Mingus Union, Cottonwood-Oak Creek continue consolidation talks as Clarkdale-Jerome says NO

CLARKDALE – When Clarkdale-Jerome School District hired Humboldt Unified’s Danny Brown to a two-year contract to become its next superintendent, it seemed clear that Clarkdale-Jerome wanted nothing to do with the unification and consolidation talks that have been going on between Mingus Union and Cottonwood-Oak Creek school districts.

When Clarkdale-Jerome’s Jill Zaske wrote a letter to the editor to Verde Valley Newspapers, any doubt was removed.

Truth is, the letter written in May by Zaske, the district’s governing board president, mirrored the board’s May 9 unanimous vote.

“After carefully reviewing facts regarding what a unification/consolidation impact would have on Clarkdale-Jerome School District, the Clarkdale-Jerome Governing Board took unanimous action to not consider unification/consolidation with our neighboring districts,” Zaske stated in her letter to the editor. “We wish our neighboring districts the best as they deliberate this unification option, and of course, [we] will always continue to participate in collaborations and shared services to benefit all our districts and our students.”

Zaske also stated in her letter that the size of the Clarkdale-Jerome district “makes it unique regarding funding available for small school districts.”

According to Zaske, Clarkdale-Jerome would lose “over $487,000 annually in federal funds only available to small school districts.”

Zaske also stated that the Clarkdale-Jerome school board reviewed the annual Arizona Auditor General’s report before making its decision.

“This report demonstrated that Clarkdale-Jerome has the highest teacher salaries, more money spent directly in school classrooms, and the lowest average administration costs than other districts in the Verde Valley,” she stated.

‘Tremendous opportunities’

Though Clarkdale-Jerome will not be part of the unification/consolidation process, Former Mingus Union school board member Andy Groseta said that there are “still tremendous opportunities” should the Cottonwood-Oak Creek and Mingus Union districts join as one.

“After considerable research on the matter, our working group has found that even without [Clarkdale-Jerome], there still is substantial savings to be made through combining school operations.”

That savings, which Groseta claims to be in the neighborhood of $1,435,000, would come from “both administrative and plant operations.”

Boundaries, tuitions, Phoenix Cement

Despite the disclaimer that he in no way represents legal counsel, Yavapai County Schools Superintendent Tim Carter said that if Cottonwood-Oak Creek and Mingus Union school districts did merge, “it seems to me the new boundaries would be of Cottonwood Oak Creek School District.”

Citing Arizona Revised Statutes 15-101, 15-448 and 15-459, Carter said that Clarkdale-Jerome “would maintain its current boundaries as an Elementary (Common) School District.”

Is it possible that Clarkdale-Jerome district boundaries could become autonomous from the new consolidated district? Is it possible that the Clarkdale-Jerome School District could pay tuition for high school students, the same as Beaver Creek School District does?

The way Carter sees it, Clarkdale-Jerome would retain “at least three options.”

Again citing Arizona Revised Statute 15-101, as well as Arizona Revised Statutes ARS 15-447.01 and ARS 15-449, Carter said that Clarkdale-Jerome “could unify as a district and become their own K-12 district, or they could remain an Elementary (Common) School District and transition to a high school district by first offering grade nine,  or they could remain an Elementary (Common) School District and tuition their students for high school (presumably to the new unified Mingus-Cottonwood-Oak Creek).”

Regarding the tax base provided by the Salt River Materials Group (Phoenix Cement) plant, Carter said the plant “remains in the Clarkdale-Jerome District.”

“In my view, they would not be part of a combined Mingus-Cottonwood-Oak Creek District,” Carter said.

What comes next?

The next step is for both Cottonwood-Oak Creek and Mingus Union to continue discussions on a possible unification and consolidation.

Though the Cottonwood-Oak Creek school board voted on June 6 to continue discussions with Mingus Union, the Mingus Union school board voted on May 23 to wait for incoming Superintendent Dr. Penny Hargrove to arrive on July 1 before continuing talks.

“Because she’s the one who needs to get up to speed,” said Anita Glazar, board president at Mingus Union. “We didn’t want to make decisions without her.”

Glazar also said that she has told Dr. Hargrove that the Mingus Union board “wants to look at [continuing consolidation and unification talks].”

July 25 would be the Mingus Union school board’s first regularly scheduled meeting with Dr. Hargrove as superintendent.

-- Follow Bill Helm on Twitter @BillHelm42

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