Fri, Jan. 17

Editorial: Ballot protocol biggest stumbling block to consolidation

A year ago, school district consolidation blew through the Upper Verde Valley like a Category 5 hurricane.

So far this year, it’s hardly kicked up any dust.

But those winds began to gust again this week with news that pro-consolidation forces are not so eager to have voters decide the issue this year.

A November 2019 election was one of the stipulations agreed to by the parties involved in last year’s lawsuit by Mingus Union High School that successfully thwarted the issue from appearing on the November 2018 ballot.

The reasons for having the election delayed another year are many, according to the Committee for Better Upper Verde Valley Schools.

The most obvious is the 90-day waiting period after the Arizona Legislature adjourns this year for the provisions of SB 1073 to become law. The pro-consolidation folks claim that does not allow sufficient time to circulate petitions to qualify the question for the November ballot.

They also say a November 2020 election is preferable in that it will save the school districts on election costs. They’ve tossed out a savings of $30,000, but it’s anybody’s guess what those actual costs will be in 2019 vs. 2020.

Further, they say having the issue on the ballot for next year’s presidential election guarantees a greater voter turnout. It allows for a greater collective voice to decide the issue.

That’s what they are saying.

For those on the opposite side of the consolidation fence, the concern lies more in what the pro-consolidation folks are not saying.

The biggest deals with the ballot protocol for the consolidation election. If this issue is dragged out for another year, it’s certain there will be challenges to the interpretation of state law that school district consolidation has to be decided with three separate ballots.

This plan calls for consolidation ballots in the Mingus Union, Cottonwood-Oak Creek and Clarkdale-Jerome districts. In effect, it means registered voters in the Upper Verde will vote twice.

Pro-consolidation forces will claim that just muddies the waters. They’re right. It also is a sure death blow to a successful consolidation vote.

This is just one of the consolidation conundrums referenced last year by Consolidation Study Committee Chairman Dan Mabery when he said there needs to be a way under Arizona law for consolidation issues to be decided in a simple clear-cut manner.

This one is clearly not so simple.

Say, for example, that consolidation is decided with a single “Yes-No” ballot for all voters in the combined Cottonwood-Oak Creek and Clarkdale-Jerome districts, which collectively make up the Mingus Union district. That surely will bring protests from the voters in the Clarkdale-Jerome District. They want – and it can be fairly argued that they deserve – an equal and autonomous voice on the issue of consolidation.

The alternative, of course, means there is the possibility that a minority number of voters in the Clarkdale-Jerome District will hold veto power against the overall majority vote, should the voters in Cottonwood-Oak Creek vote yes on consolidation.

Finally, having everyone in the Upper Verde vote twice on the matter by throwing the Mingus Union district into the mix only further complicates the issue for voters.

Either way this one goes will result in claims that it is not fair.

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