Unification a growing trend in state

(Fourth of five parts)

The Mohave Union High School District and Kingman Elementary School District will join a small but growing number of districts in Arizona that have unified in recent years when unification takes effect July 1, 2001.

One newly-unified district is the Benson Unified School District, which became a K-12 district this past July 1.

It is comprised of two elementary schools in the Benson Elementary School District and the former Benson Union High School, BUSD Superintendent Robert McKenzie said.

"We unified under the original unification bill (House Bill 2630 passed in 1999) and did not go to the voters," McKenzie said.

McKenzie said there are about 1,400 students in the Benson Unified School District.

The district budget for fiscal 2000 is roughly $7 million, he said.

Curriculum between the former elementary and high school districts was already aligned, making the transition to a unified district much easier, McKenzie said.

"Our districts had operated under one administration since the mid-1940s and we realized unification would allow us to cut down on the amount of paperwork," McKenzie said.

McKenzie said two separate school boards met in the past to conduct district business.

A pre-meeting board packet often was six inches thick, but now the reduction in paperwork means the packet is perhaps three inches thick, he said.

Personnel in one office did double duty in the past, handling business for both the high school and elementary districts in Benson.

"In board meetings, if we discussed bids on gasoline it first had to be approved by the elementary district, then the high school district," McKenzie said.

"But a unified district board means differences like one check for the superintendent instead of two, and one time sheet per employee instead of two," he said.

Unification was discussed in Benson for at least 10 years prior to it happening this year, McKenzie said.

Two public meetings were held to get public input on unification.

But most people already favored it, so each meeting drew less than 50 people, McKenzie said.

"The community already looked at us as a unified district because we had one administration for both districts," McKenzie said.

"Unification for us did not involve the loss of any jobs," he said.

"Everybody stayed right where they were."

Circumstances of unification in Benson done under House Bill 2630 are much different from those in Kingman done under House Bill 2264.

"They had been operating with one superintendent over two districts, so their unification was easy to do and made sense," said Mike Ford, superintendent of the MUHSD.

"What they did doesn't apply to us because we have so many outlying districts."

Two other districts in the central part of the state also will unify next July 1.

Superintendent John Christensen of the Mingus Union High School District said his district governing board passed a unification resolution July 31 and the Cottonwood-Oak Creek Elementary District passed a similar resolution July 27.

Mingus and Cottonwood-Oak Creek will have three elementary schools, one middle school and one high school when they unify next year, Christensen said.

Betsy Parker, superintendent of the KESD, said she has spoken with Christensen and John Tavasci, superintendent of the Cottonwood-Oak Creek Elementary District about their pending unification.

"They have both been here for visits," Parker said.

"They're a little behind us.

"We're giving them everything we do and they're doing it a month after us, which is fine.

Somebody has to pave the way."

Next: Will growth in Kingman mean new schools are needed here after unification?