Thu, Dec. 05

Commentary: Students will be better off with consolidated district

Dan Mabery

Dan Mabery

As the chairman of the Consolidation Advisory Committee for Mingus Union High School and Cottonwood-Oak Creek School, I have been asked by a number of potential voters as to whether I thought that 1: should the issue of consolidation between MUHS and COCSD be decided by the voters and 2: would the proposed consolidation be of benefit to our children (or, in my case, grandchildren).

Frankly, the committee really didn’t agree on much even though it was comprised of 14 qualified people, all of whom were interested in the best educational outcomes for our students.

A little background: The committee was formed last fall by the Mingus Union High School and Cottonwood-Oak Creek School boards to evaluate the pros and cons of the proposed consolidation.

It was comprised of 14 members including board members from both schools, retired and active teachers and community members. I was one of the few members who had no affiliation with the Mingus Union position, the Cottonwood Oak Creek position or the pro-consolidation group.

Early on, COCSD voted to go forward to put the consolidation issue on the next ballot. MUHS at that time had yet to decide and then recently not only voted to oppose the inclusion of the issue on the ballot, but actually sued to stop the vote.

Over some six months, many issues were discussed, argued and evaluated by the committee. “Expert” reports were made and considered from both sides.

From this process, many discoveries of the “unintended consequences” were made; assuring that agreement among the committee members on most issues would be well, impossible.

The different opinions were so acute that we were precluded from making a unified statement as to the pros and cons of consolidation. Instead, each side provided arguments promoting their positions, they were shared with the public and the committee was disbanded.

While my view on these issues has certainly been influenced by what our committee learned, it is not a reflection of the opinion of those on the committee and it certainly is not based on any consensus from the committee.

It is mine alone.

Yes, I think the voters should decide. They are paying the bills and are deciding through override elections about certain critical funding for both schools. I don’t think that the wording on the petition to call for the election was misleading.

The bulk of the evidence produced in the committee meetings pointed toward “administrative savings” and there is no reason to believe that if there were savings, it would not be directed to the classroom. The bigger question was how much savings could be realized?

The consolidation issue is more complicated. If it was simple, we wouldn’t have such honorable and dedicated people at polar opposite positions. It makes sense that consolidating efforts would serve the students by coordinating curriculums (which I believe is not possible without consolidation, otherwise it would have already been done), schedules, student tracking, student assessment, etc.

It makes sense that consolidating efforts as to transportation, food service, administrative costs and plant operations could generate some savings. It makes sense that whatever the savings might be, if there is any, can be put back in the classroom in the form of higher staff compensation.

The biggest challenge is the discrepancy between MUHS and COCSD staff salaries. It is so large that COCSD has been losing many teachers annually to MUHS. This can’t be good for our students. So the room elephant question is: can the salaries be equalized without ANY harm to the MUHS staff? One side says “certainly” and the other says “no way.’” I fall on the side of yes, but it is going to take a lot of work by the new governing board and it will take time.

A big part of the problem is that the State of Arizona funding formulas are not always friendly to consolidations or education, for that matter. They should be and I would encourage those working on either side of this issue to do whatever it takes to change the law and/or funding so that the consolidation issue is not influenced by weakness in the formulas.

The recent Striker Bill was an example of changing an unreasonable law. This bill (SB1254) allowed the consolidation issue to go to a vote and eased some of the Clarkdale concerns as to the division of assets with Mingus. There still may be some concerns, but for the most part Clarkdale-Jerome and Mingus should be unharmed by consolidation. If there is an obstruction in the law that would damage other educational affiliations, such as VACTE (our organization for career technical education), then we should work to change that law.

This writing is a very much simplified description of my opinion on consolidation. The consolidation is more complicated than some would have you believe and there are land mines to get around.

I don’t think the consolidation dollar savings are as large as one side has proposed nor is it as small as the other has said. I think that a meticulous, comprehensive and mindful approach from a new board would result in no negative effects on the Mingus staff. I talked with a handful of ex-administrators from both MUHS and COCSD and all said that if it came to a vote, they would vote yes. I agree with them.

Every efficiency should be explored for the best use of our tax dollars to create the best student outcome possible. Consolidation should be a part of that effort. If it should happen, I think we will look back 10 years from now and see that our children were better off for it.

Dan Mabery is a Cottonwood real estate broker who was chairman of the Consolidation Advisory Committee and a past member of MUHS Governing Board.

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