When two northwestern Arizona school
districts merged in 2000 to create the
Kingman Unified School District, eyes
around the state watched closely.
It was the first modern attempt at
school-district unification, a process
long touted by some as a way to trim
administrative costs and streamline
curriculum. The project in Kingman, it
was agreed, would serve as a test case.
Now, as the three Kyrene Corridor school
districts face a state-mandated look at
unification, it appears that much can be
learned from Kingman.
In 2005, the legislature created the
Arizona’s School District Redistricting
Commission to review all of Arizona’s
non-unified school districts and develop
proposals for the best way to unify
So as districts statewide face the
prospect of drastically changing their
structure, all eyes are again on
Unification there has been an
“unparalleled success,” said Doris
Goodale, a Kingman school board member
who was tapped for the redistricting
Among those successes was an initial
reduction in administrative costs,
Goodale said. Two superintendents became
one. Two directors of curriculum became
Administrative costs later increased,
however, as the staff was expanded to
provide more services. So while the
overall administrative costs didn’t
significantly decrease, “you get more
for your money because it’s not tied up
in one person,” Goodale said.
In other words, the salary for a
superintendent can be redirected to pay
a psychologist and occupational
But Kyrene is not Kingman, and
administrative costs here may actually
increase with unification, board member
Rae Waters said at a recent meeting.
“We have some of the lowest
(administrative) costs in the state,”
One of the biggest unification
challenges Kingman faced, Goodale said,
was integrating salary schedules between
“You will find that the state of Arizona
has salary discrepancies between
elementary and high school teachers,”
“Bringing our teachers up to some level
of parity between the elementary and
high school districts was absolutely our
The Kyrene Corridor districts face the same issue.
Elementary teachers in Kyrene this year start at $32,456
and max out their salary at $61,856.
Tempe Union teachers this year start at
$35,708 and can earn $68,241 at the
highest levels of experience and
Tempe Elementary School District data
was not available for this year, but
teachers last school year started at
$31,392. Their salaries maxed out at
In combining two or more decades-old
school districts, as in merging
corporations, requires a melding of
cultures and a mutual give-and-take that
can leave some groups feeling spited.
“Sometimes there is jealousy from the
elementary teachers to the high school,”
The high school is expensive to operate,
sucking up a large budget share, she
said. Much of the district-level
administration, including the
superintendent, came from the former
high school district.
In the Kyrene Corridor, cultures within
the community differ significantly
across district lines.
The Kyrene district, for example,
emphasizes community dialogue, seeking
and receiving significant input from
parents, Waters said.
“Tempe Union is more autocratic,” she
said. “There’s not the opportunities for
real input like there are in elementary
One of the often-touted benefits of
unification is curriculum alignment.
Prior to its merger, the two Kingman
districts had worked hard to align
curriculum, Goodale said. But they
didn’t maximize the benefits until
“(Curriculum alignment) absolutely
increases when you become unified
because you have a solid staff and
everyone is on the same page,” she said.
The Kyrene Corridor school districts
already work to align their curriculums
and calendars. They cut costs by sharing
legal, printing and other services.
The Kingman experience has a lot to
offer to regions facing unification.
Still, significant differences persist
between the experiences of that rural
town and the challenges that the urban
Kyrene Corridor districts face.
The Kingman merger involved just two
districts. Any merger here would likely
At the time, Kingman had just one high
school. Tempe Union has six. One of
them, Marcos de Niza, is fed by both the
Kyrene and Tempe elementary districts.
Tax and financial considerations also
come into play. The three districts have
different levels of debt. The Tempe
Elementary district is still under
federal desegregation orders.
And with nearly all of Kyrene’s schools
earning the top state label,
“excelling,” the prospect of combining
with Tempe Elementary’s numerous, less
prestigious “performing”-labeled schools
may not be palatable to some Kyrene
residents who bought their homes because
of Kyrene’s strong labels.
Even the names of schools can ruffle
feathers in an urban area—a difficulty
that Kingman never faced.
“In Kingman, we don’t name schools after
people,” Goodale said. “In Phoenix,
schools are having a little heartburn
about names. People are really attached
to the names of their schools, so
there’s a lot of sensitivity to those
Voters have ultimate say on
unification. After redistricting
commission releases its final
unification proposal for the area, the
affected districts will call an election
to decide the outcome.
Unification skeptics are plentiful, and
many doubt the legislature’s motives in
mandating it, but Goodale said people
should give it fair consideration.
“If you do it correctly, you do it with
kids in mind and quality education as
your goal, you’re going to be OK,” she