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Sun, Oct. 20

Commentary: Upper Verde education follows script of ‘Let’s Make a Deal’

Former television game show host Monty Hall would love the Upper Verde Valley’s education system.

With three different school districts, two of which govern one school each, any time these districts want to do business with each other they play their own game of “Let’s Make a Deal.”

Come on down!

With school districts, these deals are called Intergovernmental Agreements, or IGAs in bureaucratese.

On the surface, these IGAs are supposed to clearly spell out the rules of the game for the services provided by one district, the corresponding obligations of the participating district, and the compensation for services provided.

Those are the rules of the game.

But when you are playing “Let’s Make a Deal,” the game isn’t interesting without plot twists and a dose of the unexpected.

Come on down!

Such a plot twist was revealed last week when veteran Mingus Union School Board Member Jim Ledbetter asked for a closer look at the rules of “Let’s Make a Deal” as they applied to advanced algebra classes for eighth-grade students at Cottonwood-Oak Creek and Clarkdale-Jerome. For Ledbetter, it was also a chance to exercise some advantageous consolidation politics and put Cottonwood-Oak Creek in an unfavorable public light.

The plot twist involved the timely payment for algebra class services rendered by Mingus Union and the prompt payment for those services by Cottonwood-Oak Creek. Ledbetter was in a perfect spot to cash in because the answer behind Door Number Three showed that C-OC had been anything but prompt in living up to its financial obligation to Mingus. Billed for the annual service June 1, Cottonwood-Oak Creek stumbled badly in this game of “Let’s Make a Deal” by not paying its bill until Aug. 23.

Score one for Ledbetter and his anti-consolidation colleagues by making Cottonwood-Oak Creek look bad. It was an easy win. Cottonwood-Oak Creek led with its chin and dropped its guard at the same time.

Cottonwood-Oak Creek no doubt had fallen into a sense of false security by thinking their own gamble in picking Door Number Three was the grand prize.

Going back to at least 2014, both Cottonwood-Oak Creek and Clarkdale-Jerome were playing this game with Mingus by a different set of rules. Sure, the rules -- or in this case IGAs – stated the elementary districts were supposed to pay Mingus to have their eighth-grade students take algebra classes at the high school. But somewhere along the line, someone at Mingus said, “Let’s Make a Deal” and both elementary districts picked the door with the grand prize. Their eighth-graders would be allowed to take algebra classes at Mingus, but they would not have to pay for the service. That’s what makes this game of “Let’s Make a Deal” so interesting. The rules may say one thing, but if you pick the right door, you get the bend the rules, or ignore them altogether. As explained by Clarkdale-Jerome Superintendent Danny Brown, “We have been aware of the payment for services, but MUHSD has never billed us up until last year.  We were told in the past that ‘we weren’t going to be billed’ and we cannot make a payment without being invoiced.”

Likewise, Cottonwood-Oak Creek Business Manager David Snyder explained, “COCSD was not invoiced per the terms of the IGA for the first three years … Whether it was oversight of personnel or an agreement between previous administrations, both districts agreed to adhere to the terms of the IGA for FY18 and for the current fiscal year and not try to reconcile the invoicing errors.”

Mingus Union Superintendent Penny Hargrove explained that it actually was Snyder who alerted Mingus to the fact that the elementary districts had not previously paid for the service, despite the fact the IGA required such. “We trusted that this was taken care of by prior administration,” said Hargrove. “Mr. Snyder brought this to (our) attention … The question was raised by David that they hadn’t been billed for a few years.”

Now, said Hargrove, all has been resolved thanks to another prize behind Door Number 3. Because Mingus never invoiced the elementary school districts for the service in past years, the high school has agreed to drop the matter and only go forward. As to how much is owed by the two districts, Hargrove said it does not matter. “We have not run ... figures and do not intend to,” she said.

We’ll have to see how that settles with the only group of people who did not get to participate in this game of “Let’s Make a Deal.” Ultimately, these IGAs are approved by the elected school boards. Considering they give final approval to the rules, it’s not exactly fair that they did not get to participate in this game of “Let’s Make a Deal.” They didn’t get to experience the thrill of the gamble. They didn’t get the chance to find out what the prize was behind Door Number Three.

They didn’t get to participate in the rush of excitement when Monty Hall said, “Come on down!

Postscript: Collaborative education between the elementary and high schools doesn’t have to be like this. There would be no need for this game of “Let’s Make a Deal” if we had a consolidated, unified school district in the Upper Verde Valley. Allowing eighth-graders to take algebra classes at the high school would not have to be negotiated by contract in a consolidated, unified school district. Instead, it would all be part of a strategic, articulated plan.

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