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Upper Verde districts continue consolidation talks in neutral territory

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If there’s one thing that key players from Mingus Union High School District and Cottonwood-Oak Creek School District can agree on is that, unification or not, the end game is to achieve what is best for the kids.
 
For some, it’s still not 100 percent clear if the answer is to consolidate the two districts based on current data. Others are pushing a petition for a vote on consolidation in November.
 
The Advisory Committee for Consolidation met in neutral territory at the Cottonwood Public Safety Building on Jan. 25. Chairman Dan Mabery said in jest that perhaps it was appropriate to meet somewhere close to the police, referencing some of the heated discussion that occurred in past meetings.
 
“Hopefully emotions are lower now,” Mabery said. “We need something voters can work with. We are starting to eat our young, and we need to cooperate.”
 
Consolidation has been an issue of discussion for the last 60 years. Its latest appearance on the ballot was in 2008 as a measure forced by the state. Clarkdale-Jerome District was initially targeted among the other two districts, but it was later removed. Voters in Clarkdale-Jerome still cast ballots as part of Mingus. The measure ended up failing.
 
Last year, former Mingus Union High School Board President Andy Groseta proposed consolidation again. Clarkdale-Jerome has opted out of consolidation leaving the kindergarten to eighth-grade school district as its own independent district if a consolidation measure were to pass in November.
 
In December, COCSD board members requested Yavapai County School Superintendent Tim Carter to call an election for consolidation — a move that ultimately miffed some employees on the MUHSD side — as they felt there was not enough data to move forward.
 
One of the main lines of contention with the data being used during consolidation talks is an outdated Warner Report based on consolidation of all three Upper Verde Valley school districts.
 
Another is a spreadsheet generated by consolidation committee member Philip Terbell to review the Auditor General’s reports on school districts over the past five years.
 
The spreadsheet goes over MUHSD and COCSD as well as districts from outside and inside the Verde Valley. One of the main criticisms is that the districts chosen were cherry-picked and don’t necessarily provide any concrete information to aid consolidation discussions.
 
“It’s hard to decipher the numbers on these districts,” Mabery said.
 
Consolidation committee member Anita Glazer brought up the fact that every school has a different business model and bringing up other districts is “comparing apples to oranges.”
 
“We’re different ... you can’t compare us to other districts,” Glazer said.
 
Terbell reiterated that he was not an outsider with an ax to grind and was just a volunteer.
 
“I merely supplied the numbers,” he said.
 
Using business managers from both districts to do a study would provide clearer answers, but the awkward truth of redundancies is imminent, Mabery said.
 
“Business managers are qualified, but they may find out they’d lose their jobs,” Mabery said.
 
Committee board member Mike Westcott noted that in his research of other school district unification, there was very little evidence of savings.
 
“Even the Warner Report only mentioned possible savings,” he said.
 
Another issue that is keeping employees on the Mingus side hesitant is that the end result after consolidation would cause Mingus teachers to take home less unless the district changes its business model.
 
Some on the Mingus side are in fear of a salary freeze following consolidation. According to district salary schedules, a MUHSD teacher with a bachelor’s degree and no experience has a higher starting salary at $34,000 than a teacher at COCSD at $32,000. The top salary for Mingus teachers caps out at $57,400 and $45,080 for Cottonwood teachers.
 
Mabery said that while Mingus may get less under the current model, a recalculation could bring increases from other sources.
 
Committee members all agreed that consolidation should not be built on the back of Mingus teachers.
 
Kelcie Grega can be reached at 634-8551, or email kgrega@larsonnewspapers.com
 

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