Frustrated with lack of voluntary action, two state lawmakers are crafting a plan that could force school districts to consolidate — even over the objection of the people living there.
The proposal by Reps. Linda Gray, R-Glendale, and Bill Konopnicki, R-Safford, would form a commission to study Arizona’s 236 school districts and come up with a plan to consolidate some of them. That plan would go to the Legislature by the end of 2005, which could approve it, either as proposed or amended, and mandate the consolidation.
If lawmakers ignore the report, then the issue would go on the 2006 ballot and the final, binding decision would be up to voters.
The plan, to be formally unveiled Monday, drew fire from Janice Palmer, who lobbies for the Arizona School Boards Association.
"We support unification and consolidation as long as it’s voluntary and at the local level,’’ she said.
Palmer said any plan imposed by the state — even if proposed by a commission and ratified by state voters — is an improper intrusion into local control.
Gray, chairwoman of the House Education Committee, said the flaw in that argument is that it is the state and its taxpayers who are picking up most of the cost of operating school districts.
"The need is a more efficient education system and more money into the classroom and not to administration,’’ she said.
She said each district requires a superintendent and all of the support staff to do things ranging from keeping track of students to hiring and purchasing.
Gray said that means needless duplication.
This isn’t the first time lawmakers have looked at the issue of forced consolidation and unification.
In 2001 the Senate Education Committee defeated a proposal to set up a commission to redraw district boundaries.
But that plan did not have the additional hurdle of requiring either legislative or voter approval, a change this time that could make it more politically palatable.
The issues of consolidation and unification have distinct political supporters and foes.
For example, Rep. John Huppenthal, R-Chandler, supports unification.
But Huppenthal, a former chairman of the House Education Committee, said he will oppose any effort to force consolidation of adjoining districts.
"All the data I’ve ever seen is (that) smaller is better when it comes to education,’’ he said.
Gray countered that logic applies to the size of the school and not the size of the governing district.