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City won’t seek vote on school unification
By Doug Snover

October 8, 2005

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 ballot.

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 mergers statewide.

The School District Redistricting Commission is a result of legislation passed this spring by the Arizona Legislature and signed by Gov. Janet Napolitano.

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 redistricting.

“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 thing.

“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 discussion.”

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 be handled.

“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:






















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