PHOENIX – The Arizona Legislature should pass a law requiring certain school districts to unify and consolidate rather than having voters decide what happens in their areas, the person who headed the state’s 2008 redistricting effort told a legislative committee Wednesday.
“It is time for action. And if that means the Arizona Legislature mandates it under some criteria, which I’d be glad to discuss, it can be done,” said Marty Shultz, the former chairman of the Arizona School Redistricting Commission. “And if there is a flaw in that statement, then some crack lawyer that has a different point of view is going to have to show me what the flaw is.”
Shultz, who was speaking before the Joint Legislative Study Committee on School District Unification and Consolidation, said he doesn’t see any limitation under Arizona law for the state Legislature to mandate school district unification.
“Somebody has to have the responsibility to pull that all together,” Shultz said. “I do not believe you need a public vote.”
In 2008, Arizonans approved only four proposals out of 27 that would have unified and-or consolidated 76 elementary and high school districts around the state. Judges overturned three of the successful votes.
The 16-member study committee is charged with submitting recommendations to the governor and legislative leaders for future legislation on school district unification and consolidation by the end of the year.
Reacting to Shultz’s proposal, Rep. John Fillmore, R-Apache Junction, said he thinks the unification process should be implemented by school districts instead of lawmakers.
“Part of my whole original idea with the committee is that the educational community should be driving this,” said Fillmore, who authored the law that created the study committee.
“I believe that the change comes from the school board, really, when it’s all said and done,” Fillmore said.
Shultz said unification and consolidation could save Arizona schools $800 million to $850 million, an amount that could be redirected into classrooms.
At the end of the committee’s session, Fillmore said he believes unification is a process that would take several years and could save much more than $850 million.
Andy Rogers, superintendent of Liberty Elementary School District in the West Valley, said unification wouldn’t necessarily mean greater efficiency.
“I would argue unification is going to be just a major distraction to that because I will be spending my time figuring out who is planning the bus routes, whose letterhead is going to be used and whose color scheme is going to be used for the district,” Rogers said.
Rep. Doris Goodale, R-Kingman, co-chair of the committee and chairwoman of the House Education Committee, set the last two sessions of the study committee for Nov. 21 and Dec. 19.
Bastien Inzaurralde is a reporter for Cronkite News Service.