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Questions Arise on "Supersizing" School Districts

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October 20, 2008

Phoenix, AZ – The idea sounds simple: Consolidate several small school districts to save money on overhead. However, some say it could result in a bureaucratic nightmare and loss of local control. On Nov. 4, voters in 76 Arizona elementary and high school districts will decide whether or not to merge into 27 unified districts. The biggest combined district -- 120,000 students -- would be in Phoenix.

John Wright, president of the Arizona Education Association, warns that might be just too big.

"We hear complaints all the time about the size of Tucson Unified being too cumbersome, and it's about 63,000 students. This would create a new district almost twice the size of an existing school district that many people recognize as too big already."

Wright says that "supersizing" school districts the wrong way, as in the current proposal, could reduce local control and the attention paid to concerns of individual parents and students.

"I think there's something to be said for the right unification, where you can consolidate some districts into the right size, answer some questions about financing and funding, and involve the communities. But I don't think you had local input into the planning of this proposal."

Support for redistricting comes primarily from the Arizona and Phoenix chambers of commerce, which hope it will result in property tax cuts. But Wright fears that negotiating budgetary and contractual differences among the combining districts could eat up the projected savings. To help deal with the state's financial crisis, lawmakers took away transition funding to reconcile the workings of the new system.

Several community groups also have sprung up to oppose the consolidation plan.

Doug Ramsey/Craig Eicher, Public News Service - AZ