee meetings. For months I heard there would be millions in savings.
Not once did I see any evidence that backs that statement up, and that is why I am opposed to consolidation.
A $360,000 gain in funding and $1 million loss in funding are the only concrete numbers that have been provided to us.
Consolidation supporters, if you can show a way that consolidation will bring savings to the newly formed district, let’s see it. Please show us.
The rumblings of consolidation have been building for a long time. Surely somebody can show us a way that COCSD and MUHS can be unified in a way that doesn’t harm Mingus (Sorry, the Warner Report and the unsubstantiated Jack Keagan Study do not count as evidence in my mind).
The Mingus Union High School District deserves this respect, and our community deserves transparency.
Thank you for your time.
Jason Teague is a fine arts teacher and Mingus Union High School.