Editorial: Financial outcomes of consolidation an exercise in speculation

We don’t get to vote on school district consolidation Tuesday, but that has not diminished the debate about the merits of merging the Cottonwood-Oak Creek and Mingus Union districts into one.

The new focus of the debate deals with the secondary tax levy a consolidated district would have on a unified school district. A report authored by the Yavapai County School Superintendent’s Office shows Mingus would stand to lose $867,584 in bond and override monies with Clarkdale-Jerome property owners removed from the new unified district boundaries.

It bears emphasis that the $867,584 figure is an estimate, and the person who did the report, Renee Raskin, said “Keep in mind that if there is a consolidation election in 2019, the current secondary tax rate estimates will be changing.”

It’s a sure bet that the combination of secondary tax obligations – overrides and bonds – for a unified district will definitely increase on the Mingus side of the equation as MUHS would be merged into the smaller geographic boundaries of a unified district. Clarkdale-Jerome property owners would be off the hook for Mingus secondary tax debt. Fewer taxpayers will assume the cumulative debt of both Mingus and Cottonwood-Oak Creek. It also bears emphasis that taxpayer obligations for bond and override debt largely depends on the health of the local housing market. When property values are high, tax rates decline. When they fall, tax rates go up.

The current override and bond debt is a short-term problem. Who’s to say what future secondary tax needs will be for a unified district? It would be a district with excess, unused classrooms as Cottonwood-Oak Creek has closed the former Cottonwood Elementary School. It would be a district with more school buses that it likely needs, and most of them are new. Once the current secondary taxes of the two districts is retired, it’s only speculation what future override and bond needs will be for the new school district. It is not speculation, however, that such debt would be from a single levy from one school district instead of the confusing layered tax obligations we now have from multiple school districts. Ultimately, it is up to voters on whether we have such debt at all.

As we continue to debate the merits, and lack, of a single unified school district, it’s important to always remember that consolidation proponents will always present a best-case scenario for consolidation, while opponents will paint the picture from a worst-case perspective. None of them own the crystal ball that accurately shows the future.

And as for the cost implications of consolidation, the best advice is to cling to the wisdom expressed by the man who chaired the committee dedicated to finding a middle ground between these warring factions.

As Dan Mabery summarize the cost implications of consolidation, he said, “I don’t think the consolidation dollar savings are as large as one side has proposed nor is it as small as the other has said. I think that a meticulous, comprehensive and mindful approach from a new board would result in no negative effects on the Mingus staff. I talked with a handful of ex-administrators from both MUHS and COCSD and all said that if it came to a vote, they would vote yes. I agree with them. Every efficiency should be explored for the best use of our tax dollars to create the best student outcome possible. Consolidation should be a part of that effort. If it should happen, I think we will look back 10 years from now and see that our children were better off for it.”

-- Dan Engler

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