Editorial: Cottonwood-Oak Creek campus realignment a microcosm of school district consolidation

There are some interesting parallels between the perceived benefits of school district consolidation and the current movement by the Cottonwood-Oak Creek School District to merge two schools into one.

As consolidation advocate Andy Groseta has consistently said, the cost savings from a merger of the Cottonwood-Oak Creek and Mingus Union school districts could be rolled over directly to the classroom.

One of the sticking points in that debate is a $600,000-plus price tag to achieve wage parity between C-OC and Mingus teachers should this marriage of the two districts ever occur.

But it also bears emphasis that wage parity means a salary boost for those teachers on the short end of the scale in the Upper Verde education community. A boost in those teachers’ salaries would play a big part in directing more money into the classroom.

Meanwhile, in the Cottonwood-Oak Creek district, both administration and the elected school board agree on the need to shutter Cottonwood Elementary School in its present educational form and be aligned with Dr. Daniel Bright as a new kindergarten through eighth-grade campus, as well as convert Cottonwood Middle School into a K-8 campus.

What they have not agreed upon is a staffing model for the new school. Superintendent Steve King has proposed both a co-principal and principal-assistant principal model to the school board. It has yet to gain board approval, being shot down by a narrow 3-2 margin.

King obviously does not want to lose one of his two current principals. He values them as employees and educators. That same mentality has long been a sticking point during consolidation talks over the years. School districts do not want to lose good people. You have to respect that.

But as the C-OC consolidation of two schools into one moves forward, we’re seeing a stubborn resistance by some members of the school board to a status quo scenario on staffing.

Veteran board member Jason Finger, who also sits on a community consolidation committee, is adamant in his belief that consolidating two elementary schools into one should result in cost savings. Making a firm determination of those cost savings is directly in line with his fiduciary responsibility as an elected official, he contends.

The money saved in this elementary campus merger should be re-directed into the classroom, he believes. In particular, Finger has explained, any cost-savings achieved should be rolled over into improving teacher salaries.

Where have we heard that before?

The members of the Upper Verde school district consolidation committee should pay close attention right now to what is happening in the C-OC district. It very well could be a microcosm of what school district consolidation could mean to the Upper Verde education community and its taxpayers.

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