Neighborly compromise: No consolidation election in November
Parties reach decision to take school merger question off ballot
CAMP VERDE – The consolidation question between Mingus Union and Cottonwood-Oak Creek School District won’t be on the ballot this November following a negotiated settlement Friday.
Presiding Yavapai County Superior Court Judge David Mackey ruled for a “neighborly compromise” Friday in a multiple-party lawsuit concerning the constitutionality and petition legality of a ballot question on whether or not the two districts should merge.
The ruling came right before lunch Friday after two days of arguments at the Yavapai County Superior Court in Camp Verde. Most of Friday’s arguments occurred behind closed doors.
In July, the Mingus Union School Board filed a 500-plus-page lawsuit against multiple parties after the pro-consolidation group, the Committee For Better Upper Verde Valley Schools, filed petitions to get the consolidation question on the ballot.
The lawsuit named the Committee for Better Upper Verde Valley Schools, a political action group led by former Mingus Union School Board member Andy Groseta, as the “Real Party in Interest.”
Also listed as defendants in the suit were Yavapai County School Superintendent Tim Carter, the Yavapai County Recorder, Yavapai County Election Director, and the Yavapai County Board of Supervisors.
All parties agreed to withdraw litigation Friday and the consolidation election will be officially canceled until further notice following a public vote by the Mingus Union School Board this coming Monday at 4 p.m.
The ruling encourages all parties to work with Judge Mackey on new petition language to get the consolidation question to the voters in a future election.
The agreement bars Mingus from challenging the constitutionality of Arizona Revised Statute § 15-459(B)(7), legislation that passed last spring allowing a common school district to be absorbed into a larger district. The law also takes away Mingus’ veto power to cancel an election.
Mingus also cannot challenge any future petition drives, although they can challenge the legitimacy of individual petition signatures, according to the ruling.
Mackey said he was pleased all parties could reach common ground.
“I know there will be feelings on each side, but let me assure everyone that probably no one would have been truly satisfied with a decision I would have made after two days of hearings,” he said. “This is a good opportunity and a neighborly opportunity to recognize there are legitimate differences among good people in this community that need to ultimately be resolved by the people in this community. I wish you all well in that regard.”
After the ruling, Mingus’ attorney Joseph Kanefield said in a statement to The Verde Independent that they were “very pleased with the result.”
“We thought Judge Mackey brought all the parties together to reach a fair resolution here to stop litigation,” he said. “We will work with the school superintendent on a form that can be used that will be in proper order format going forward. We took our constitutional claims off the table as a good-faith gesture as a result of the settlement arrangement and we think people were obviously very pleased with the result here today.”
Future consolidation efforts
Groseta’s group released a statement saying they were “excited that Mingus Union High School has withdrawn its lawsuit and has agreed to never challenge a future consolidation drive to consolidate Mingus Union High School with Cottonwood-Oak Creek School District.”
He said the only thing his group has given up is “the expense of the inevitable appeals that would result if this matter was not settled.”
“We can invest a fraction of those sums to generate another petition drive as soon as the law permits, knowing that [Mingus] has agreed not to object to such effort.”
Groseta said his group aims to start the petition process again once new language is drafted. The earliest voters could see another election would be March or June, he said.
Member Phil Terbell said they want to start the process again soon as to not lose “community momentum.”
Upper Verde Valley 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.
• 1954: Yavapai County students from Sedona officially join the Cottonwood-Oak Creek School District.
• 1954: Oak Creek School in Cornville was annexed by Cottonwood Elementary and so it became Cottonwood-Oak Creek School District #6 (Source: Julie Larson Powerpoint)
• 1958: Willard School District #44, 1920- 1958, Bridgeport, Arizona. Willard School was built in the 1920s on 2.2 acres donated by United Verde Extension on UVX Road in Bridgeport. In 1958, Willard School was annexed into Cottonwood-Oak Creek School District. (Source: Julie Larson Powerpoint)
• 1959: Voters approve establishment of Mingus Union High School District, consolidating the former Cottonwood, Clarkdale and Jerome high schools into one union district with one high school to serve the entire Upper Verde Valley.
• 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.
• 1992: Sedona Unified School District was formed, splitting off from the Cottonwood-Oak Creek and Mingus Union school districts.
• 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 choose 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-OC board passed a similar resolution during its scheduled meeting Tuesday night. 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.
• December 2012 – Warner Report (58 pages) on Upper Verde School District consolidation released.
• January 2017: Former Mingus Union School Board President Andy Groseta announces formation of a grass roots committee to consolidate 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. In June 2018, the Mingus Union School Board unanimously said that consolidating with Cottonwood-Oak Creek was not in the best interest of the students the district serves.
• May 1, 2018: Consolidation Study Committee members cannot agree on closing statement. Committee dissolves.
• May 17, 2018: Gov. Doug Ducey signs SB1254, which amends Arizona law on the manner in which school districts can be consolidated.
• June 4, 2018: Committee for Better Upper Verde Valley Schools – 2018 turns in petitions with 2,312 signatures to Yavapai County School Superintendent’s Office to have the consolidation question placed on the November 2018 ballot
• July 5, 2018: Yavapai County School Superintendent Tim Carter confirms the proposed Mingus Union/Cottonwood-Oak Creek consolidation election will be on the Nov. 6 General Election ballot.
• July 12, 2018: Mingus Union School Board and related parties file lawsuit against Yavapai County School Superintendent Tim Carter, Yavapai County Recorder, Yavapai County Election Director, Yavapai County Board of Supervisors and the Committee for Better Upper Verde Valley Schools to block the Nov. 6, 2018 consolidation election.
• Aug. 24, 2018: Presiding Yavapai County Superior Court Judge David Mackey ruled for a “neighborly compromise” in a multiple-party lawsuit concerning the constitutionality and petition legality of a ballot question on whether or not the two districts should merge, and, in effect, canceled the Nov. 6, 2018 consolidation election.
-- Verde Independent archives and Julie Larson historical research