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Wed, Feb. 26

Editorial: Divide and conquer a reality of consolidation war

In building and preserving the Roman Empire, Julius Cesar is credited with the divide-and-conquer approach to war.

It’s stood the test of time.

And it’s been well applied in recent years in our own ongoing battle with Upper Verde school district consolidation.

In Arizona, the school district situation in the Verde Valley is uncommon to say the least. Having a union high school district with two or fewer district partners is rare in Arizona.

Further, this “union” is made up of three distinctly different types of districts. Mingus is a union high school district in legal nomenclature. Cottonwood-Oak Creek is a pre-kindergarten-through-12th-grade district, and Clarkdale-Jerome is a K-8 district.

The way Arizona law is written, this unique union is impregnable. Fort Knox could not be more secure.

So it’s understandable that Andy Groseta and his pro-consolidation colleagues have taken their case to the Arizona Legislature in recent years in an effort to divide and conquer this unique situation of having three school districts, two that govern one school each, all within six miles of each other.

The divide-and-conquer tactics began two years ago with Sen. Sylvia Allen becoming a willing partner of the pro-consolidation forces.

Step 1 was to amend Arizona law to allow a merger of a union high school into the boundaries of an elementary district. In more simple terms, what this meant was that Mingus would be allowed to be consolidated into the smaller Cottonwood-Oak Creek District, leaving Clarkdale-Jerome as its own independent district and, in effect, breaking up the union.

Step 2 in the process also was prompted by Sen. Allen. This time, it was the affirmation that a successful consolidation of Mingus and Cottonwood-Oak Creek would have no effect on the operation and governance of the Verde Valley’s cooperative technical education district, VACTE.

Sen. Allen’s Senate Bill 1073 also originally sought to consolidate what otherwise would be a trio of consolidation elections – one separate vote for each of the three impacted districts. That issue became a political firestorm for Allen and Groseta alike and they eventually waved the white flag.

For a while anyway.

With the start of a new legislative session, Groseta and Sen. Allen are at it again. This time in the form of Senate Bill 1122 that again seeks a single vote for a Cottonwood-Oak Creek-Mingus consolidation election.

For both pro- and anti-consolidation forces, this is the single most important battle in the consolidation war.

For Groseta and his consolidation supporters, a single vote keeps things simple. One election. Majority rule prevails. It avoids the prospect of a Clarkdale-Jerome minority vote killing a potential majority affirmative vote on the Cottonwood-Oak Creek and Mingus Union ballots.

This, of course, flies in the face of the union concept. Mingus was created as a union high school district, with the-then Cottonwood, Clarkdale and Jerome district voters willingly allowing their individual high schools to be unified into one, and at the same time leaving the elementary schools as independent district partners in the union.

If our current structure was created by individual district votes, it stands to reason that it should be broken up by individual district votes.

What’s fair here all depends on which side of the consolidation fence you sit.

For Groseta and company, this is the final divide-and-conquer battle that gives them a chance of winning the consolidation war.

Without it, they might be better off trying to break into Fort Knox.

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