Rep. Fillmore Proposes School District Consolidation for Cost Savings

Representative John Fillmore (R-16, Apache Junction), Vice Chair of the House Education Committee, has proposed a bill advocating for School District Consolidation.

Facts:

  • Arizona has 207 school districts
  • More than 1.1 million students attend publicly funded K-12 schools in Arizona
  • 950,000 students attend 1700 traditional public schools
  • 150,000 students attend 500 charter schools

Although House Education Chairwoman Michelle Udall held Fillmore’s original bill, Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman David Gowan agreed to let Fillmore use a ‘strike-everything’ maneuver, effectively rewriting another bill, HB 2139, as his school consolidation bill. HB 2139 passed out of the Senate Appropriations Committee by a vote of 6-3, along party lines.

Here’s a summary of HB 2139’s basic proposals:

  1. Mandates that every school district in Arizona be a unified school district by July 1, 2024
  2. Savings would go to the new districts, with at least 25% to be used for teacher salaries
  3. A county with only three members on the Board of Supervisors may not have more than three school districts.
  4. A county with five members on the Board of Supervisors and a population of less than 2,000,000 persons may not have more than seven school districts.
  5. A county with five members on the Board of Supervisors and a population of more than 2,000,000 persons may not have more than twenty school districts.
  6. By June 30, 2022, governing boards of each district will develop, adopt and publish a plan to unify.
  7. If they unify on their own, the County School Superintendent will develop the plan for them.
  8. This bill does not address charter schools.
  9. In Pinal County, there are currently 19 traditional school districts. Fillmore’s bill would require consolidation into no more than 7 school districts.
  10. Neither Democrats or the Arizona School Boards Association (AZSBA) are in favor of this bill.
  11. Fillmore issued a statement after HB 2139 passed the Senate Appropriations Committee, claiming a potential savings of $100 million. “Classrooms in our state need every dollar possible to educate our children, so it’s disappointing that Democrats would support the wasteful and redundant status quo of excessive school boards and bloated bureaucracy.”

Chris Kotterman, the Director of Governmental Relations for the AZSBA, in a KJZZ interview, said that Arizona school districts favor local control. He explained that the economies of scale gained versus the loss of local control and services aren’t worth the amount saved.

Kotterman offered an alternative proposal to yield cost savings, “We view these efforts at forced consolidation to be counter-productive when we should be looking at ways to encourage the districts to share services and things like that without asking them to give up local governance of their school district.”

According to Dr Gregory Wyman, Superintendent for the Payson Unified School District, Arizona traditional districts spend only about 10.2% on administrative costs, lower than the national average of 11.2%. Yet, Wyman claims that Arizona’s charter schools spend an average of 20% on administration expenses.

In an Arizona Capitol Times opinion piece, Wyman writes, “The hypocrisy in the bill is that there is a consistent cry for consolidation of elementary and union high school districts, which make up a small percentage of the total number of school districts, yet there is no cry to consolidate public charter schools… Where are the bills to consolidate charter schools? Where is the political action to reform charter schools and the spending of 20 percent on administration?”