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Mingus looks at implications of consolidation

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Although Cottonwood-Oak Creek School District has decided the matter of its consolidation with Mingus Union High School District should be in the hands of voters next November, the 13-member MUHSD and COCSD Advisory Committee for Consolidation continues to examine the implications of consolidating districts.

At 4 p.m., Jan. 9, MUHS will host the next consolidation committee meeting. In the meantime, two members of the MUHSD Governing Board have weighed in on the issue.

“The consolidation committee in my mind [is] an opportunity to reduce the inevitable margin of error related to consolidation through vetting of some of the more nebulous variables,” governing board member Steve Gesell said. “This issue has been to the voters before and will likely return.”

Consolidation of MUHSD and COCSD appeared on voter ballots in 2008, but did not pass. Earlier this month, the COCSD Governing Board voted to request that Yavapai County Schools Superintendent Tim Carter once again put the measure to a vote. In order to have the measure appear, however, MUHSD must also agree.

“Whether the remaining questions are answered by the committee or the county superintendent’s office, the important facet is we help provide as much information as we can to help people make an informed decision when they are facing the same question each board is — that is, what is best for our kids,” Gesell said.

MUHSD Governing Board Clerk Lori Drake said, “Every single issue can be a positive but they can also be negative. Every item varies with how the district will be run, which is why the fact finding committee is so important. The longest standing issue between districts is teacher salary.”

As COCSD Governing Board member Janice Rollins noted before voting to send the ballot measure request to Carter, MUHSD teachers may perceive a consolidated pay scale as tantamount to a wage freeze. The base salary for MUHSD teachers for 2017-18 is $34,000, while the base salary COCSD teachers is $32,320.

The highest pay scale for teachers at MUHSD is $57,400, whereas COCSD tops out at $45,080. On average, pay for support personnel is also higher at MUHSD: For 2017-18, a certified bus driver makes from $12.60 to $17.19, while COCSD’s bus drivers make between $10.50 and $12.75. MUHSD’s secretary to the superintendent earns a base salary of $15.55, whereas the same position earns a base salary of $13.20 at COCSD.

“Arizona actually ranks 51st for teacher salary,” Drake said. “That means that even if our teachers are being paid at state average, they are still at the bottom nationally. Just to bring COCSD teacher salaries up to Mingus’s would cost on average $700,000 a year, and that’s money that has to be there every year.”

The general consensus from both MUHSD and COCSD is that, while financial savings may occur as the result of consolidation, no one yet knows how much will be generated. “I have been listening to the fact finding committee, but there seems to be no hard evidence on any amount that can agreed upon,” Drake said.

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