Cottonwood-Oak Creek School District Superintendent Steve King said he is unwilling to endorse a realignment of district schools until all of the information is in.
King, who entered his first year as superintendent for the 2017-18 school year following the departure of longtime COCSD Superintendent Barbara U’Ren, has been tasked by the COCSD Governing Board with exploring the possibility of realigning three of the district’s five schools into two kindergarten-to-eighth-grade schools — a move that would likely result in the closure of one of the three schools.
“There are a lot more unknowns than knowns at this point; I’m not even convinced of the feasibility of it,” King said, but added that realignment could be a better solution for students and families going forward. “No decisions have been made at all but it’s definitely worth a look. We want these to be family-friendly schools …. 99 percent of education is about relationships, and K-8 schools facilitate relationships.”
According to King, realignment may better help the district build schools based on what the community will look like in 10 to 15 years, as well as increase efficiency.
“How can we create schools that meet the real needs of the students we serve? That’s the real question,” King said, adding that the district might also benefit from cost savings. “I think their could be savings [but] I can’t go on instinct …. Even if it’s a wash but it’s the right thing to do, I’m fine with that. [Money is] not what started the conversation. That’s not what will end the conversation, but I don’t see how it could cost us any, certainly.”
COCSD’s five schools — Cottonwood Elementary School, a third through fifth grade school; Cottonwood Middle School, a sixth through eighth grade school; Dr. Daniel Bright Elementary School, a pre-kindergarten through second grade school; Mountain View Preparatory, a kindergarten though eighth grade school; and Oak Creek School, a pre-kindergarten though eighth grade school — are built to house approximately 2,700 students but currently only accommodate around 2,000.
In addition to using space more efficiently, filling unused classrooms and leaving others to be rented out or otherwise used, the closure of one school may allow the district to avoid costly upkeep to outdated facilities. Dr. Daniel Bright Elementary School was constructed in the late 1980s, Cottonwood Middle School in the 1970s and Cottonwood Elementary School in the late 1950s.
King said each has upkeep issues that will need to be addressed in the next decade. Nonetheless, King said that any school chosen for closure will be selected due to its location, ensuring convenient access for residents from around the district.
“For a first-year superintendent, it’d be a lot easier for me not to do this,” King said, but added that he is committed to exploring the possibility in case it does produce a benefit for families.
“We want to get out there early and the rumor mill starts. Everyone knows what I know …. With this time and place, with resources diminishing from [state and federal sources] we cannot continue to do things the way we’ve always done and expect things to change.”
A realignment is not the only major change on the table for COCSD: Consolidation talks between COCSD and Mingus Union High School District are ongoing. On Wednesday, Dec. 5, the COCSD Governing Board will discuss whether or not to seriously consider merging the K-8 and high school districts.
King said the issue is about consolidation and not unification, stressing that a potential merger would seek not to double up administrative resources — such as superintendents and business managers — but consolidate such resources, thereby increasing efficiency for a district that would accommodate upward of 3,300 students.
“For this to happen, typically all boards must agree it can be done [and then] it has to go to the voters,” King said, adding that the Clarkdale-Jerome School District Governing Board has spoken definitively in favor of not consolidating with COCSD and MUHSD.
“Right now, I have not been directed by my board to do anything about the consolidation,” King said