COTTONWOOD - Cottonwood-Oak Creek School District is the only local district that has more school board candidates than it has open seats. Consequently, it is the only local district that will actually have a ballot during the general election.
Four candidates are competing for three open seats on the COCSD Governing Board. Incumbents seeking re-election are Eric Wyles and Mary Valenzuela. Challengers are JoAnne Cook and Jason Little.
Board President Randall Garrison's term is up, but he decided not to run for re-election. Incumbents whose seats are not up are Jason Finger and Janice Rollins.
The Verde Independent submitted five questions to all four candidates.
Cottonwood-Oak Creek and Mingus Union High School districts have discussed sharing services and personnel, including a shared administration. How do feel about the two districts sharing a superintendent and finance director? How should the two districts go about selecting the shared administrators?
Jason Little: "While the topic has generated a great deal of attention for quite some time I think it is time for both governing boards to seriously consider consolidation for the upcoming fiscal year. There is a multitude of extenuating factors on the table right now that makes the decision more palatable at this time and they are centered around the impending resignation of Mingus Union High School Superintendent Tim Foist, and the uncertainty of education funding moving forward. As far as the selection of the administration for a combined district I would opt to wait on the results of the Warner Consulting Report to make those decisions. As this report will provide a detailed tiered analysis on how this would be best handled and implemented."
JoAnne Cook: "I am not opposed to the consideration of shared services and intergovernmental agreements between districts. I feel the district can also research and explore other successful district models for cost-effective, innovative ideas that maximize the benefits for all children."
Eric Wyles: "A shared team of administrators for these two districts is something I have been in favor of since these discussions began. In my opinion the selection process should be multi pronged. We need to have the information that is coming from Carolyn Warner's group, which I anticipate will show multiple reasons why a single administration will best serve students, staff and the community. The districts should also complete a strengths based audit for those employees who would be interested in filling combined positions for this new combined administrative team. The new combined positions needed for single administration should then be advertised so we may seek out the most talented employees for this team."
Mary Valenzuela: "I am waiting to see the data from the study of the Warner Group which will be complete in November."
Cottonwood-Oak Creek District is already sharing a director of special education with Mingus Union and a PE teacher with the City of Cottonwood. What other opportunities do you see for cost savings through shared services?
Cook: Same answer as for Question 1.
Wyles: "Several ideas for other shared services have been discussed in the past and should be fully investigated. We should seriously consider a single plant manager who would be in charge of facilities maintenance and grounds. A director of curriculum for this new team would provide a seamless transition for students from the elementary grades through high school. Athletics, art, drama and music could also be combined between the districts. There is also an opportunity in human resources for a single position. To be quite frank, I feel all departments could be combined to best serve all stakeholders, students and staff."
Valenzuela: "The other opportunities I see as possible cost savings through shared services might be transportation, grounds, and building maintenance."
Little: "I think there are multiple services that should be considered as it pertains to the consolidation of services starting with administration. Additionally, I think the districts should look at transportation, food services, facilities maintenance and business operations. Moreover, there might even be a possibility of pooling together resources to enhance extracurricular activities such as band, theater, and sports programs as these areas are sometimes subject to cuts during economic downturns."
Is there a smooth transition in education mission between Cottonwood-Oak Creek and Mingus Union school districts? How can that mission be improved?
Wyles: "Students moving from eighth grade to high school in most cases are quite well prepared. As with most transitions of this magnitude, there can be improvement. It would serve our students well to have a single curriculum director to make this transition as seamless as possible. I also would like to see more collaboration between our districts department chairs in English, math and science."
Valenzuela: "I strongly feel that there is a smooth transition in the education mission between Cottonwood-Oak Creek District and Mingus Union. The two schools have developed a good working rapport to provide the best education for all the students involved. There is a high graduation rate of students at Mingus that have been through the COCSD system."
Little: "I think some strides have been made between the two governing boards, however there is still a lot of ground to cover. Coincidentally, I have heard this from both sides of the aisle. I think the common core standards that have been adopted by at least 40 states will further facilitate this transition in the areas of mathematics, English, language arts and literacy. The job of both governing boards is to make this transition as seamless as possible for the students and the teachers."
