School merger bill sent bill to Gov. Doug Ducey’s desk
COTTONWOOD – A bill that would bar Mingus Union to veto a school merger ballot initiative is just a bill, only a bill.
What Arizona lawmakers said about SB 1254:
“I just want to make it clear we’re not standing here arguing against consolidation. I absolutely think consolidation’s a good thing. We all understand consolidation saves money. What we’re having problems with is the way we’re going about this very special example of where there’s two common school districts, one wishes to unify, the other doesn’t. It creates problems.”
“In the statutes, if they both agreed, they can consolidate. This is an issue that they need to fix amongst themselves. These two school districts need to figure out how to best approach this problem.”
“If there were three districts, a high school and two elementaries, a high school and one elementary combined, those who are left in the elementary school district, those taxpayers, we’re not too sure what they’re going to end up paying. And I’m afraid they could end up paying twice.”
“We want to give the residents of the county the ability to look at a school district and maybe want to consolidate. Because if you consolidate it, you might save some money. And this is really what it’s all about. Because we can’t do that right now.”
“Once we get this in here, the residents of my county can look at their school districts and say, ‘You know what? This doesn’t make sense. Let’s save some money by consolidating. We don’t need all the three staffs and three administrations for three school districts that overlap each other.’ Come on.”
-- Howard Fischer
But with Thursday’s 35-25 House vote and 16-12 Senate vote, the legislation is no longer sitting at Arizona’s version of Capitol Hill.
It’s waiting for Gov. Doug Ducey to either sign off – or to veto.
Should Ducey say yes to SB 1254, former Mingus Union School Board member Andy Groseta will be closer to bringing a possible consolidation of the Mingus Union and Cottonwood-Oak Creek school districts to public vote.
According to Groseta, leader of the Committee for Better Upper Verde Valley Schools – 2018, SB 1254 is a “voter empowerment bill.”
Once – or if – Groseta’s committee obtains the 1,619 required signatures by June 4, Yavapai County Schools Superintendent Tim Carter will research what a consolidation of Mingus Union High School into the Cottonwood-Oak Creek School District would mean.
There was plenty of debate between members of the now-disbanded Advisory Committee for Consolidation how much information Carter was required to compile.
To the voters
In December, the Cottonwood-Oak Creek School Board voted that consolidation of the two districts should go to the voters.
So far, the Mingus Union board has not taken that vote.
Should Ducey sign off on SB 1254, the Mingus Union school board would not be able to vote against taking the proposed merger to ballot.
The only way the public wouldn’t get to vote on consolidation – or unification – is if Groseta’s group is not able to obtain the necessary signatures his petition requires.
Cottonwood-Oak Creek School Board member Jason Finger said Thursday that he is participating in Groseta’s effort to solicit support – meaning collect signatures – from the public.
“I’m a supporter of this going to the voters,” Finger said. “I’m one of many.”
Response to the consolidation effort “has been positive from the community,” Finger also said.
“And the voters have an obligation to educate themselves,” he said.
Which is why Finger said he believes “a decision as big as this is beyond the decision of five people who change every two years.”
Consequences of SB 1254
According to Mingus Union School Board member Jim Ledbetter, the community “should [also] know the local consequences of taking veto power from a school board.”
“In my opinion, all the facts still aren’t in; the Groseta group [is] tinkering with the statute to try to ignore the findings of the committee and deprive the Mingus Board of the voting opportunity that [the Cottonwood-Oak Creek and Clarkdale-Jerome school districts] have exercised has raised new questions,” Ledbetter said. “Their systematic efforts to disregard the voters in the Clarkdale-Jerome School District will lead to uncertain tax issues.”
Though Arizona School Boards Association has taken no position on SB 1254, the association has requested “some changes to the bill to clarify what would happen if the election sought was successful, and to repeal the changes after a time certain,” said cording to ASBA Director of Governmental Relations Chris Kotterman.
“Those changes were agreed to. As a result, we agreed to say nothing further on the matter one way or the other,” Kotterman said. “It is correct that we are neutral on the bill at this time. We do not support it, but we are not opposing it.”