Jason Finger, Cottonwood-Oak Creek School District Governing Board vice president, has weighed in on consolidation.
On Dec. 5, the governing board voted unanimously to consolidate COCSD with Mingus Union High School District as a single school district, formally requesting Yavapai County School Superintendent Tim Carter to put the measure to voters on the November 2018 ballot.
The MUHSD Governing Board’s approval is required in addition to COCSD’s to have the motion appear on the ballot. The MUHSD board has yet to vote to move forward with the request. Finger had acted as COCSD board president until the Dec. 5 meeting, when he and then-vice president JoAnne Cook traded places.
Finger, who had been president for half a decade, oversaw much of the last few months’ worth of consolidation discussions in the district and among the community.
“Through elimination of duplicate positions in these two small districts, taxpayer dollars could be redirected into programs and teacher salaries,” Finger said. “It makes little sense to have two districts in the same town educating approximately 3,200 students with two superintendents, two business directors, two transportation directors and other similar positions. Dollars used for other things such as transportation, food service and maintenance could also be more efficiently used in a streamlined single district.”
Finger provided no numbers to demonstrate how much, if any money, would be saved in consolidation, nor how much it would cost taxpayers to align the districts’ curriculums, equalize salary schedules and provide equal employee benefits for teachers.
Finger did not provide a list of positions that could or would be cut, nor provide details about which employee positions, if they had a duplicate in the other district, would be retained nor what would happen if those deemed redundant would be reassigned or terminated.
According to Finger, for voters consolidation means a “better value for their local education investment,” resulting in fewer administrative redundancies that in turn would lead to savings — additional money that could be targeted for classroom expenditures and teacher salaries.
“The use of these funds would undoubtedly help with teacher retention in the community,” Finger said. “Improved alignment of our curriculum and programs produces stronger students. Stronger schools would be a vital consideration for prospective families who are looking to move to this community. We all seem to understand that the financial horizon for public education in the state of Arizona does not seem to show a large influx of dollars coming. Consolidation is a way of operating these two districts in a more efficient manner …. We seek community feedback, and ultimately would like to see the entire community’s input on the consolidation matter by having [it] on the November 2018 ballot.”
Finger said that although COCSD is considering more efficient use of facilities, exploring the possibility of realigning three of the district’s five schools into two K-8 schools resulting in the closure of one of the three schools, consolidation itself will not likely impact the consolidated district’s use of buildings.
The immediate impact to the two existing superintendents, COCSD’s Steve King and MUHSD’s Penny Hargrove, as well as other administrators who may find themselves in doubledup positions due to consolidation, is less clear.
“It is hard to determine what the immediate impact of the superintendent role would be,” Finger said. "Most likely, there would continue to be workings between the two existing superintendents [as they work] to align curriculum, policies and programs before reducing to a single administrator. However, once consolidation goes into effect, that role would be held by a single individual.”
For families interested to know what name their newly consolidated K-12 district will have, Finger said that at any name is far too premature to consider.