Unification idea fizzling
The Arizona Republic
Jul. 13, 2005

School districts have lukewarm response to idea

Carrie Watters

State Sen. Linda Gray is trying to spur unification talks for Glendale Union High School District and the Glendale and Washington Elementary districts.

But the Glendale Republican has found only a lukewarm response, canceling a public meeting last week when governing-board members declined to attend.

Gray proposes that the three districts become two kindergarten through 12th grade districts. Glendale Union's six high schools in Phoenix would join Washington and become the Washington Unified School District. The high-school district's three Glendale schools would join Glendale Elementary to create Glendale Unified School District. The proposal, open to change, provides a starting point for talks, Gray said.

Arizona is one of three states where both elementary districts and high-school districts exist. About half of more than 200 districts in the state are unified. The other half are either elementary or high school districts. About 28 districts can be found within metro Phoenix alone.

This past spring, state legislators took another crack at unifying high-school districts with their feeder elementary districts. They passed a law that calls for a 13-member commission to carve out district boundaries and issue a report in 2007. Voters in the proposed districts would have the final word.

Until then, the state is offering financial incentives for districts to unify.

Glendale Elementary Board President Steven Johnston doesn't like the rush.

"There's a right way to do this, and it feels to me that Senator Gray wants to push this through very quickly," he said, adding, "You can't make huge decisions and let the consequences be figured out later."

The Arizona School Board Association has called the proposal an infringement on local control.

Johnston said the meeting Gray arranged and then canceled on July 5 did not consider board members' schedules. He has slated the topic for discussion at his board's Aug. 2 meeting.

The Washington Elementary governing board has not put the issue on its agenda, according to board President Terri Schroeder-Owen.

Gray and a handful of parents took their cause to the Glendale Union board last week. Norma Alvarez, known as an active proponent of immersing students in English, told board members that she was willing to push unification forward without their support by gaining enough signatures to put the issue on the ballot.

Unification would create seamless academic standards, Alvarez said. "Our kids are enrolling in high school without being prepared," she said.

Gray called it a blame game.

"If it was K-12, you are responsible for them all the way through," she said.

Supporters say unification eliminates duplication of services and administrators.

Glendale Union's administrator for finance, Gene Dudo, said that small districts are more likely to capture savings than large urban districts created by unification.

Washington enrolls about 25,000 students. Glendale Elementary enrolls 13,700 students and Glendale Union High School has 14,200 students.