The possible merits of
merging Kyrene and Tempe elementary schools
with the Tempe Union High School District
will be explored by a new state commission,
not voters in the city of Tempe.
“It’s a moot question now.
It’s a dead issue,” Tempe Councilmember Ben
Arredondo said of his call for voters to
offer their opinion on the 2006 Tempe
Arredondo’s idea, offered
during a City Council retreat, had some
local educators scratching their
heads—especially since it came on the heels
of an announcement that Arizona plans a
comprehensive study of school-district
The School District
Redistricting Commission is a result of
legislation passed this spring by the
Arizona Legislature and signed by Gov. Janet
Its purpose, according to a
legislative summary, is to “review all
current common school districts that are not
part of a unified school district and
consider combining these common school
districts into a new unified district, or
combining common school districts with a
union high school district to create unified
districts . . . (italics added).”
The goal is “to create
unified school districts that offer
instruction to students in programs for
preschool children with disabilities and
kindergarten programs and grades one through
twelve.” The commission is to report its
findings by the end of 2007.
Arredondo said he was not
aware of the commission’s work when he
suggested at a council retreat that the city
use next year’s elections to gauge voter
support for merging the Tempe Union High
School District with the two elementary
school districts that prepare most of the
students who enter Corona del Sol, Marcos de
Niza and other Tempe schools.
There are six high schools,
one alternative high school and a gifted
academy in the Tempe Union district, which
educates nearly 13,000 students from Tempe,
Ahwatukee Foothills, Chandler, Guadalupe,
Mesa and Phoenix. Only residents of Tempe
would have been eligible to vote in a Tempe
election poll on unification.
Arredondo said he dropped his
proposal as soon as he learned of the School
District Redistricting Commission.
“The governor’s going to do
it (study unification of elementary and high
school districts) and that’s where it should
be,” Councilman Arredondo said. “I fully
support the governor’s doing it.”
There are more than 1,900 schools in
Arizona, including both traditional public
schools and charters. Arizona has
approximately 108 elementary school
districts, 15 union high school districts
and 95 unified school districts. Some school
districts have fewer than 20 students, while
others have up to 70,000. There also are 10
Joint Technological Education Districts.
A 19-member School District Unification and
Consolidation Commission was established in
2002 to study costs and benefits of
unification, but was disbanded at the end of
2003 without making any recommendations.
The new School District Redistricting
Commission will have 13 members. The group
has yet to hold its first meeting.
Although the possible unification of the
three Tempe-area school districts could
become one of the larger mergers to be
considered by the new commission, only one
of its 13 members has clear ties to Tempe or
the East Valley.
Jay Blanchard is an education professor at
Arizona State University, a former state
senator and an unsuccessful candidate for
state Superintendent of Schools in 2002.
Blanchard also is one of the educators
perplexed by Arredondo’s idea to use the
Tempe election to survey voter attitudes on
“The Tempe City Council is obviously
concerned about the issue, but they might
want to wait and see what the commission has
to say,” Blanchard told the Wrangler News
before Arredondo withdrew his proposal.
He emphasized that the
commission is empowered only to call for
unification elections, not to force
unification on school districts.
Blanchard said cost-savings may in some
cases be an advantage of redistricting but
warned that “bigger isn’t always better.”
Maria Menconi, superintendent of the Kyrene
School District, noted that any action by
Tempe voters would have to be non-binding on
school districts because they cover areas
outside the Tempe city limits.
She also questioned why the city would step
into the unification issue just as the state
was preparing a commission to study the same
“You’ve got a legislatively appointed
commission out there. Let’s see what they
have to say,” Menconi suggested.
“We (Kyrene district administrators) can’t
see the point of a more localized
Menconi noted that writing a ballot question
for Tempe voters would be difficult.
“Because of the complexity and the
communities we serve (which include
Chandler, Guadalupe and Phoenix as well as
Tempe), I don’t know how you would frame
that question,” she said.
Sue Knudson, a Kyrene District Governing
Board member, is a Tempe resident who would
have been eligible to vote on Arredondo’s
proposed ballot question. But Knudson said
she could not envision how the city would
word a ballot question that would clearly
outline how any proposed unification might
“My sense is that I would very much welcome
some discussion about what the pros and cons
are,” Knudson said.
“I don’t know how you could word something
to really hang your hat on the result. You’d
have to know the details (of a unification
proposal) to really know if this is
something you’d want or not.”
She added that it is important to avoid the
assumption that unification is necessary.
Art Tate, superintendent of the Tempe
Elementary School District, said his
district is busy working on issues other
than a possible merger with the Kyrene and
Tempe Union districts.
“To my knowledge, there’s no activity from
any of the three districts to consider it
(unification),” Tate said.
For more information on the School District
Redistricting Commission and a list of its
members, visit: http://www.azleg.state.az.us/FormatDocument.asp?inDoc=/icommittee/School+District+Redistricting+Commission.doc.htm