If upper Verde Valley voters decide yes on unification of the three separate school districts, it will create three new school districts.
The idea of unification is to create fewer school districts in Arizona, according to information from the School District Redistricting Commission that decided smaller school districts should unify. The members mandated that the question should go to voters Tuesday, Nov. 4.
The voters will be asked if the Mingus Union High School District should be split in two based on Clarkdale-Jerome and Cottonwood-Oak Creek school district boundaries. Then, if Mingus and Cottonwood should unify, voters living within the Clarkdale-Jerome School District will have just one question: whether the Mingus Union High School District should be subdivided.
Voters in the Cottonwood-Oak Creek School District will have two questions: whether the Mingus Union High School District should be subdivided, and if so, whether Cottonwood-Oak Creek School District and one of the subdivided Mingus districts should unify.
“Effectively what a ‘yes’ vote will do, folks, is Mingus will cease to exist.
It will become two new high school districts with Cottonwood-Oak Creek becoming a K through 12 district and Clarkdale-Jerome will have two districts, with a high school that does not exist,” Yavapai County Superintendent of Schools Tim Carter said.
Carter visited Cottonwood on Thursday, Sept. 18, to give the facts on unification and answer some questions. About 35 people attended the meeting.
Another issue arises should Mingus become subdivided. What would happen to the district’s assets?
“The county attorney [Sheila Polk] and I agree there could be a lot of lawsuits,” Carter said.
Former COCSD Superintendent John Tavasci said splitting a high school district is like a divorce. “You not only have to deal with the assets, but the liability,” he said.
If the answer from voters is “no” on any part of the questions, nothing happens. The existing districts will not change.
The question of unification of the three school districts has come up before and voters turned it down. Now, the state legislature has mandated that 78 school districts across the state put the question to the voters.
The redistricting commission was signed into law by Gov. Janet Napolitano in 2005.
The commission considered several factors when looking at districts, including school size, district size, teacher salaries, travel time of students, district geographic boundaries, primary and secondary tax issues and aligning curriculum kindergarten through 12th grade.
“The districts here work together and they work together very, very well. I’m a conservative, local control guy. My political view is simple: The people of the Verde Valley should decide what is best for the districts of the Verde Valley,” Carter said.
COCSD Superintendent Barbara U’Ren told Carter that the three superintendents meet regularly to discuss curriculum. She said the districts already have the ability to align services and do not need to unify for that purpose. For example, COCSD provides food service for Mingus.
Carter also told the audience that voters always have had the ability to consolidate, unify or subdivide districts.
One person in the audience asked why CJSD was not part of the unification question. The commission decided to eliminate the district because with the voting history in Clarkdale-Jerome it would not pass, but it thought there was a significant chance it would pass in Cottonwood, he said.
Ron Agoglia asked Carter if the voters give their approval, where would the teens in Clarkdale go to high school?
“I don’t know. It would be up to the new board. They could find a place in Clarkdale, or could make a new unified district,” Carter said, while saying that it would only make sense for the current Mingus campus to serve as the high school.
Agoglia said, “Aren’t you creating more problems?”
Carter said with the subdivided, unified move, if approved, it would create some very complex questions that have to be answered.
On one issue, Mingus teachers have a higher salary schedule than do COCSD teachers — a difference of approximately $750,000, according to research.
“I doubt if the new district would adopt the lower pay schedule. How to make up the difference would be up to the new board,” Carter said.
Carter defined the difference between consolidation and unification.
Consolidation is putting two like districts together, such as two high school districts or two elementary districts. Unification involves bringing an elementary district and a high school district together to form a kindergarten through 12th grade single district.
Ballots will be mailed out Thursday, Oct. 2, and Carter said the anticipation is that 75 percent of voters will cast ballots early.
“We’re expecting less than 15 percent of voters will go to the polls,” he said.
Carter gave his telephone number for anyone who wants to call him with questions regarding unification, (928) 925-6560.
“If I don’t know the answer, I will get it,” he said.