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Thu, Oct. 22

Commentary: K-12 school districts build relationships that last lifetime

Genna Adams

Genna Adams

I’ve worked in public education for the last 40 years. My background is diverse and includes teaching all grades, kindergarten through twelfth. I’ve worn many hats, performed many jobs, and have been able to view education from many perspectives.

I’ve worked in Cottonwood-Oak Creek School District, Mingus Union High School, Sedona-Oak Creek, Grand Canyon, and Morgan Hill Unified in San Jose, California. My top priority and focus had always been to provide the BEST outcomes for all students.

Until the 1980s, Arizona had performing schools, and districts paid teachers an average salary. Now, Arizona ranks last in teacher retention, teacher pay, and per-pupil funding. The lack of investment in Arizona’s public schools has been happening for decades.

In 1991, Arizona ranked 24th in teacher pay. Then Gov. Fife Symington launched charter schools with the purpose that public schools would feel the pressure and would have to improve. Arizona has some of the loosest charter laws, and charter schools have been operating without transparency and accountability. Public schools have to play by different rules. Charters have been working for profits, and our public schools are failing.

I pay 74% of my property taxes to Sedona, Cottonwood, Mingus, and charter schools. Taxpayers are doing their part. In 2019, more than $200 million went from public to private schools. Inadequate funding and financial issues go far beyond the consolidation of Cottonwood-Oak Creek and Mingus Union.

In the Verde Valley, we have six public school districts: Mingus Union, Beaver Creek, Camp Verde, Cottonwood-Oak Creek, Clarkdale -Jerome, and Sedona Oak Creek. All of these schools are within 30 miles of one another.

These districts have to provide their health care, business operations, transportation, food services, technology support, building maintenance, special education, curriculum coordinators, ELL programs, Title One, professional development, and administration.

Imagine if these five districts would have banded together and determined that a lot of money could have been saved and put into the classrooms and teachers’ salaries with shared services. Shared services are cost-effective because they centralize office operations and eliminate redundancies.

Any successful business knows how to implement management with one central team. Each district could have remained independent with the benefit of shared services. Aligning calendars isn’t sharing services.

To my knowledge, our valley schools haven’t implemented shared services. Cottonwood-Oak Creek and Mingus tried this model by sharing a special education director and combining transportation and food services. It’s not in place currently, so I’m assuming the partnership didn’t work out. Now community taxpayers are questioning the amount of money spent on the redundancies of jobs. Can you blame them?

Since shared services didn’t pan out, consolidation of schools has both curricular and financial advantages. It allows schools to share facilities and decreases capital improvement expenditures because there is no need to upgrade or maintain duplicate facilities.

I understand why small schools are essential in rural communities, but not when dollars aren’t going into the classrooms, and teachers are vastly underpaid. Yes! Teachers are worth more. Cottonwood Oak-Creek loses teachers to both Mingus and Clarkdale because of salaries. I was part of the Mingus faculty and experienced their teachers’ association fight for wages and benefits. I was part of Cottonwood-Oak Creek when the teachers voted against a raise to keep administrators and support staff.

Could the consolidation of Cottonwood Oak-Creek School District and Mingus Union High School be the first step in unifying the Verde Valley? Mingus teachers and Clarkdale Jerome teachers are the highest paid in the area, and they’re underpaid, too.

Ask a teacher about their medical coverage. Since I started working in Arizona, my benefits have increased in cost for less coverage. It’s the pay more for less model. I currently pay $1,690 per month for my husband and me. Even though I was fully vested in the Arizona State Retirement System and worked in our local school districts, I don’t have medical benefits unless I pay for them.

Do you know how many teachers can’t retire before the age of 65 because of medical expenses and coverage? I started teaching at 22 years old and would have had to continue working for 43 years before I was eligible for Medicare. Do other government services, including police and firefighters, health services, and more, receive medical benefits until they turn 65?

These are approximate student numbers in the following districts:

• Cottonwood-Oak-Creek, 1900.

• Camp Verde, 1,500.

• Mingus, 1,100

• Sedona, 995

• Beaver Creek, 300 students enrolled.

That’s a total of 5,795 students.

All of these districts are competing with one another over students. There are districts sending buses to neighboring communities to keep their enrollment up. Students bring dollars into the schools; 5,795 students in a valley are by no means too many.

How many chiefs does a system need? Communities should be looking to produce the best outcomes with their education dollars. The local taxpayers are doing their part, but the state and federal governments need to realize what a decrease in funding has done to public education.

Could we, as a community, come together and put our efforts into the more significant problem? Our schools are underfunded, but we need to utilize our financial resources. Together we’d be more substantial, and the competition over kids and teachers would cease.

As a Verde Valley, we should come together and do what’s best for kids. K-12 districts build relationships with students, parents, and community members that last for 13 crucial years in their lifetime.

A K-12 district collaborates to evaluate students’ data. A cohesive district would implement curriculum and assessment structures that would be consistent and compatible. District leaders, school leaders, teachers, and students would be working toward a common goal.

Essential discussions would be taking place with all K-12 stakeholders to improve student outcomes. I’m a taxpayer and a BIG supporter of public education. Let’s pull our resources together and continue addressing the underfunding of schools on state and federal levels.

After 40 years of service, Genna Adams is a retired public school educator. For 36 of those years, she worked in several of the public schools in the Verde Valley. She has a master’s in education and an administrative certificate with endorsements in the following areas: early childhood, reading specialist, and a secondary English endorsement.

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