Cook: "As a former parent of students who participated in the transition in education between COCSD and MUHS, I can say the experience was seamless for both of my children. This being said, I also believe that all processes have weak areas that can be improved upon. The promotion of collaboration between the districts should be a priority in order to support maximum student achievement. One idea that may indicate how the transition between districts is currently affecting students would be to obtain feedback from students who have recently experienced this for themselves. Their voice could be a useful key to strengthening the education mission between both districts."
Is the Mountain View Preparatory International Baccalaureate charter school a good addition to the Cottonwood-Oak Creek education mission?
Cook: "The majority of feedback I have heard about MVP school has been positive. Districts should be open to researching and exploring new, innovative techniques while moving forward in their education mission. A district that can provide rigorous and challenging education options through a variety of learning environments is a district that serves the students and community well. Offering a diversity in our delivery of education promotes growth for the district."
Wyles: "The community has supported this school from the beginning. In the first year of existence the primary year program at MVP had over 170 students and a waiting list of more who wanted to attend. With the addition of the middle year program and the move to Tavasci, we now have over 350 students attending MVP. More than 70 students who are attending this year are from other area schools, which lead me to believe that this was a type of education choice the community was waiting for."
Valenzuela: "I believe that Mountain View Preparatory charter school is a good addition to the Cottonwood-Oak Creek School District's education mission because we have given the parents/guardians another choice. Cottonwood-Oak Creek School District is a district of opportunities because the district offers a variety of education choices. For example: pre-schools, K through 2 school, K through 8 school, 3 through 5 school, MVP, Middle School 6 through 8, Online schooling K through high school and Bridgeway."
Little: "Yes I believe the charter school is a good addition to the district's education mission. The district's mission states that students will be provided the tools necessary to develop the highest possible level of achievement. Moreover, the district's mission states that the district is also committed to providing a wide range of learning methods and experiences to the students served. As mentioned in the previous article districts are forced to market their resources due to an abundance of educational choices parents can take advantage of. The MVP alternative provides another education delivery option for parents living inside the district's boundaries."
Explain your view of the role of a school board member and the separation of powers between board members and administration.
Little: "The role of a board member is to act in the capacity of a liaison between the community at large and the administration. Through public input a successful board member will convey community concerns to the administration and in turn provide feedback to the general public pertaining to policy decisions. Additionally, the Arizona School Board Association provides training to school board members to assist and educate the member on policy, procedure, and the role they will be assuming."
Cook: "School board members should familiarize themselves with the state school laws, regulations, and district policies in order to work together with other board members and the superintendent to make decisions that positively impact students. The board is authorized to adopt all needed policies for the district. Implementing the existing policies and day-to-day operations of the district are duties of the district's administration and should not be micro-managed by board members."
Wyles: "There are several specific responsibilities of a school board member, the first one being to set district policy. Board members approve policy or changes to policy and then allow the superintendent to implement those policies. Board members approve personnel matters based on the superintendent's recommendations. As a board we approve the annual budget and monitor the budget during the year to ensure monies are being used appropriately, as well as setting salaries for the district employees. Another very important responsibility is to monitor and ensure our students are receiving what they need to be high achievers academically. We must always keep the students' needs in mind with all decisions that are made at a board level. The daily operations of our district are handled by the administrative team and the employees that are hired. It must also be understood that individual board members only make decisions as a board when we are seated at board meetings during the year."
Valenzuela: "My role as a board member is to help design and set policies, hire the superintendent, and to work with leaders to set the vision and mission of the district."
Here is an excellent illustration of the point AZ Teachers Association Chairman John Hedgpeth makes in his argument against Proposition 121 (pgs. 88 & 89 in your General Election Guide).
All of these candidates are giving exactly the same answers (all apparently edited by Superintendent U'Ren). So why vote? It doesn't seem to matter which 3 of these 4 are elected.
Now, there may be nuances--maybe even major differences in skills and experience. But I don't know these people. A little combativeness might have off-set the impression these are all people the current Board of Governors talked into running.