John Fillmore

Apache Junction Rep. John Fillmore pulled his school district consolidation bill last week when he realized he didn’t have the votes to get it passed in the State Senate.

Kyrene and Tempe Union High School districts will remain separate for now after an Apache Junction legislator failed to find sufficient support in the State Legislature to push his consolidation bill to the floor for a vote.

Under a plan that won initial approval from the Senate Appropriations Committee, Kyrene and Tempe Union were prime targets for consolidation with scores of other elementary and secondary districts across the state by 2024 – without residents’ approval.

But Republican Rep. John Fillmore announced Tuesday, telling Green Valley Newspapers that he was giving up because he didn’t have the votes to pass it.

“There are too many people more concerned with maintaining the status quo than with the welfare of children,” said Fillmore, who had contended that the state could save as much as $500 million by consolidating districts and curbing duplicative administrative costs.

Though his bill primarily affected districts where only one or two school buildings exist – where superintendents earn well over $100,000 a year and where certain other administrative posts are required regardless of size – Fillmore specifically listed Tempe Union and Kyrene as targets in order to reduce the total number of districts in Maricopa County to 20.

Fillmore told the newspaper that he isn’t going to give up, and plans to “go back out to the community so there’s more understanding.”

There are more than 100 school districts with just two schools, Fillmore said.

Fillmore also envisioned a merger of two unified EV districts – Queen Creek and Higley – to create a system of about 14,000 students.

Fillmore could not get a hearing on his bill when it was in the House, so he resorted to a common legislative tactic called a “striker,” in which he replaced all the wording in a bill that originally had to do with elections with the wording of the consolidation bill.

While one Republican senator called merging smaller districts “the number one issue” for Republicans in the state, she also  told Fillmore that she would not vote for a bill mandating consolidation.

Tempe Union Superintendent Kevin Mendivil and Kyrene Superintendent Jan Vesely declined comment when the bill won committee approval, but both opposed the idea of a merger when they spoke at a superintendent’s roundtable in Ahwatukee last summer.

The Tempe Union board members had no comment after the bill advanced two weeks ago, but Kyrene board President Michael Myrick and board member John King – both Republicans – called merging a bad idea for the two districts.

A combined Kyrene-Tempe Union district could also have included Tempe Elementary, bringing total student population to 40,000.

King said mergers made sense for those districts with only one or two schools, but not for Kyrene and Tempe Union, which have 25 and seven campuses, respectively.

Efforts to force consolidation have been discussed for more than a decade.

In 2001, a Senate panel approved a measure creating an independent commission to consolidate the more than 200 school districts in the state to no more than 90. Those that refused would be denied state aid.

It died after drawing fire from officials from some smaller districts, who argued with the presumption that small is bad and wasteful.

Five years later, a special School District Redistricting Commission created by the Legislature proposed at least forcing a vote in each district on consolidation. But that failed to produce the desired results.

 

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