Arizona Revisits Consolidation

Last Updated: September 28, 2011

This article appeared in the September 2011 Rural Policy Matters.

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Arizona’s Joint Legislative Study Committee on Unification and Consolidation has a five-month timetable for drafting recommendations and options for Arizona’s 227 school districts. In Arizona, ‘unification’ merges high school and elementary school districts to form a K-12 district, while consolidation combines elementary-only, high-school-only, or K–12 districts with others of the same type.

Several legislators have suggested consolidation and unification could save money. Arizona has cut funding for K–12 education by $1 billion over the past three years. In 2008, Arizona voters overwhelmingly turned down proposals to combine 76 elementary and high school districts into 27 unified districts, but consolidation proponents think results might be different in the current fiscal climate.

Several issues have emerged during the panel’s discussions including problems aligning different salary schedules and property tax rates, governance of new districts, personnel decisions, and a contradiction between the purported savings accomplished by mergers and rhetoric supporting charter schools as smaller and more cost-efficient than regular public schools.

So far, the Committee has not suggested forcing mergers or offering state financial incentives, but some superintendents have said they would need monetary assistance in order to carry out district mergers. The Arizona affiliate of the national advocacy organization Stand for Children has recommended performance-based triggers for consolidation.

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