Thu, Oct. 22

Commentary: ‘No’ on consolidation makes dollars and sense

Andrea Meyer

Andrea Meyer

I’m not the mathematical sort, but I lean forward in humble fascination as my tax man, Lewis Rice, reduces my appointment to a painless 15-minute series of pleasant questions: Did you sell a boat?

No rain, no boat . Adopt a child? Um, are you offering? Still have the house? Yes, and the mortgage…

Are we claiming any lottery winnings this year? Snort. Doing my taxes myself would mean eight days at the kitchen table and prolonged crying jags on the hour. Every hour. And the thought of sitting for a reading of school district finance law makes me suddenly realize that there are those unwatched You Tube videos of glaciers melting that I need to get to.

But MUHS Superintendent Mike Westcott’s “Consolidation Treatise” (Verde Independent, “My Turn,” Sept. 11), had me glued. It made me admire such an objective, streamlined, and clearly analytic argument as Mike makes.

Mike lays out the fiduciary facts germane to the COCSD-MUHSD consolidation vote on this fall’s ballot; to wit, several unavoidable short-term losses to all districts and some grave and permanent financial losses as well to all districts -- including Clarkdale -Jerome. Then, like the trusted academic he is, Mike cites his sources so that any voter can check his numbers.

Crying jag? Yep, plenty in our future, if you vote for consolidation.

But for me, a retired 30-year teacher at Mingus Union (and still an MUHS coach and tutor), the argument against consolidation of my beloved Mingus comes down to more than just dollars.

It comes down to sense. Good sense.

Maintaining the MUHS District’s independence makes sense for employees of the district and for the teens we serve. Our autonomous district is efficient, as Mike points out, putting more dollars in the classroom than our neighboring districts. And our one-school district saves teachers time, their most precious commodity.

Three weeks ago I was on campus helping a new coach get his feet on the ground. It was easy. It took two minutes to find and order a key from Gary Allred, whom we found fixing a light in the attendance office.

Then we took a walk across the parking lot to Shipping & Receiving to find the boxes of equipment the new coach had ordered. On the way, we stopped our much-more-than–custodian Jim Erick, and asked him where we could find a metal cabinet for our tennis shed. “Right there.” He indicated a collection of surplus cabinets and shelves. We chose some and by the next day, they were delivered and set up in our tennis shed.

Next, I showed the new coach the bus barn and the door to our excellent transportation director’s office. Changing to a bigger bus or altering the date of a field trip or a game is expeditious when your buses are administered from your own school; rules about food, drink, and behavior on buses make sense because those parameters are made with high school students in mind. If something goes awry on a trip to Mohave, our transportation director and drivers can immediately and effectively address it.

Local, flexible, and more immediate control of transportation is just one of the benefits of being a smoothly functioning, independent school district.

For all of my youth, I attended schools in the Tucson Unified District, one of the largest in the state, and briefly, I taught in TUSD as a substitute. A centralized bureaucracy governing multiple schools with differing grade levels is not my definition of efficient and best care for our students.

What we really want as teachers is to spend our time with kids. So when I see a sign that proclaims that consolidation is “good for kids,” I have to say that the day-to-day evidence as I lived it for 34 years in small school districts is in the other camp.

What was beneficial for me as a teacher and coach was manifested in even greater fold for students. If I could get a quick change in a field trip time, call my bookstore director and change a book order, or find my superintendent in the hallway for a brief word about a film I wanted to show, or consult with our business manager about the legal ins and outs of using tax credit money for my tennis team, those people were all there at Mingus.

Teachers live by the bell. When it rings, we’re on; so having our administrators just a few steps away was one of the most valuable, concrete, and time-saving pluses of working at Mingus. And “good for kids”? You bet. They got teachers who could be flexible, energetic, and quickly responsive.

All superintendents in Arizona are K-12 certified, but understandably, the vast majority perform their internships and are trained within the same school in which they worked as teachers before their internship.

Proponents of consolidation point to what they hope will be a cost savings in hiring just one superintendent and business manager for a consolidated district.

This purported savings will not produce a truly closely connected school system, and it is short-sighted. Imagining that a single central set of administrators can add multiple schools and thousands more students, prekindergarten to 12th grade, to their daily care and do it better just doesn’t make sense. Every administrator ( and every teacher) I know has plenty on his or her plate already.

Over the course of 30 years at Mingus, all of my superintendents were high school specialists. They knew teenagers. They had taught them, fought them, hugged, bused, and fed them; reasoned with them, cheered them, and beat down the Dept. of Ed doors for them. Why? Because they knew many of their Mingus students personally. They were personally invested in keeping paints, books, microscopes, stages, trombones, computers, FFA programs and soccer uniforms coming.

Every day these administrators saw what it meant to keep chocolate milk, breakfast burritos, badminton birdies, Smart Boards, digital media equipment, football pads, welding stations, and Spanish and AP US History teachers at the ready for their charges, these multifaceted, complex, and important people we call Marauders.

Speaking personally, I’ve had all the “remote” and “distance” I will ever desire. Having high school specialists on campus, who know their students by name, is one of those intangible, but potent benefits of a one-school district.

Like many teachers I know, I came to Mingus seeking a place that felt like home, that felt personal -- not impenetrable -- a place where I could serve in a meaningful way, where I could give what I had: Myself.

What you can give very soon is your insistence on independence, your “No” vote on consolidation, so that Mingus Union can remain the special, self-governing place it is, a place that attracts excellent people, who know that sometimes a home, just a small one, is exactly what you need.

Andrea Meyer is a retired MUHS teacher and current Yavapai-Apache Nation tutor. She coaches the MUHS girls’ tennis team and has taught in the Bowie, AZ, Unified and Tucson Unified districts. She resides in Clarkdale.

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