COTTONWOOD – The Cottonwood-Oak Creek School Board did not win any friends with Mingus Union after deciding last week to push the consolidation question forward to voters in November.
Despite the ill will, Mingus board members Tuesday said they will continue to move forward as part of the special committee charged with determining the pros and cons of a district merger.
Much of Tuesday’s board meeting, as well as an earlier gathering of the consolidation committee, was spent airing grievances over the Cottonwood-Oak Creek vote last week.
Under the banner of an agenda item that called out Cottonwood-Oak Creek for voting “without the community’s input and the decision not to hire a consultant,” the Mingus board ultimately took no action and agreed to continue its involvement with the study committee.
At both meetings Tuesday, Mingus board members and staff were highly critical of the Cottonwood-Oak Creek vote to push the consolidation question forward to voters.
As committee member Michael Westcott said to the C-OC assemblage, “Your vote suggests you had made up your mind before we had done our work.”
To which C-OC Board President Jason Finger said Westcott was absolutely correct.
“This issue, we’ve gone over it many times before. This is my third time with it in 11 years,” explained Finger. “It should come as no surprise that our board is supporting this. Let the voters have it.”
Committee Chair Dan Mabery asked Finger if the Cottonwood-Oak Creek vote represents an endorsement of consolidation, or simply a matter of letting the community decide the issue in an election, Finger said it is the latter. It is not an official endorsement of consolidation, but a firm belief the voters need to decide the question.
Later when the Mingus board took up the consolidation debate, veteran Mingus Board Member Jim Ledbetter urged his colleagues to stay the course on gathering data through the committee process.
“As we saw last week, taking any kind of action is provocative and sends the wrong message,” said Ledbetter.
Ledbetter also pushed the agenda of Mingus hiring its former interim superintendent, Jack Keegan, to work as a consultant on the consolidation question.
While not discounting the hiring of Keegan, board members first agreed to have Board President Anita Glazar approach Finger about the prospect of both the C-OC and Mingus superintendents and business managers working cooperatively to reach consensus on the myriad fiscal questions relating to a district merger and report back to the committee.
Also discussed Tuesday was the impact of consolidation as it relates to the Clarkdale-Jerome School District. Board Member Anthony Lozano noted that should consolidation happen, he no longer would be allowed to serve on the school board as he lives within the Clarkdale-Jerome and Mingus boundary overlap that would not be part of the consolidated Mingus-C-OC district boundaries.
Ledbetter further emphasized that Mingus board members need to come to terms with the ethical dilemma of being elected, in part, by voters in the Clarkdale-Jerome District, and then asking those same voters to be excluded from the Mingus district and pay student tuition for their students to attend high school at Mingus.
As for the future work of the consolidation committee, Ledbetter opined that there is much work to accomplish.
“I would give us an A on asking questions, a C on knowing what questions to ask and an F on finding the correct answers to those questions,” said Ledbetter.
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