Benefits of Unifying Arizona School Districts Touted

Courtney Williams's picture
Friday, October 7, 2011

One of the architects of Arizona’s last attempt to consolidate some of its 227 public school districts asked a new panel exploring the same effort not to give up trying.

Martin Schultz, the former chair of the Arizona School Redistricting Commission, said he is still a passionate advocate for greater school efficiences and still believes that consolidation and unification could benefit many public school districts in the state.

"I really believe it is work worth doing," Schultz said. "If you budgeted a business like (school districts), you'd be in bankruptcy."

Schultz presented the history of his commission Wednesday to the Joint Legislative Study Committee on School District Unification and Consolidation. Schultz’s panel worked for two years to put the issue of consolidation or unification to voters, suggesting 76 school districts unify in some way to reduce the total number of public school systems in the state by 49. Voters rejected its recommendations in 2008.

Now, the 16-member committee is charged with drafting recommendations by December that would give Arizona’s 227 school districts viable consolidation or unification options to explore. A law passed in June mandates those discussions.

Unification involves a merger between a high-school and elementary-school district to become a K-12 district. Consolidation involves combinations of only elementary- or high-school districts.

Schultz said consolidation and unification would save at least 10 percent, or around $890 million, in total state education spending while helping students achieve better academic results and putting more money in the classroom. With the half-cent sales-tax proposition expiring in two years, another $1 billion could be cut from K-12 education budgets in addition to the total $1 billion that has been cut by the state in the past three years, Schultz said.

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