Commentary: Voter-approved school funding will not vanish with consolidation

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Yavapai County School Superintendent Tim Carter: • The current Clarkdale-Jerome School District override will continue to the normal termination date. • The current Cottonwood-Oak Creek School District bond and override will continue to their normal termination date, but the funds will go to the new unified district. • The current Mingus Union High School District bond and override, for the Cottonwood-Oak Creek portion, will continue to their normal termination date, but the funds will go to the new unified district. • The current Mingus Union High School District bond and override, for the Clarkdale-Jerome portion, will terminate on June 30, 2019.

Yavapai County School Superintendent Tim Carter this week provided clarity to one of the biggest questions concerning the proposed consolidation of the Mingus Union and Cottonwood-Oak Creek school districts.

Assuming, of course, we actually get to vote on this district merger. That question soon will be in the hands of Yavapai County Presiding Superior Court Judge David Mackey.

But assuming this election goes forward, one of the biggest clouds hanging over consolidation involves the secondary property tax debt – bonds and overrides – for each of the three impacted districts should consolidation be successful.

It’s an issue that’s been heavily bantered on social media, with much of the debate falsely claiming voter-approved funding for each district will go away in the process of dissolving the Mingus and Cottonwood-Oak Creek districts and creating a new unified district from the two. The students of each district, they are quick to emphasize, will be the big losers because the individual schools in each district will lose the programs being funded by overrides.

It’s good rhetoric if you oppose consolidation.

There is one big problem with it, though; it’s not true.

Tuesday, Carter informed each of the three impacted districts that should consolidation be successful, bonds and overrides for Mingus and Cottonwood-Oak Creek will continue to their normal termination date, based on the legal advice he has received from the School Finance Division of the Arizona Department of Education and the Yavapai County Attorney’s Office.

Specifically, Carter said:

• The current Clarkdale-Jerome School District override will continue to the normal termination date.

• The current Cottonwood-Oak Creek School District bond and override will continue to their normal termination date, but the funds will go to the new unified district.

• The current Mingus Union High School District bond and override, for the Cottonwood-Oak Creek portion, will continue to their normal termination date, but the funds will go to the new unified district.

• The current Mingus Union High School District bond and override, for the Clarkdale-Jerome portion, will terminate on June 30, 2019.

The closest comparison one could make to this situation involves the dissolution of the Camp Verde Sanitary District and its transition as a Town of Camp Verde utility service provider. For all practical purposes, the sanitary district no longer exists except as a secondary tax on the annual bills of those who approved the original bonds and will continue until the debt is absolved.

Further, as explained by Cottonwood-Oak Creek Business Manager David Snyder, the override funds for both Mingus and C-OC are on identical seven-year schedules and both are 10-percent M&O overrides. “It should be seamless,” said Snyder.

Additionally, consolidation proponent Phil Terbell said there will be no change in the repayment of existing bond or override debt. “There is no decrease in funds available to classrooms,” he said.

Taxpayers and voters will still be on the hook for the debt they approved for the two districts until it is paid in full.

Going forward, should consolidation be approved by voters, future bond and override issues will apply only to the one, single unified school district.

The days of dual-layer school district taxation in the Upper Verde will be gone.

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